Discovering a previously undocumented Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building is an infrequent occurrence. Identifying two in the same year is even more remarkable, especially two in the same state.
[October 6, 2015, Madison, Wis.] The house at 2107 West Lawn Ave. in Madison, Wisconsin was revealed today as a previously unidentified American System-Built House, a product of a short-lived and not widely known housing venture undertaken by Frank Lloyd Wright to provide affordable housing for a broader clientele than the individuals for whom he provided custom homes. The West Lawn house is the sixteenth American System-Built housing unit to ever be identified and, remarkably, the second announced this year.
Nearly thirty years ago, Mary Jane Hamilton, a Wright scholar known for her publications on the architect's family and buildings for Wisconsin, first learned of the West Lawn house. At the time, she was serving as guest curator for "Frank Lloyd Wright and Madison" an exhibition displayed at the Elvehem (now Chazen) Museum of Art in 1988. "I was already busy securing drawings and furnishings related to Wright's thirty-two designs for the Madison area for use in the multi-gallery exhibition and writing fourteen chapters, all but one on previously undocumented buildings, for the related hardcover book," Hamilton said. "After not finding any records for another Madison house in the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives or then current books on Wright, I decided to wait until I had more time and could thoroughly investigate the West Lawn house. I wanted to learn more about this unlikely combination of a Wrightian side entrance and bands of custom windows with an un-Wrightian band of dark brick."
In the 1990s, while working on a book documenting the history of Wright's Monona Terrace, Hamilton's new neighbor mentioned that a childhood friend had lived in a Wright house in Madison, which turned out to be the same one she had heard about a decade earlier. By then she had already secured copies of documents and maps pertaining to the West Lawn house and property, but none included any reference to Frank Lloyd Wright. Finding a full-page advertisement for the A.B. Groves Building Company, published in the Wisconsin State Journal on March 25, 1917 turned out to be the missing link between the West Lawn house and Frank Lloyd Wright's American System-Built designs.
Over the course of her research, Hamilton had not contacted any owners of West Lawn house because she still had not found any published American System-Built drawings that resembled the West Lawn house. But in the fall of 2009 she wrote to Linda McQuillen, the owner of the West Lawn house, and asked if she could visit the house and bring along Mike Lilek, Curator, American System-Built Homes, at Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin, and widely regarded as an American System-Built expert. Neither of them mentioned Frank Lloyd Wright when they entered the house but before leaving felt confident of its Wrightian heritage. Afterward, McQuillen said, "I knew this was a prairie style home, and that Wright designed prairie style homes, but I didn't know of any direct connection between my home and Frank Lloyd Wright."
During a 2010 research trip to Taliesin West, Hamilton finally located drawings that resembled the West Lawn house, and with the ongoing assistance of Mike Lilek has continued to amass evidence of a positive ASBH identification. The list has continued to grow -sometimes weekly - and to date numerous elements have been found in the West Lawn house that match corresponding elements in the original drawings for the ASBH Model AA series.
As for the significance of the newly identified ASBH house, Mike Lilek has offered these observations. "The West Lawn house expands our understanding of Wright's work, taking us back to his early vision to house every American in an affordable, well-designed home. Wright believed his designs could make our lives richer by nurturing and sheltering our families, and bringing us closer to nature. The West Lawn house does all that and more with its humble simplicity. This discovery now connects Madison to the beginning of Wright's exploration of mass-produced housing for all Americans, an exploration that spans his entire career and culminates in the 1950s with his three Madison prefab homes for Marshall Erdman."
Note: The house at 2107 West Lawn is a private home and the public is asked to respect the privacy of the residents.