(Breckenridge, 2005)

Breckenridge, Mary Beth. (2005, March 19). Doing things Wright. Akron Beacon Journal. Retrieved March 19, 2005, from http://www.ohio.com/mld/ohio/11178575.htm


Posted on Sat, Mar. 19, 2005

Doing things Wright


Home designed by famous architect being restored with help of Northeast Ohioans



Beacon Journal staff writer

 

For decades, architect Frank Lloyd Wright's earliest work in Ohio went largely overlooked.

Now the house he designed for a prominent Springfield couple is being restored so it can be shared with the public, thanks in part to the contributions of artisans and professionals from Northeast Ohio.

Lauren Burge of Chambers, Murphy & Burge Restoration Architects in Akron is the lead architect on the project. Elwin Robison, a professor in Kent State University's College of Architecture and Environmental Design, is the project's structural engineer, and Studio Arts & Glass in Stark County's Jackson Township is restoring windows and re-creating light fixtures for the house.

The five-year, $3-million-plus project will culminate in the opening of the house as a museum in September.

The Westcott House was designed and built between 1904 and 1908 in the western Ohio city for automaker Burton J. Westcott and his wife, Orpha. Orpha Westcott was known as a progressive and independent woman, and it was her idea to commission the still-little-known Wright to design the family's home.

``This is a pretty special Frank Lloyd Wright house for Ohio,'' Burge said. Besides being the state's oldest, it's the only example in Ohio of Wright's Prairie School of architecture, she said. The style is characterized by horizontal lines and was inspired by the flat landscape of the American prairie.

Wright thought enough of the house to include it in Studies and Executed Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright, also called the Wasmuth Portfolio, the first major publication of his work. But the house lost much of its architectural distinction when it was subdivided for apartments in the early 1940s, and over time it became mostly forgotten.

Foundation to the rescue

One person who didn't forget was Sherri Snyder, who bought the house in the mid-1980s. She tried to stem its deterioration and packed away fixtures with the dream of restoring it eventually, but the task was monumental. Snyder ``was sinking every penny she had in it,'' Burge said.

Yet even when Snyder was approached by the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy, a Chicago organization that works to preserve Wright's buildings, she was reluctant to sell. She agreed only when she was convinced the property would be restored properly and maintained for the long term, Burge said.

The conservancy bought the house in 2001 and later resold it to a foundation formed to oversee the restoration of the house and its operation as a museum and a site for programs. An easement gives the conservancy a say in any work done on the house in the future, Burge said.

The restoration has presented a series of challenges. Because little had been written about the house, Burge's firm had to do extensive research on it, including such details as the original furniture and stucco colors. Not only did the firm want to re-create the house as it was, Burge said, but it also wanted to ensure nothing of importance was lost in the restoration process.

Termites

One of the biggest challenges, however, came from a tiny source -- termites, which had eaten away at the house's main structural supports. ``The main beam of the house you could stick a pencil right through,'' Burge recalled.

Besides being damaged, the support structure was also undersized to begin with, Robison said. Wright followed building practices that were standard at the time, he said, but he suspects Wright compounded the problem by rearranging the spaces in the house during the design stage without making the corresponding changes to the structure.

The insufficient structure wasn't a big problem when the building was a residence, but a museum is a different matter. The number of visitors will increase the load, so the structure had to be strengthened.

That was difficult, given the limitations of the existing building and the cantilevered porches that act as airfoils and lift in the wind, Robison said. ``But that's what makes it fun.''

Glass work

One of the more artistic aspects of the house's renovation has been the restoration of the art glass that Wright used liberally inside and outside. The job was so large that it was split between two restoration companies, Whitney Stained Glass Studio in Cleveland and Studio Arts & Glass.

Studio Arts & Glass got the job of restoring four skylights and three clerestory windows, as well as repairing one of two surviving outdoor light fixtures and fabricating 12 more to match the originals. The old fixtures will become museum displays in the house; the new ones will line the long pergola that covers a walkway between the house and the garage.

