Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Frank Lloyd Wright: The Weitzheimer-Johnson House

First:  Go Cavs!

And now back to our previous scheduled blog post.

I've only known for a few years that there is a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Oberlin, Ohio. Ever since I found out I've wanted to see it.  But it's used as a guest home for Oberlin College and is only open to the public a few times a year.  This year it's open on seven days.  Last Sunday was one of them and Jim and I made a point to visit.

The building is called the Weitzheimer-Johnson House, and named for the family that built the home and a college professor who restored it. 

Charles Weitzheimer purchased a farming supply business in nearby Wellington and was looking for a home for his family. From what we were told, Mrs. Weitzheimer (Margaret) wrote a letter (around 1947, I think) to architect Wright telling him that she liked his architecture and asked if knew anyone who could design a house similar to those he created -- and do so for only $5,000.  Wright, who was now designing what he believed to be affordable, modern homes (he called them "Usonian") replied that he himself would do it-- but also essentially told them not to expect the house to look expensive.

Mr. and Mrs. Weitzheimer and their four children moved into the home in 1949.  It was sold in 1960 and the new owner plus the next one did some remodeling  -- including painting part of the interior white, and covering some brick walls with wallboard.

In 1970, Oberlin College Art History Professor Ellen Johnson purchased the house with a goal to restore it. She lived in the home until her death in 1992 and willed her home to the college.
The Weitzheimer-Johnson house was the first "Usonian" style home built in Ohio.  Wright used the term Usonian for his vision of homes built with local materials and flat roofs, with an L shape around a garden, and on  inexpensive sites.

Closer view of the home's exterior. The readily available materials that make up this home are  brick (walls), glass (windows), wood (ceilings, trim, and some walls), and concrete (floor). 

View from the house toward the street. Jim says it's "a typical Ohio lawn:"  Huge with no fence.

Wooden spheres lines the entire edge of the roof.  One of the Weitzheimer children said that when she and her three siblings didn't seem to have enough to do, their mother would send them outside to Minwax the spheres.

Our tour guide (standing in the home's living room or "public area" as it was called) was great.  I asked him if he was a professor and he said, no, that his love of architecture and all things Frank Lloyd Wright was an avocation.  You had to take off your shoes as you entered the house or wear booties over your shoes. You can see a few blue-bootied feet in this photo.
Small clerestory windows with a wooden design line most of the upper walls. On the top is the design envisioned by Wright, but the Weitzheimers didn't like it.  A Wright assistant came up with the designed used (on the bottom).

Ceiling of the public space/living room.
Bedrooms and two bathrooms were on the right side of this long hallway.  A bookcase ran the length of the other side.  The hallway floor -- like the rest of the home's floors -- is concrete.  Homes of this type designed by Wright had no "extraneous" spaces such as basements, attics and garages. 

Our tour guide told us that during a remodel the master bathrooms tub was torn out and replaced by a closet.  When Ellen Johnson restored the home, someone told her about a pink tub in local farm field, probably being used to water cattle. It turned out to be original to the house and Johnson reclaimed it.  

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