Frank Lloyd Wright’s American System-Built Homes don’t garner the attention of his celebrated works. That can be a blessing in disguise. It would not be possible, for example, for a couple of middle-aged, middle-class empty nesters to buy and occupy the Dana-Thomas or the Robie House, but regular folks can live in and care for a more modest ASBH. And we have found a special camaraderie with other ASBH stewards, finding friendship in stewardship.
ASBH stewards live in structures that have either been misunderstood, ignored, seem inadequately modern, and are now both old and sometimes altered – requiring a special patience and sensitivity when preservation is the objective. Every update demands both archeological rigor and architectural sensitivity. It takes more work to uncover and preserve history than simply to live in the present.
But we’re happy to report an emerging strength in numbers that gives this work meaning. A small group of ASBH owners have been meeting and collaborating in the last few years (first physically and then virtually), sharing ideas, tours, parts and pieces and pictures to study, and have even been purchasing materials for renovations in bulk to ensure affordability and continuity. Six of the homes are represented in this group! We discuss each other’s challenges and share ideas and lessons learned. And all ASBH stewards – rookies or veterans – are invited. If you are an ASBH steward and would like to join, please reach out and one of us will reply with an invitation to join our private Facebook group and email list.
Out of these relationships has emerged an opportunity to share the deeper history of Wright’s first foray into affordable housing. As you know if you have been following this blog, The Elizabeth Murphy House will soon reveal her secrets – the reasons why Wright cancelled the ASBH program a century ago – in the new book “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Forgotten House,” due on shelves at the end of April. Within weeks, the book “This American House: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Meier House and the American System-Built Homes” will tell the story of the Delbert Meier House and describe ASBH general history.
Two books at the same time? This is not a simple coincidence. When our friends and collaborators in stewardship Jason Loper and Michael Schreiber visited a few years back to announce their book plans, we shared ours, we compared notes to find the vast differences in our stories, and we then celebrated the reality that Wright’s forgotten ASBHs – one of his most ambitious projects – might finally get their due. As one Wright expert commented recently on the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy forums: “There is a welcome and overdue flurry of action in the realm of [the] ASBH.”