The wood window frames needed to be repaired by another company, so Studio's craftspeople first had to carefully remove the glass, a process artisan Stacie Rothermel likened to ``trying to unglue something.'' The glass was then cleaned, broken pieces replaced and damaged joints repaired.

The light fixtures required even more artistry, as well as some detective work. No records remain of the stained glass originally used in the fixtures, so the company had to pinpoint the one company -- Wissmach Glass Co. in West Virginia -- that still makes the proper type of opalescent glass in colors close to the originals, said Wendy Joliet, who owns Studio Arts & Glass with her husband, Bob. Complicating the process was the fact that the original shades couldn't be disassembled to make the matches, Joliet said.

Historically accurate

What's more, the zinc rails -- the metal dividers between pieces of stained glass -- were in sizes and shapes that aren't stock items. So the rails had to be fabricated in the studio, artisan Kirby Tullos said.

Zinc is an unforgiving material. The measurements had to be precise, Tullos said, and the glass had to be cut within a tolerance of just one-132nd of an inch. The same paper pattern, called a cartoon, was used over and over again in cutting the glass, because just copying the pattern could throw off the exact fit.

Each step in the process -- the glass samples, the mockup for the light fixture and even a replacement door made for one of the original fixtures -- required approval to make sure they are historically accurate. ``We have to be as good as he (Wright) was,'' Tullos said.

Those involved in the house's restoration hope all the exacting work involved in the project will result in a home that's as faithful to the original as possible, albeit with updated features, such as accessibility for disabled people and modern mechanical systems that include geothermal heating and cooling.

The restoration is particularly important, Burge and Robison said, because the Westcott House contains many elements that Wright later incorporated in other notable projects, including the Robie House in Chicago and Unity Temple in Oak Park, Ill. ``If you know anything about Wright, it is such a primer,'' Robison said.

Burge sees the project as important to Wright's legacy.

``We're not just restoring a building,'' she said. ``We're restoring a missing piece of history about probably one of the most storied architects in the world.''


