Category Archives: Prairie School

Mr. Porter’s Garage: A Frank Lloyd Wright Connection in Decorah, Iowa

The Porter House in Decorah, Iowa, photographed in the fall of 2013.

The Porter House in Decorah, Iowa, photographed in the fall of 2013.

While showing friends around lovely nearby Decorah late last summer, we happened to pass by the incredible Porter House Museum. This beautiful 19th Century Italianate house is notable for its one-of-a-kind surrounding rock wall, a contribution made to the property by its equally one-of-a-kind owner, Adelbert Field Porter (1879-1968). Mr. Porter, commonly known as “Bert,” was a gentleman explorer, naturalist, and photographer who culled from his vast collection of natural curiosities to create “nature art,” such as his remarkable wall.

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Prairie Sale: A 1915 John S. Van Bergen House
741 Sheridan Road, Evanston, Illinois

John S. Van Bergen House at 741 Sheridan Road Evanston Illinois

I’ve been in the city a lot lately due to a new day job. While I usually make the trek out to the house on Friday nights, I decided to stay in the city this weekend. I had errands to run and I needed a break from the commute out the house. We were lucky enough to get a quick taste of spring this weekend, with temperatures in the 60’s and sunny skies above. So on Sunday afternoon I pumped up the tires on my bike and took myself out to soak up some springtime sunshine.

It was on my ride that I discovered this gorgeous Prairie style home in Evanston, Illinois. The house at 741 Sheridan Road was designed by John S. Van Bergen and, judging by the photos in the real estate listing, it’s everything that I want our house to be.

John S. Van Bergen Home at 741 Sheridan Road

If you think that this house looks a lot like Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs – and indeed our own American System Built Home – you’re right. John S. Van Bergen worked for Wright in his studio in Oak Park. As part of his work for Wright, Van Bergen supervised the Robie House and the Mrs. Thomas Gale House. Hailing from Oak Park originally, Van Bergen was undoubtedly influenced by Wright’s Prairie style early in his life. In fact, according to the Wikipedia page about Van Bergen, his “mother was friends with Wright’s mother, Anna, and Van Bergen’s third grade teacher was Wright’s sister, Maginel.”

I stopped in my tracks when I came upon the house at 741 Sheridan Road. Not only am I interested in Prairie style architecture, but this particular house is for sale! I stopped, snapped a photo and then pedaled my way back home, where I immediately searched for details on the house.

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The house was built in 1915, just two years before our ASB home. I can see some similarities between this house and the ASB homes that Wright designed. The wood trim and corner windows are hallmarks of the Prairie style, as are the stucco exterior and low roofline.

With a price of $1.75 million, this house is way, way, way out of our league. It is, however, a great reminder of what we want to do in rehabbing our own more modest house. We want to get the wood trim in our house stripped and refinished. And we want to have the exterior trim and windows repainted. (Speaking of, I love the green trim used on this house in Evanston, but I think we’ll probably go with a red or brown paint for our trim.)

For more information on the house at 741 Sheridan Road, check out the real estate listing at Sotheby’s.

Images: 1. This American House, 2. and 3. Sotheby’s

Our Winter Excursion to the Stockman House
And the Discovery of a Scale Model of our American System Built Home

Stockman House, Mason City, Iowa

Since buying our American System Built house in Northeast Iowa last year, we’ve been planning to visit all of the other Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes in the state. There was talk over the summer of taking a weekend trek to Mason City to tour the Stockman House and the Historic Park Inn, both of which were under construction a few years before our house was built. As it turns out, our own house projects trumped any plans for a road trip this summer.

We finally had the occasion to make the 2 1/2 hour drive to Mason City last week. And while the extremely cold temperatures kept us from fully appreciating all that Mason City has to offer, we did get to tour the Stockman house. We’ve been particularly interested in seeing the Stockman House because it is very similar in design to our own home. Built in 1909, the Stockman is based on Wright’s fireproof home designs, which is a style that the architect relied heavily on when he was designing the American System homes.

We were hoping to glean some tips on the restoration of our own home by visiting the Stockman house. And while we did get a few ideas from our tour, the real treat of the trip was stumbling upon a scale model of our own home.

Scale model of the Delbert Meier House

We had just walked into the Architectural Interpretive Center adjacent to the Stockman house and were trying to warm up when the docent asked us about our connection to Frank Lloyd Wright.

“Oh,” The Mister replied, “we actually own one of his American System Built homes here in Iowa.”

“You mean this one?” the docent asked as she pointed toward a little house made of balsa wood.Scale model of the Delbert Meier House at the Architectural Interpretive Center in Mason City, Iowa

“Mister!” he called from across the room. “They have our house!”

