Frank Lloyd Wright: Cedar Rock, Iowa

“As we live and as we are, Simplicity – with a capital “S” – is difficult to comprehend nowadays. We are no longer truly simple. We no longer live in simple terms or places. Life is a more complex struggle now. It is now valiant to be simple: a courageous thing to even want to be simple. It is a spiritual thing to comprehend what simplicity means.”
Frank Lloyd Wright, The Natural House

I look around my house and wonder if I am living in Simplicity. Are there enough windows to let in the natural light? Are plants able to survive naturally in my house growing straight from the soil? Is there too much space?

A road trip through the Central part of Iowa brought me to one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most complete designs. Cedar Rock in Quasqueton, Iowa. The house was completely designed for the personal use of Mr. and Mrs. Walter. Mr. Walter was a native of Quasqueton. He was a very successful businessman who owned the Iowa Road Building Company for thirty-seven years. He sold the company in 1944 to his employees. He wanted to retire and enjoy life. He and his wife became very involved in the arts. They admired the work that Frank Lloyd Wright had done on his architectural designs. They asked him to design their house.

Cedar Rock

Frank Lloyd Wright was the greatest architect of the 20th century. He designed more than 1,100 buildings before he passed away at the age of 91. Wright builtis the first house in Spring Green, Wisconsin where he grew up. He named it “Taliesin”. This building had to be built three times. It was destroyed by fire twice. The first caused by a “deranged servant” and the second by an electrical problem. He didn’t have much luck with wives either. He was married three times. The first two he divorced.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Cedar Rock home using the Usonian design. Usonian was the concept he wanted to use for designing homes for the middle-class families. Although I don’t think that many middle-class families between the time of 1944-1955 could afford to buy a house for $120,000.00. The house my parents bought in 1956 was about $8,000.00. We were classified as middle class. The Usonian homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright were tailor made for the individual and his family. The spaces in the house would be practical and functional. He incorporated “organic architecture”: fresh air, in-house plants, and the sunshine. There were no basements or attics for storage. If you needed to store something and not use it, then get rid of it. He would be very annoyed to walk into some modern-day houses because everything is kept whether needed or not.

No room for storage in this bedroom

The Cedar Rock house was completed in two years. The Walters made a list of the most important items they wanted to include in the house and Wright designed it their way. He chose the curtains, carpets, and picked out the accessories. The house came with furniture, appliances, and plants. The Walters brought their books and clothing. The house was move-in ready.

The natural decor was a must. These are colored rocks illuminated by the natural glow of the sun

The biggest room in the house is the “entertainment area”. This room has a grand piano, movable pillows to allow for more seating and a very small area for sitting and eating. The idea was to socialize with everyone and not to compartmentalize the people. Instead of standing in a corner you had to stand in the center. No wall flowers allowed. The entertainment area is all glass windows. The windows give you the feeling that you are outside in the garden and the woods. The view also includes the river. It’s a dinner without flies.  The skylights brighten the interior space and the windows above help release the hot air trapped near the ceiling.

Dining table

There are no air conditioners. An indoor garden has plants growing in the natural soil of the ground. Not planted in pots.

Plants growing straight from the floor

There is a separate entrance from the exit. This was to help the guests feel more comfortable. You could sneak out the door without the host noticing and you didn’t have to explain why you were leaving. The house is airtight. Our guide describes a night that had winds blowing at tornado strength and torrential rains and the house was not affected.

Cedar Rock “Entertainment Area”

Mr. Walters was a very avid boater. He had the biggest boat around at the time. He had a private boathouse designed so that he could get away without anyone knowing about it. Not even his wife. The boathouse is equipped with a bed. Maybe for longer nights.

The Getaway Boathouse

The property has a very nice walkway and trail. The walkway goes out to the river and through the trees. I arrived early for the tour and decided to walk to the house. Tours are provided by boarding a wagon that is pulled by a tractor. You can not enter the house or walk around it without a tour guide.

Garden steps

Small trail from the Information center to the house

Mr. Walters passed away in 1981 and his wife followed in 1986. They had no children. Mrs. Walters donated the home to the Iowa Conservation Commission in 1982. The money left in her account when she passed was given to the Commission for the upkeep of the house. Her wish was to let other people come in and admire the beauty of the house.

The houses now are designed to be very big. They have attics or basement in the East or Midwest. Walk-in closets are a most for most new homes and families. In a Usonian house, the kitchen was very small. The size of a “butler’s” kitchen or a walk- in pantry. The hallways were narrow and book shelves were designed to blend in with the hallway. Having all windows eliminated the problem of interior decorating. Nature was the decoration.

The bedrooms are very small and so are the beds. The windows in the bedroom open out into the garden to give the feeling of being one with nature.

Master Bedroom

The official plaque of a Frank Llyod Wright Home

My house has a lot of windows to view the desert. My plants don’t grow straight from the ground. They are in pots that need to be watered often. There is too much space. My house has three bedrooms, a loft, a medium sized kitchen, living room, and three bathrooms. Only one bedroom, one bathroom, the kitchen, and loft are used every day. Wright would not be happy with the way I live. It is not very Usonian.

 

 

Author: Carol Kubota

I have been an ESL, English as a Second Language, instructor for 40 years. I currently teach at Arizona State University. My passion is to travel and learn about other cultures and history. I would like to share this passion with others.

6 thoughts on “Frank Lloyd Wright: Cedar Rock, Iowa”

  1. I like the idea of a house that is designed for the people who are going to live in it. Cedar Rock looks wonderful with that indoor garden, and with only enough space to keep the stuff you actually need!

  2. I love FLW houses, and have seen a few of them in my travels. Hadn’t heard about Cedar Rock, though, so if I’m ever in Iowa…. 🙂

  3. I am intrigued by the works of Frank Lloyd Wright. I’ve visited Taliesen West in Scottsdale, but haven’t seen much of his other work. I’d like to visit Cedar Rock.

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