Mary Beth Breckenridge is the Beacon Journal home writer. She can be reached at 330-996-3756, or at mbrecken@thebeaconjournal.com via e-mail.
1908 House Exterior Before Completion ­ This photo shows the house just before it has been completed, probably in 1908. The large Wright-designed urns have not been installed. The Westcott urns are the largest urns Wright ever designed for a home. ­ Source From Clark County Historical Society.
1908 Pre-completed Dining Room ­ This photo shows the dining room just before the house's completion, probably in 1908. The china cabinet is visible on the North wall and is being rebuilt for the restoration. The art-glass light fixtures are not yet installed and electrical wires are visible from the ceiling. ­ Source From Clark County Historical Society
1908 Pre-completed Living Room ­ This photo shows the living room just before the house's completion, probably in 1908. Two "inglenook screens" rather than complete walls separate and articulate a still open space into three distinct spaces. - Source From Clark County Historical Society.
1930's Greenmount View ­ This photo was taken in the 1930's along Greenmount Avenue beside the house. - Source From Oak Park Library, Oak Park Illinois.
1930's View From High Street - This photo was taken in the 1930's along High Street. beside the house. - Source From Oak Park Library, Oak Park Illinois.
2000 P6250007 ­ This is a photo of the South façade of the house when the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy purchased the house in 2000. ­ Source/Copyright by Matt Cline
2000 P8210014 - This is a photo of the South façade of the house taken from Greenmount Avenue when the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy purchased the house in 2000. ­ Source/Copyright by Matt Cline
2000 Skylight II ­ This is a picture of the art-glass skylight just before it was removed by Studio Arts and Glass. It is being restored and will be replaced when the house is complete. ­ Source/Copyright by Matt Cline
2001 Living Room ­ This is a 360 degree image taken of the living room, dining room and reception room areas in 2001 after some demolition to remove the apartment partitions, some of which still stand in the reception room. ­ Source/Copyright by Matt Cline
2001 PA020007 - This is a photo of the South façade of the when restoration began in 20001. ­ Source/Copyright by Matt Cline
2001 South Façade ­ This is a panoramic South façade of the house from the front yard taken at the time the restoration began. ­ Source/Copyright by Matt Cline
2002 PA020012 ­ This is a photo taken from approximately the same location as image "1908 Pre-completed Living Room." The apartment walls have been removed and West inglenook screen remains, but the benches and East inglenook screen have been removed when the building was converted into apartments. ­ Source/Copyright by Matt Cline
2002 PA020024 ­ This is a photo of the dining room looking back into the living room and reception room beyond. The china cabinet visible in the historic photo would have been along the wall on the left blue wall at the time of this photo was taken. ­ Source/Copyright by Matt Cline
2002 PA020032 ­ This is a photo taken in the reception room looking toward the living room and dining room beyond. It it taken approximately from the same location as the historic photo "1908 Pre-completed Living Room/" This photo shows some of the apartment partitions only partially removed. ­ Source/Copyright by Matt Cline
2004 P1010028 ­ This is an aerial shot taken from a cherry-picker viewing the recently completed roof and South façade stucco work by Durable Slate. The carriage house is visible behind the courtyard of the house. ­ Source/Copyright by Matt Cline
2004 P1010033 - This is an aerial shot taken from a cherry-picker viewing the recently completed roof and South façade stucco work by Durable Slate. ­ Source/Copyright by Matt Cline
2005 South Façade ­ This is a panoramic view of the South façade of the house taken in January 2005. The stucco and windows have mostly been restored. ­ Source/Copyright by Matt Cline
2005-01 Living room - This is a 360 degree image taken of the living room, dining room and reception room areas in January of 2005. All apartment embellishments have been removed, the East inglenook screen is being rebuilt and the ceiling shows its new plaster. ­ Source/Copyright by Matt Cline
BJW_3 ­ This is a photo of Burton J. Westcott sometime while he lived in the house. No photo of his wife Orpha has ever been located, although most local history suggest it was Orpha that was most responsible for commissioning Wright to design the house and she also is credited with overseeing its construction. ­ Source by Matt Cline
Westcott Car ­ This is a Westcott automobile that is currently in the collection of the Clark County Historical Society's Heritage Center, Springfield, Ohio. ­ Source/Copyright by Matt Cline
Lauren Burge, AIA of Chambers. Murphy & Burge Restoration Architects is one of several area professionals playing a part in the restoration of the Frank Lloyd Wright built Wescott House in Springfield, Ohio. Image made Akron, Ohio Friday March 11, 2005 (Akron Beacon Journal/ Lew Stamp)
A stained glass lamp cover, copied from one removed from a Frank Lloyd Wright in Springfield, sits on a table at Studio Arts & Glass in Plain Township, Ohio, on Monday, March 7, 2005. The cover will be aged to look like the old ones. (Akron Beacon Journal / Robin Tinay Sallie)
Wendy Joliet looks at a redone window removed from a Frank Lloyd Wright in Springfield, on a table at Studio Arts & Glass in Plain Township, Ohio, on Monday, March 7, 2005. (Akron Beacon Journal / Robin Tinay Sallie)
Artisan Stacie (cq) Rothermel works on a pattern near a stained glass lamp cover removed from a Frank Lloyd Wright in Springfield at Studio Arts & Glass in Plain Township, Ohio, on Monday, March 7, 2005. The old is on the left and the new is on the right. (Akron Beacon Journal / Robin Tinay Sallie)
Crafts people recreate a stained glass lamp cover removed from a Frank Lloyd Wright in Springfield at Studio Arts & Glass in Plain Township, Ohio, on Monday, March 7, 2005. The old is on the left and the new is on the right. (Akron Beacon Journal / Robin Tinay Sallie)

 

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