A previously unidentified Frank Lloyd Wright design was revealed today in Shorewood, Wis. The house at 2106 Newton Ave. was constructed in 1917 as an American System-Built House, a venture Wright undertook to design, develop and market well-designed houses to a broad market by using standardization to make them affordable.
Take a look inside here with OnMilwaukee.com's Bobby Tanzilo.
"The home is an exact match to a drawing in the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives," said Mike Lilek, Curator, American System-Built Homes, at Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin. "I received a tip about the Newton home a few years ago and brushed it off. Only 433 Wright designs were executed, and they are well-known and carefully researched, so I thought it couldn’t be. When I finally visited the home, I discovered many similarities to the Wright homes I care for on Burnham Street in Milwaukee."
Lilek wanted to leave no stone unturned and found himself at the Milwaukee County Historical Society’s Research Library. "I remember jumping and making a lot of noise in the library at the Milwaukee County Historical Society when all the pieces fell into place and I knew I had discovered another Wright building."
Lilek has since checked around the country and no one can recall the last time an actual Wright building was discovered. "It’s been at least a decade. This is so incredibly rare and unusual," said Lilek.
"The house was advertised for sale in the Milwaukee Journal in December of 1918 stating that the house was ‘Originally designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’," Lilek said. A lawsuit by the builder and a construction lien against The Richards Company, developer of the American System-Built Houses, offer further confirmation that the house is the work of Wright.
The Shorewood house is a "Model A203" with two bedrooms. An open porch at the rear of the house was enclosed for added living space at an unknown date, though the original art glass windows are still in place. A basement-level garage was added in 1976.
Wright produced more than 900 working drawings and sketches of various designs for the American System-Built Houses. Six examples are on West Burnham Street at Layton Boulevard in Milwaukee where there are four duplexes and two single-family homes. The non-profit Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin has restored one of the Burnham Street houses, which is open regularly for tours, and is restoring one of the duplexes.
Wright said that he had been thinking about the system for many years. By 1916, companies connected to Arthur L. Richards entered into an agreement with Wright to promote the American System-Built Homes. The contract covered all parts of the United States, Canada and Europe. Richards was to recruit a distribution channel of builders and developers from around the country. He appears to have focused his efforts in the Chicago area and a few other Midwestern cities.
The agreement between Wright and Richards anticipated that the American System-Built Homes project would be wildly successful, though only about a dozen structures were built. The entry of the United States into World War I on April 6, 1917 inflated prices and building materials diverted to wartime needs combined to bring housing starts to a halt.
The house at 2106 Newton Ave. is a private home, and the public is asked to respect the privacy of the residents.