In 1916, Frank Lloyd Wright drew this tiny 960 square foot model A203 as one in a series of American System-Built Homes – modest Prairie Style dwellings that he had designed to be affordable and still beautiful – perfect, he thought, for burgeoning suburbs filling up with working class Americans. The plans were purchased in 1917 by Elizabeth Murphy of Shorewood, Wisconsin, she contracted local carpenter Herman Krause Jr. to build the home, and then she sold it to Alfred and Gladys Kibbie who raised two daughters in it and then sold it again in 1942. By the late 1970s, many of the home’s original exterior features had been covered up and a garage had been dug under the porch, so its history was harder to see. Eventually, the house was sold out of an estate and advertised as a “ranch with room to grow”, leaving out the burden of pedigree that comes with a Wright-designed home, so the story was at risk of being lost forever.
In 2015 the home was rediscovered by a loose coalition of Wright sleuths and in 2016, my wife and I bought it with plans to protect and restore. Quickly we realized that we were surrounded by evidence of a mysterious century-old drama. The Elizabeth Murphy House had been hiding the clues that would explain why Wright cancelled the American System-Built program and covered his tracks – never speaking publicly about the designs again. That is the story told in the 2021 book Frank Lloyd Wright’s Forgotten House, published by UW Press, recommended by reviewers as an important addition to any library of architectural history.
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