Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Frank Lloyd Wright’s imprint upon Mason City October 7, 2014

CONSTRUCTED WITHIN MY HOUSE of memories, I see my mother paging through floor plans in booklets picked up at the local lumberyard. She dreamed of a new house for her large and growing family.

She bulged heavy with child in 1967, the year relatives and contractors built the house of her dreams and the August she birthed her final of six babies.

By the Christmas holidays, we had abandoned our cramped wood-frame farmhouse for the walk-in basement rambler across the driveway. We welcomed a bathroom, a basement with a cement floor and plenty of closet space. And the warmth of a central heating system.

I attribute my appreciation and interest in architecture to those pre-teen memories of Mom sifting through house plans and of watching Dad unfurl blueprints for our new home. Vivid, too, are the earthy scent of sawdust, the open two-by-fours nailed into rooms, the grind of the cement mixer.

To this day, I study the lines of houses, consider their architecture, often wish I could step inside.

A Prairie School house in the Glen Rock neighborhood of Mason City, Iowa.

A Prairie School house in the Rock Glen neighborhood of Mason City, Iowa.

So on a recent visit to northeastern Iowa, I was thrilled to discover the greatest concentration of Prairie School architecture (eight homes, a bank and hotel, by my count) in the upper Midwest in Mason City.

Martha Pettigrew's "American Architect," a portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright, stands permanently in Central Park. The famous Prairie School style architect designed a house, hotel and bank in Mason City.

Martha Pettigrew’s “American Architect,” a sculpture of Frank Lloyd Wright, stands permanently in Mason City’s Central Park, across the street from the bank and hotel he designed and which were completed in 1910.

Frank Lloyd Wright himself imprinted his Prairie School architecture upon Mason City with the design of the Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank, both listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and of the Stockman House, built for Dr. George Stockman and his family.

Frank Lloyd designed this house, moved to 530 First St. N.E. and today open to the public as an interpretative center, for Dr. George Stockman.

Frank Lloyd designed this house, moved to 530 First St. N.E. and today open to the public as an interpretative center, for Dr. George Stockman. I did not tour the home during my visit to Mason City.

Today the Stockman House is open to the public as a showcase of Wright’s work. You can also tour the historic hotel and former bank.

A Prairie School neighborhood snapshot.

A Prairie School neighborhood snapshot.

A walk through the Rock Crest/Rock Glen neighborhood reveals more Prairie School homes designed by students of this definitively first American style of architecture. I don’t pretend to be an expert in architecture. But Prairie School homes are easily recognizable with their primarily flat and looming rooflines, rectangular windows, plainness, imposing strength and sense of privacy.

Not just any old street corner in any old neighborhood.

Not just any old street corner in any old neighborhood.

Enjoy this tour of Prairie School homes in Mason City. Now if only I could have toured the interiors, I’d have been especially pleased.

 

 

Prairie School 3

 

Prairie School 4

 

Signs embedded in the sidewalk identify some, if not all, of the Prairie School houses.

Signs embedded in the sidewalk identify some, if not all, of the Prairie School houses.

 

An entry to the 1915 Hugh Gilmore House designed by Francis Barry Byrne. It's located at 511 E. State Street.

An entry to the 1915 Hugh Gilmore House designed by Francis Barry Byrne. It’s located at 511 E. State Street.

 

A stunning car port on a Prairie School style house.

A stunning car port on a Prairie School style house.

 

The E.V. Franke House at 507 East State Street, designed by Francis Barry Byrne in 1917.

The E.V. Franke House at 507 East State Street, designed by Francis Barry Byrne in 1917.

 

Prairie School 5

 

A view of the 1915 Sam Schneider House at 525 E. State Street and designed by Walter Burley Griffin.

A view of the 1915 Sam Schneider House at 525 E. State Street and designed by Walter Burley Griffin.

 

The 1920 George Romey House was designed by J.M. Felt & Co. with Prairie School influence.

The 1920 George Romey House was designed by J.M. Felt & Co. with Prairie School influence.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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13 Responses to “Frank Lloyd Wright’s imprint upon Mason City”

  1. Dan Traun Says:

    I enjoy the variety of designs. I very much dislike developments of today where everything looks the same. I understand why they do it. Some developments have a few different styles of homes; that isn’t so bad, but when they are exactly the same I don’t care for it.

  2. Thread crazy Says:

    If walls could only talk right? Just think of the stories we’d hear of past and current residents! Some beautiful old homes there… love to drive through older and historical areas.

  3. AMAZING! Thanks so much for sharing – love architecture too – love Frank Lloyd Wright and the Craftsman Style homes. I would love to build a Craftsman and Ranch combo some day. I had a hand in building our 2nd home in 2005, which has now been sold. The farm I grew up on was under remodel and renovation for 8 of the 12 years that I lived there – fun, but a little frustrating to live in that at times too. Happy Day 🙂

  4. hotlyspiced Says:

    How exciting for your mother to be building the house of her dreams. I would love to design my own home and then watch the building of it take place. I studied Frank Lloyd Wright at school and my father used to work in a building in Racine, Wisconsin that was designed by Wright. This has been a lovely tour of prairie architecture and I’ve enjoyed viewing all the buildings and the sculpture of Wright himself xx

    • I don’t know if Mom got the house of her dreams. But she got a much larger house with room for all of us and a bathroom. We were outgrowing our little woodframe farmhouse.

      I wonder if that Frank Lloyd Wright house still stands in Racine?

  5. treadlemusic Says:

    I think the smell of sawdust is absolutely heavenly!!! The “Prairie School” homes of FLW are exquisite and the interiors (with all the beautiful windows/natural light) are pure elegance!!! Quite the opposite of all the country cozy clutter I/we live amongst!!!!!! LOL!

  6. Beth Ann Says:

    You know I love these houses and the stories that they reveal in their simple appearance and lines. Since there are several for sale YOU could have one, too! Just a thought. But seriously—-I have always been a FLW fan and admirer and who would have imagined I would have lived in a town with so many FLW inspired homes?


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