Hope Rogers can be forgiven for not remembering her one meeting with Frank Lloyd Wright—she was just four years old at the time. It was 1928, and her world-famous great-uncle had materialized at a family reunion hosted by Hope’s parents, Frank and Frances Heller Sankot, on their farm near Belle Plaine, Iowa. Hope’s grandmother, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Wright Heller, was also there that day to greet her half-brother, Frank Lloyd Wright, whose stellar career—and much-publicized scandals—Lizzie had closely followed, even though the two siblings had not remained in close contact through the years. But as Hope was later told, “Frank took such a fancy to my 11 year old brother, Herb Sankot, that Frank said he ‘wanted to take Herb back to Taliesin with him and make an architect of him.’ Whereupon Lizzie told her brother he ‘was not a fit person to raise a child.’ They had a terrible argument, both probably saying unforgivable things so that Frank later left Lizzie out of his autobiography and she came near leaving Frank out of hers.”
Not only was Elizabeth Wright Heller left out of Frank Lloyd Wright’s autobiography, but she has received scant mention in the many biographies and writings about her half-brother that have appeared in the 95 years since their last encounter. Meanwhile, any mention made of the father they shared, William Cary Wright, has typically acknowledged his musical influence on his famous son, but has also dismissively characterized him as a drifter who ultimately abandoned his family. Some recent scholars—including Paul Hendrickson in his 2019 book Plagued by Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright—have taken aim at righting this misperception by pulling William Cary Wright more fully out of the shadows to which he has long been consigned. But Hope Rogers, who celebrated her 99th birthday this February, remains the indefatigable caretaker and champion of her great-grandfather and grandmother’s legacies, hopeful that both will more widely and lastingly find their “Wrightful” places in the extraordinary story of their famous family.
William Cary Wright was a composer and teacher of music—and also at times a minister, lawyer, and doctor—from whom both Lizzie and her half-brother Frank learned piano and developed a lifelong appreciation for music. Frank Lloyd Wright would often cite the tremendous inspiration and impact of Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms on his work, once stating, “Never miss the idea that architecture and music belong together. They are practically one.” His father “is still a grossly underappreciated force in shaping Frank’s creative method,” says the music historian David Patterson, who in 2013 produced the first CD recording of a selection of William’s music. “The lessons that he taught about music were especially potent, working their way into Frank’s fundamental notions of architecture” (Patterson 2013).
The Meier House contains a total of 38 windows, most of which still open and close, although some need a little encouragement from a rubber mallet. We can attribute the excellent condition of these 100-year-old wooden casement windows to the dedicated restoration efforts of Becky and Peter Olafsen. For our part, we have diligently been carrying on the care of the windows by tending to them each spring and fall. We oil the hinges and window stays, and carefully clean the glass twice each season.
Although inner “storm” windows and screens were not specified in the original plans for our Model M202 American System-Built Home, not long ago we discovered a few original interior screens in the attic of the new garage. We’ve seen a few variations on such screens in other ASBHs we have visited, although we have been unable to conclude whether a variety of screens was made available depending upon the model of ASBH a homeowner purchased, or if weatherproofing was left to individual owners to determine. Apart from the sun porch windows, newer protective inner glass windows are installed with each of the Meier House’s outer windows, along with a large selection of interior screens with numbered tags or handwritten notations indicating their placement throughout the house. We have not been able to verify which owner built these inner inserts, but given Delbert Meier’s penchant for woodworking, there is a strong possibility that he added some or all of the interior windows himself. In stripping paint from these windows, however, we have discovered that some storm windows and screens are newer than others, leading us to believe that some were rebuilt or replaced by succeeding owners as time and weather deteriorated the originals.
This post is an excerpt from our forthcoming book, This American House: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Meier House and the American System-Built Homes, coming from Pomegranate Communications July 2021.
I’ve been waiting all winter for this. Seriously, I sounded like a broken record all winter long. I can’t wait to get my hands on that window box, I would say over and over again. I’m going to plant some decorative grasses in there as soon as I’m able, I promised. Last weekend, I did just that. My next test in patience will be seeing if it grows!
I wonder whether Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Burley Griffin and the other architects of the Prairie School had any notion that, 100 years later, we’d still be seeing new designs based on their principles. Actually, they probably had every intention of creating an enduring style. According the Prairie School wikipedia definition:
As I’ve been switching out lighting in the Dream House I’ve loved seeing what a difference a small change can make. As I posted previously, I’ve been replacing the existing light fixtures with porcelain lampholders and Edison bulbs. I started upstairs in the bedrooms and hallway and now I’m moving downstairs. Despite the fact that the rest of the dining room looks terrible (ugh, those sheers curtains!), I still want to post about saying goodbye to Mr. Big Light.