Before she was rediscovered, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Elizabeth Murphy House had been forgotten and was hidden in plain sight, and along the way, confused as a “ranch.”
Sales records show that the home was listed in 1918, 1942 and 1972 as a cottage “designed by Frank Lloyd Wright,” but that in 1993, due to concern by estate sellers that its historic nature – and the implied obligations – would dampen buyer enthusiasm, the house was listed for sale as a “Charming 6 room ranch with room to grow.” Here is the newspaper listing:
So between 1972 and 2015, this historic home simply confused the experts. For example, when a village tax assessor visited in 1993, blind to the home’s Wrightian pedigree, he wrote:
“building is unusual in that its age is at odds with its style (ranch, contemporary, architecture)”.
The inspector could see that something strange and special had happened here, but could not be sure what it was. He must have known that in 1918, there was no such thing as a “ranch” style home, and yet, here was something way ahead of its time.
This is where Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision and influence on the American working class is clear and apparent. He was thinking – forty years before anyone else – of lush walkable neighborhoods featuring long, low affordable prairie style homes with shadowy eaves, banks of windows, grassy yards and built-in gardens. And he designed a first example in 1916 then sold the design to Elizabeth Murphy and she built the prototype in young Shorewood Wisconsin in 1918. Of course, suburban neighborhoods made up of ranch homes were a thing of the 1950s and 1960s. (Incidentally, Angela and I both grew up in homes and places like these.)
Ironically, when neighborhood kids visit on school field trips, as they have been doing this week, some will inevitably call this 101-year old city house “modern” and “cool”; different than their own family flats and bungalows and more like what they see when they take trips to the suburbs.