June 10, 2006

What we saw in Wausau.

I thought I was going to Wauwatosa, but really it was Wausau. Well, I got the "Wau" right. I saw "Wau," and naturally, I assumed Wauwatosa. Who wouldn't? Wauwatosa is, relative to Madison, almost all the way to Milwaukee. Wausau is dead center in Wisconsin, which means it's way north of here -- a two and a half hour drive. That's means five hours of talking in the car, which we did, and it was scintillating. Really.

Why did we go to Wausau? To me, and probably to you, Wausau is an insurance company, not so much a real place. But it's a pretty big city, by Wisconsin standards, and there have been enough wealthy people there over the years -- dealing in lumber and insurance -- that there are some excellent houses. We went on an architectural tour.

The best thing on the tour was the Charles and Dorothy Manson House, built by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1938-41:

Wausau architecture

There was another Wright house, the Duey-Wright House, done in 1957, shortly before Wright's death:

Wausau architecture

I also liked the Aytchmonde and Leigh Yawkey Woodson House, designed by George Washington Maher, 1913-14. Here's a detail:

Wausau architecture

There were tons of cool details inside all the houses, but, unfortunately, photography was only allowed outside.

Here's the lovely arbor outside the Cyrus and Alice Yawkey House:

Wausau architecture

We saw a couple Wright-inspired houses built in the last decade. They're at the bottom of the page at the link. We loved one and scorned the other. The Letarski house was designed by a guy who had really internalized Wright's ideas and had an artist's feeling for what he was doing. He lived in the house with his family. The Sorenson House was built by an architect who said he was given free rein by his clients -- two doctors -- and he had collected elements from three Wright designs and fitted them together, but it didn't have a believable, genuine spirit to it. It didn't make sense. The difference between the two houses was quite striking. I felt as though the Sorenson House could be an exam for architecture students: What do you count as mistakes and why?

I hope your day was as Usonian as ours.

25 comments:

Kim Priestap said...

My husband and I are huge FLW fans. We've done the Wright Plus tour in Oak Park, IL a couple of times, and we have, of course, toured Falling Water several times. That home is a wonder to behold, really.

Anyway, every time we're in a city that has FLW homes, we get our handy dandy FLW home guide and stake them out. One man in Kalamazoo, MI saw that we stopped in front of his home to look and take pictures and allowed us to tour his home. He moved from Australia for the express purpose of living in a FLW house.

Now that's a fanatic.

Ruth Anne Adams said...
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Dave said...

I've seen a bunch of the Usonia houses in Westchester County, NY and my verdict is: ugly as sin.

But I do like Fallingwater. The Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Ave in NYC is kind of cool to look at as well.

But those houses are way too small and anachronistic to appeal to anyone but FLW buffs. Maybe the ones in Wisconsin have better layouts?

Bruce Hayden said...

My mother grew up in Oak Park, Ill. around those FLW houses, and they took that tour a couple of years ago. She talked the bus driver into going by her old house while they were at it (unfortunately, they didn't have one of his houses - but it was only a block off the tour).

downtownlad said...

You're totally right about the two modern houses. The last one looks so Disneyesque. I wouldn't have even realized that it was Wright inspired if it wasn't on the link. The Liturski one captures the horizontal elements that are so essential to Wright's early design.

Ann Althouse said...

Downtownlad: The differences on the inside were even greater.

Dave: I like houses that are relatively small but so well designed they feel great because of their compactness.

Dave said...

"I like houses that are relatively small but so well designed they feel great because of their compactness."

That seems rather a contradiction to me.

The thing that I hate most about the Usonia style houses is their cloying sentimentalism: what family in their right mind wants to be on top of each other all the time in a common room, with bedrooms the size of sardine cans?

No thanks.

Ann Althouse said...

Dave: I agree with you about the way some of the Usonian houses are small in an oppressive way. The house tells the family how to live. It forces you into the rooms it wants you to be in and dictates a very 1950s lifestyle. I considered buying such a house once, a house I thought was beautiful, but I freaked out at the thought of living there.

My statement that seems contradictory makes sense. The idea is to use the space well, to use design not size to get what you want. That's what impresses me in architecture.

Dave said...

"My statement that seems contradictory makes sense. The idea is to use the space well, to use design not size to get what you want. That's what impresses me in architecture."

Well, I certainly agree with that--well designed space is underappreciated. And you don't have to live in a McMansion to have either well designed space of sufficient room to spread out.

Ricardo said...

Would you tell us again which camera you use, when you go on these kinds of road trips? I'm in the market for a pocket-size digital thing for traveling, but with zoom capability. Any suggestions, if you don't already own it?

Ann Althouse said...

