It was in the early 1910s that Frank Lloyd Wright started a program to bring good design to affordable housing. Wright eventually pulled the plug on the American System Built Homes project, but interest in these homes, many of which were transformed beyond recognition and often in decay, has been strong. On Newton Avenue in Shorewood, the now monikered Elizabeth Murphy House was rediscovered in 2015, despite it being advertised as a Wright home in a real estate ad as late as 1972. Why was its recording erased, and how does that connect to the career of locally prominent architect Russell Barr Williamson (many private homes plus the Eagles Club and Avalon Theater)? How was it found? And what could the new owners do to bring it back to Wright-worthy condition? Like any story about Frank Lloyd Wright, this includes passion, feuding, and a little tweaking of history. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Forgotten House is great for local history buffs and Wright-o-philes alike.— Daniel Goldin
While the grandiosity of Fallingwater and elegance of Taliesin are recognized universally, Frank Lloyd Wright’s first foray into affordable housing is frequently overlooked. Although Wright began work on his American System-Built Homes (ASBH, 1911–17) with great energy, the project fell apart following wartime shortages and disputes between the architect and his developer. While continuing to advocate for the design of affordable small homes, Wright never spoke publicly of ASBH. As a result, the heritage of many Wright-designed homes was forgotten.
When Nicholas and Angela Hayes became stewards of the unassuming Elizabeth Murphy House near Milwaukee, they began to unearth evidence that ultimately revealed a one-hundred-year-old fiasco fueled by competing ambitions and conflicting visions of America. The couple’s forensic pursuit of the truth untangled the ways Wright’s ASBH experiment led to the architect’s most productive, creative period. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Forgotten House includes a wealth of drawings and photographs, many of which have never been previously published. Historians, architecture buffs, and Wrightophiles alike will be fascinated by this untold history that fills a crucial gap in the architect’s oeuvre.
About the Author
Nicholas D. Hayes leads innovation at a water technology company and is the award-winning author of Saving Sailing. A columnist for Sailing Magazine, he lives in Shorewood, Wisconsin.
“Hayes shines a welcome light on a shadowy period in the life of an American luminary. His story is filled with intrigue, conflict, and, always, the protean creativity of Frank Lloyd Wright at his most democratic.”—John Gurda, author of The Making of Milwaukee
“Beautifully written. A significant contribution to the field, this volume provides a useful unpacking of one of the largest and not yet thoroughly studied projects of the architect’s career. Hayes’s description of this early independent building program in line with Wright’s overall aesthetic aims are on point.”—Michael Desmond, Louisiana State University School of Architecture