Arthur Richards had a different idea than Frank Lloyd Wright

Arthur L. Richards hired Frank Lloyd Wright to design the prototype Burnham Block American System-Built Homes (ASBH) in 1915, and seeing potential, the men agreed to form a partnership to market the idea nationally in late 1916. Unfortunately, the program unravelled unceremoniously in less than a year, for many reasons.

The American System-Built Program was an experiment in housing for the masses. For Wright, it was complex design challenge: how to create affordable beautiful modest homes. But for Richards, the ASBH program was one item in a vast catalog of real estate products which included plans, materials, services and projects to develop entire tracts of suburban land, speculations, apartment complexes, retail and restaurant spaces, dance halls and hotels.

In this 1905 advertisement in the Milwaukee Press Club‘s annual “Once a Year” magazine, a giant Arthur Richards promised to Sell You a Lot and Build You A Home. The man could scoop up and subdivide land, recommend designs, and roll up his sleeves, measure and cut wood and swing a hammer!

Caption: 1905 Milwaukee Press Club, Once a Year. Source: Paul G. Hayes’ Collection. The same cartoon appeared a year earlier in the Milwaukee Sentinel, according the Shirley deFrezne McArthur, the American System-Built historian.1

Six years later, Wright and Richards would meet to work together on a Hotel in Lake Geneva and six years after that, Richards sold a copy of Wright’s drawings of the American System-Built Model A203 to Elizabeth Murphy to build this house. We still find Richard’s Company fingerprints on baseboards and unfinished lumber throughout our home. Here, for example, is the Richards Co. stamp on the attic door:

Caption: Attic door in the Elizabeth Murphy House featuring the stamp “Richards, Co Milwaukee WIS”

One year later, in 1917, Richards and Wright would need lawyers to settle their differences, Wright would not mention the American System-Built Homes again and Richards continued to sell all forms of real estate all around Milwaukee until he retired comfortably in 1949.

1 duFrezne-MaCarthur, Shirley, Frank Lloyd Wright American System Built Homes in Milwaukee, North Point Historical Society, 1983. Page 26.

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