The fact that there is a scale model of our house is not a total surprise. We knew through a previous email exchange with a professor of architecture that models had been created of all of the Wright homes in Iowa, including our American System Built home. We did not, however, know that the models still existed. And we certainly had no idea that the model of our house was on display in Mason City. What a wonderful surprise!

Scale model of Delbert Meier House

The model was built by Raymond Gandayuwana and Derek Quang and is a very accurate depiction not only of the house but the landscape surrounding it. From the windows to the trim and even down to the gradient in the landscaping, the model is an amazing representation of our home as it would have looked before the front facade was altered. There is one window missing from the second floor of the model house, but why quibble over small details?

MORE WRIGHT IN IOWA INFORMATION:

Images: This American House

A House on the Move Makes a Stop at the Grocery Store

The John Irving Residence | This American House

Have you heard about the John Van Bergen-designed James Irving Residence? It’s a house on the move … literally! This architecturally significant house (Van Bergen worked in Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio) is being relocated from the Wilmette, Illinois site where it was built in 1928 to a new plot of land in nearby Evanston. They must’ve run out of milk on the way because the house is currently parked in the parking lot of a grocery store!

John Irving Residence on the Move | This American House

After a developer purchased the house and expressed intent to demolish it and build a new structure on the site, Christopher Enck purchased the Prairie Style structure and arranged its move. To make the move, which occurred over a three day period beginning last Friday, the house has been split into three sections.

Apparently the house’s new site isn’t quite ready and so in the meantime it’s hanging out in the parking lot of an empty grocery store. The three sections of the house, with the exposed ends covered in big plastic tarps, sit on massive trailers in the parking lot of the former Dominick’s store on Green Bay Road in Evanston.

Moving House: The John Irving Residence

Isn’t it amazing that you can uproot a house from its foundation and relocate it? I mean, we usually think of houses as these immovable structures (at least we HOPE they’re immovable) so it boggles the mind to see that one can be cut up, lifted and carried away.

Well of course The Mister just had to drive past the house and snap some photos. He was surprised to see that the house is really just sitting there in the parking lot, no fence surrounding it or guard protecting it.

Does this mean that we can pick up This American House and move it back to the city? Um, yeah, probably not.

More about the Irving House move: 

  • You can see a short video of the house being moved at the Chicago Tribune.
  • Evanston Now has a great recap on the move and the house.
  • Wright in Racine also has a nice recap and photos of the move.
  • For a little more history, check out Saving and Moving the Irving House on PrairieMod

Images: This American House

Prairie School: 508 South Beaumont, Prairie du Chien, WI

Prairie School: 508 S. Beaumont, Prairie du Chien, WI | This American House

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that driving around looking at houses is one of our favorite pastimes. Among the older homes on any given block, you’re sure to see variations on a few styles. Tudors and Victorians and Colonials are some of the most common designs we’ll encounter on our sightseeing jaunts. So when we come across a Prairie style house – especially one in great condition – it always gets our notice.

A detour on our way to Piggly Wiggly led us to this beautiful Prairie style house in, of all places, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. “Stop the car!” The Mister implored as I raced toward the Pig for nourishment. I pulled a u-turn in the middle of the street and doubled back to 508 South Beaumont, the site of this beautiful Prairie Style house. We snapped a few photos and then spent the rest of the afternoon wondering whether it could be one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes … or at least the design of one of his students.

508 S. Beaumont, Prairie du Chien, WI | This American House

When we got back home later that day I Googled around and found an old listing for the house. Here’s what I was able to learn:

  • The house dates to 1914. (That’s three years older than our house.)
  • The listing refers to the house as “Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired.”
  • At the time of the listing, the house still featured a number of built-ins, including a kitchen buffet and hutch.
  • The original hardwood floors are intact but the rest of the wood trim has all been painted.
  • The house is palatial with 2,976 square feet that contains four bedrooms and three and a half baths.

According to Realtor.com, the house was last listed for $199,500 in December 2013 and then delisted later that same month. The property history on Realtor.com also shows that the house has been listed and delisted multiple times over the past few years.

It’s always amazing to us to see how these big old houses are priced in small towns. Even in this difficult housing market if you could pick this house up and move it to Chicago, it would list for close to a million dollars. If not more. To see that the house has been listed for a fraction of that price is a testament to the shortage of high paying jobs in small town America. After all, we had to drive five hours out of Chicago before we could find a big old house we could afford! But of course we can only afford it because we have jobs back in the city.

But don’t let me get on a diatribe about the economy and the dearth of good jobs! This post is all about this gorgeous Prairie Style house and how we’re happy to have discovered it.

To see photos of the inside of the house, check out this old listing on Zillow.

Images: This American House