The Junior Fellows set out this morning for day two of our inauguration trip, beginning a twenty-one hour day that will take us to two Frank Lloyd Wright Homes, the Gateway Arch, the Lincoln Tomb, the Lincoln Presidential Library, two state capitol buildings, and the Benjamin Harrison home.
While many people say that they interact with art, few people can say they have lived in a piece of art. For Russell Kraus, however, that’s just how he felt when he hired Wright to design his home in 1950. And after moving in, Kraus treated it as priceless artistic treasure, preserving the Wright design, furniture, and art for almost sixty years.
Now open to the public for tours, the home is a dazzling display of Wright’s virtuosity. It is one of Wright’s “Usonian homes,” so designated because this type of home was designed for families of modest means in the “United States of North America.” Wright wanted his Usonian homes to be affordable, but he also wanted them to have character, to be distinct and interesting.
The house is designed as two overlapping parallelograms, and all of the home’s angles are either 60 or 120 degrees (with only two exceptions in bathrooms, made to accommodate bathtubs). Virtually every design in the house—the floor patterns, the patios, even the bed—are designed as either a parallelogram or a hexagram, giving the home a visually consistent theme.
How detailed was Wright? Well he made sure that even the flathead screws were aligned with the angle of the wood that it was holding. The chairs were unusually designed, falling into “butterfly” or “origami” patterns, the latter an influence of his work in Japan. The effect was visually appealing, but it’s not clear what sitting in the chairs would actually feel like (no pictures were allowed inside the home).
But with any Wright home, there comes a set of guidelines that, although not stipulated in a legal document, are made clear by the designer. Accordingly, out of a professional courtesy, when Kraus felt he needed to change the home in some small manner over the fifty or so years he lived there, he first requested “permission” from Wright. Fortunately, he didn’t change much, and what he did change was in accordance with Wright’s wishes, making the Kraus Home at Ebsworth Park a real treat for preservationists and art lovers.
We had another taste of Wright later in the day, when we arrived in Springfield, Illinois. There we saw the magnificent Dana-Thomas House (1902), which is more than 12,000 square feet—definitely not a “Usonian.” Although there are only two “stories” in the Dana-Thomas Home, there are actually six separate vertical levels within the home, exhibiting typical Wright-like complexity. Wright also hand designed the window art, which is evident in every pane in the house. According to the Site Manager, Justin Blandford, about ninety-five percent of what exists in the home was designed by Wright for the home, making it (along with the Kraus Home) one of the best preserved Wright structures existing.
Speaking of architects, we were also able to see the work of Eero Saarinen. The work is the Gateway Arch, and it is the tallest man-made structure in the United States. It is six-hundred and thirty feet high, and it symbolizes the nation’s westward expansion and St. Louis’s status as the gateway to the west.
To “heighten” our experience, we rode to the top in what the Museum generously calls a tram, but which most of us referred to as a “pod,” and what some Junior Fellows referred to as a “death trap.” It went slowly up at first, occasionally with a herky-jerky horizontal motion, and then moved faster as it got momentum.
At the top, the view was breath taking. On the west side, one can see the St. Louis Courthouse, Busch Stadium, and the Wainwright Building.
We are very thankful that two of our Alumni—Daniel North and Dana Angello, both former Presidents of the organization—stopped by to accompany us. In fact, Mr. North actually bought our tickets up the Arch. Thank you!
We also were able to briefly stop by the Courthouse where Dred Scott filed his papers for his freedom, leading to the (in)famous Supreme Court case in 1856…
…and also check out the park to the west of the courthouse. The park features, “The Runner,” a statue reinforcing the theme of westward expansion.
To top off the day’s main events we decided to enjoy a series of Lincoln-dedicated stops throughout Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln’s hometown. We started by visiting Lincoln’s tomb, a large gravestone enclosed in a room at the base of a tall monument in the form of an obelisk.
There was a reverent atmosphere about the place, evident by silence and hat removals.
From here we darted a few blocks away to the Lincoln Presidential Museum, next door to the Lincoln Presidential Library, making it just in time to enter. The museum did a fine job of recreating the major scenes from Lincoln’s life, using mannequins and holograms to great effect.
Even more impressive were historic items such as a “life mask” taken of Lincoln shortly after he was elected President and, of course, the Emancipation Proclamation. Unfortunately, other than the main foyer area and outside, no pictures were allowed inside the Museum.
We wound down our Lincoln tour with a trip the Lincoln Home.
We have to hand it to the planners in Springfield. Not only have they preserved his home, but they also preserved the homes that extent one block in every direction. Our feeling was one of stepping back in time, standing among the beautiful homes in Lincoln’s neighborhood. Unfortunately, the feeling was short lived as we climbed in our automobile and made our way to the hotel for the night.
Just before settling in for the final car ride for the night, we took a side stop in Indianapolis, Indiana. If you have dismissed Indianapolis as an unexciting Midwestern stopover, you might want to rethink your view. With a brief drive by of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we saw the place where the famed Brickyard 400 takes place, and the even more famous Indianapolis 500. Though we didn’t see much (it already being dark), it was a definite treat to stop by and see the only nationally landmarked motor speedway in the US, and to bear witness where “the greatest spectacle in racing” takes place every memorial weekend.
Also impressive is “Monument Circle,” a 284-feet monument dedicated to those who fought in American wars. The monument was built in 1901, so the dedications stop with the Spanish-American War, but it was imposing and impressive, and offered amazing views of the state capitol building.
Consistent with our president-themed trip, we also visited the Benjamin Harrison home, which was beautiful. The home had four levels, and was quite large. Perhaps most interesting, however, was the front porch. Not only was it warm and inviting, as any Victorian era home should be, but more importantly it was the porch from which he ran his famous “front-porch” campaign in 1888.
Today was our “Midwestern Tour” day, moving us through three key Midwestern states and informative, entertaining, and educational sites—a perfect priming for Washington, DC and the Presidential Inauguration.