Ricardo, you can click on the photo and get to the Flickr page which has the detail on this camera. I used a full-size SLR camera for these pictures, a Nikon D-50. I'm in the market for another pocket camera. The one I carry around all the time is a Sony, and older model that you wouldn't buy today, but I've been happy with Sony.

PatCA said...

Interesting post. You make me homesick for the Midwest! We lived in WI and then Oak Park for a while, where I was in my friend's wedding at Unity Temple,
the church Wright designed.

(And if you ever end up in Wauwatosa again, stop at our old hangout, Gilles , for onion rings and a shake.)

Ricardo said...

Ann: Thanks, that's very helpful. I'm still in the film era (Canon A2E SLR as my principal camera) mainly because it gives exceptional low-light and high-speed capabilities. And I use pocket Olympus's as backup for traveling. But it's time for me to go digital, and I've always thought the quality of your images was extremely good. Thanks again. It gives me a good place to start.

Dave said...

Ricardo: dpreview.com is a good place to learn about various digital cameras, especially if you're used to all teh technical specs used with film based cameras.

Marghlar said...

There were tons of cool details inside all the houses, but, unfortunately, photography was only allowed outside.

I wish you had broken the rules! (Although, given recent experience, I understand why you didn't.)

Seeing just the outside of these homes, both here and back at the link, is just frustrating.

If only Wausau weren't like eight hours away...

Ann Althouse said...

It's too late now anyway. The houses were open to the public -- at a price -- for one day. You have to wait years for the opportunity to go inside.

And even then, you can't just poke around. You're led in groups with docents right there all the time. It was not possible to just violate rules. A docent would have intervened.

And, man, did I get sick of listening to docents! I want to look around and discover the details, not have someone tell me what to look at. It's so tiresome after a while. It combines some of my least favorite things: being physically controlled, having an aesthetic experience marred by sound that is not aesthetically pleasing, having someone else's ideas expressed while I'm in a position to observe something so that I'm deprived of the chance to form a direct opinion, hearing about a subject from someone who is going to present everything in a positive light with no edge at all -- or, it turns out, any humor. What if you don't like the house and want to move on quickly? What if you love the house and want time to absorb the soul of the place? These are all really nice people, devoting their time to something they love, but, really, can't an unguided tour be an option, so isn't it bad of me to dislike them? See, that's another thing I don't like? Having to feel bad for not wanted to spend time with a perfectly nice person.

Marghlar said...

Having to feel bad for not wanted to spend time with a perfectly nice person.

LOL. That perfectly encapsulates a feeling that I get often in life. That feeling of, this random person is nice enough, but honestly, who has time?

And docents...don't get me started. Give me a pamphlet or something, and let me experience things directly. Especially for architecture, which is all about gestalt and ambiance.

Ann Althouse said...

Sorry for the typo. Should be "not wanting..."

Ricardo said...

Waukesha, Waunakee, Waupaca, Waupun, Wausau, Wausaukee, Wautoma, Wauzeeka, not to mention Wapino, Wascott, Washburn, Watertown, and a whole bunch of Washington's.

You're absolutely right; not much room for error in Wisconsin.

Ann Althouse said...

Mary: Yeah, you're right about that. I've been in some historical buildings, some of them personal residences, where no one lived there anymore but I still had to be with a docent the whole time. I accept that some kind of guarding is necessary, but the endless talking and requirement of sociability is oppressive -- not horribly, but still....

In Sarah Vowell's book "Assassination Vacation," she makes a big deal out of how she'd really like to be a docent in a historical place.

The place where I most appreciated the tour guides: Alcatraz. They were U.S. Park Rangers and really good.

Ricardo: Yeah. It's just wah-wah-wah-wah -- like a baby crying -- around here.

Dawn said...

Ann, you went to Wausau and didn't go to Rib Mountain, I mean Granite Peak and ride the 6-pack! The best thing to come out of Wausau s my husband. I love it there, and wish we could leave MN and live there.

I watched a program on owners of FLW homes in Oak Park, and was astonished at the amount of money some put into renovating the homes back to their glory - around $2-3 million. Truly beautiful homes. Went to a wedding 15 years ago at the FLW -designed Unitarian church in Madison on the hottest June day on record. Frank didn't allow for AC, which would have helped.

SippicanCottage said...
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Ruth Anne Adams said...
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MadisonMan said...

And you don't have to live in a McMansion to have either well designed space of sufficient room to spread out.

A McMansion is by definition poorly designed. How can you have all the unused space and good design all at once? (Who ever uses the Formal Dining Room or the little room right off the Foyer?)

Note: I skip Parade of Homes this year. Again. "Green" homes with 5000+ square feet? No.

Buzz said...

I owned the Manson house from 1975 until 1980 or so. It was a lttle dark and crowded, but my how that great room saw some parties. I'm very happy to have had the experience of living in a FLW original, a once in a lifetime event.

Buzz