Friday, July 6, 2012

Frank Lloyd Wright's German Warehouse


Frank Lloyd Wright's monolithic German Warehouse stands forlornly on the corner of S. Church and E. Haseltine in Richland Center, WI. I've watched that building now for almost half a century. Highway 14 used to run right through town and the warehouse was on the left, exactly where we always turned right to get to my grandma's house when I was growing up.  I was back there recently and got another look. The old Warehouse is looking worse--it actually looks abandoned:

German Warehouse, northern facade and back

German Warehouse, eastern facade detail 

German Warehouse, rear portico

German Warehouse, rear portico
German Warehouse, service entrance

German Warehouse, loading dock 
German Warehouse, decay in 2012 
German Warehouse, decay in 2012 (detail)

I'd like to know who owns it and more about the problems associated with keeping it intact. I did not get a look inside--it's probably pretty awful--Wright's roofs were notoriously leaky and the German Warehouse had a flat one--a worst case scenario in Wisconsin winters.

Wright designed the building as a warehouse with some small retail space, but it never caught on. What could it be used for today? Not for its original purpose--storing stuff.  Practically anything Wright-related not nailed down is already owned and safely housed somewhere else so a new museum of his "stuff" would probably not fly. Richland Center is not exactly a tourist destination. And yet it could be something--it must be something...*

When I was in Richland Center, I drove my kids and my mom around town, letting her free associate about her past: who, what, where, & when. Wright was born in that town in 1867 and my mom can still point to the house which she knew growing up as "his," but she admits that it's always been controversial. Wright left Richland Center early on for Madison, only returning there after the First World War to build the Warehouse for a client named A.D. German. Things never went well. The people of Richland Center never fully embraced their native son. I still heard the echos growing up in the 1960s: "The Warehouse is different" ("different" is Wisconsin code for ugly); "he never paid his debts" or "he ran that coed school over in Spring Green"--that's code for scandalous.  But times change.

My mom also showed me a tiny cemetery outside of Richland Center where four of her sisters lie buried. They bracketed her in age but three died as young children and their graves lay hidden and forgotten for 70 years--much like their stories--until she finally bought them a decent tombstone this year. She showed me where. I know that there is a Wright somewhere back in my mom's genealogy and I noticed the name "Wright" on a nearby gravestone so I wonder if we're related--she didn't know but I'm tempted to find out.

If only the people who cared about Wright's legacy could unite around this particular building and help transform it. Perhaps people who care don't even know the problems that this building faces, and so I can spread that word at least--for now. I'd do much more if I had the means.
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*...what after all are these buildings now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of Frank Lloyd Wright?

7 comments:

  1. I was unaware of that one. Thanks. Very interesting! Usually Wright buildings are popular to buyers.

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  2. It's definitely a cool old building. I wonder if structural issues are at the heart of it. Yet there are no signs warning that it's been condemned or that it will imminently collapse. The FLW warehouse looks a bit like a medieval keep.

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  3. @LL: It's actually poured concrete all the way up and down--the brick is just a facade. Withe lack of fenestration, it's probably very cool (though dank) inside.

    I can't seem to find any recent photos from inside the bulding. An elderly aunt of mine recalls bringing sandwiches to my grandfather who was once hired to paint inside. If you google around you'll find some nice artist's conceptions of loft space etc. It seems to have a reinforced concrete "podular" support system inside, I bit like his Racine Johnson Wax space: link

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  4. About 2 weeks ago, I drove by the gas station that he built in Cloquet, MN. Still in use and looks like it always has.

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  5. The heir of the deceased owner of the warehouse has offered the building for sale to the City of Richland Center at a modest price. The community is in the process of organizing an effort to purchase and restore the building. It is structurally sound but will need restoration work to the decorative concrete friezes, tuck pointing of the brickwork and, yes, a new roofing system. Anyone interested in the effort can follow the project on FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/ADGermanWarehouse
    or contact the Richland Chamber and Development Alliance in Richland Center: chamber@richlandalliance.com, (608) 647-6205

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  6. Thanks for your comment, Mark. I'm going do an update on this.

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