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Charles E Roberts gets a room

Posted: Fri Mar 08, 2019 9:10 pm
by JChoate
Two years ago the C E Roberts house (designed by Daniel Burnham then remodeled by FLW in 1896) was part of Oak Park's Wright Walk tours. I went thru it, and it didn't make much of an impression. I'm only just now connecting the dots ... where I'd seen that name before.

When I had toured Hillside at Taliesin it had exceeded my expectations. I'd feared I might be disappointed by finding the place tattered and rough, but to the contrary, its patina and raw character was very powerful, with an aura & wear of creative adventure. Most powerful, of course, was the drafting studio. Where the really, really good stuff happened.

On the way into that great room, one crossed a bridge from the original school building, passing the Call Building model en route. Before entering the great studio there is a little stretch of compression where the hallway passes by a pair of flanking room, each curiously accessed by descending a few stairs that are screened by a half height wall. Entrances hardly noticeable but for a bright patch of red color. And the signage -- each is adorned with Wrightian font: "Dana Gallery" and "Charles E Roberts Room".

It struck me as an unusual thing: Frank Lloyd Wright putting someone else's name on a room in his building. But if he was to thus dedicate a part of his sanctum, Susan Lawrence Dana's name figured plausible -- the Dana house being one of his major accomplishments. But, Charles E Roberts?

Looking at original designs, we find first the 1928 Hillside Home School of Applies Arts:


We see the connecting bridge from the original Hillside school pass thru flanking rooms, on axis with a courtyard surrounded by apprentice quarters.


The flanking rooms are labeled "Painting" and "Sculpture":


Four years later, we arrive at the 1932 Taliesin Fellowship :



Although the overall ambitious scheme is radically different, we find the same pair of rooms flanking the central passageway which leads this time, not to an empty courtyard, but to the holy of holies.


Posted: Fri Mar 08, 2019 9:32 pm
by JChoate
In monograph 5, Futagawa shows the drafting studio looking back toward the passageway. The bright patches of red mark the entrances


Zoomed in, showing a glimpse of the Dana Gallery signage:


Zoomed in, showing just the top of text for the Charles E Roberts Room:

Futagawa's photo of the inside of the Charles E Roberts Room:

It's my understanding that Roberts was largely responsible for Wright's commission for Unity Temple. Wright understandably owed him a debt of gratitude for that big break.

A Google search lead to a footnote in Anthony Alofsin's Frank Lloyd Wright -- The Lost Years 1910-1922, which referred to both Dana & Roberts as stockholders in the original Hillside Home School back in the teens. Their connection back then manifested itself decades later, memorialized in these galleries.


Posted: Sat Mar 09, 2019 9:49 am
by SDR
The skylight in the above photo is notable. I thought I'd look for confirmation of its place on the roof of the building by means of aerial photos. These are not present online, as
far as I can tell; I found one photo in my collection that includes this building and have taken a detail of that photo, here.

Simon Clay photo, from "Frank Lloyd Wright, a Visual Encyclopedia," p 302 (detail)

The linear skylight, apparently bridging the centerline of the structure, serves both of the rooms that James considers here; it is visible on one of the view drawings (though not
indicated on the plans) that are posted above. Or is it ? The parallel lines on the second plan---whose view drawing omits the skylight---might refer, if obliquely, to the skylight . . . ?


Posted: Sat Mar 09, 2019 12:31 pm
by Roderick Grant
In his later years, John Geiger drew many plans, sections and elevations of Hillside. It became an obsession of his. More anticipation for his archive to open to the public.

Hillside is a masterpiece, on a par with the best of FLW's work. The course quality of its construction is one of its main assets. The House, Barn, Windmill and Dams also share that same quality, even while his work for clients was as sophisticated and polished as need be.

There is, in FLW's work, a connection to the humble, Gerry-built Midwestern farmhouse. Not the pretensions of the 'design' of it, but the way the interior ceiling planes of the upper story intersect, seemingly at random, creating spacial liveliness the builder was undoubtedly unaware of. I believe he was affected deeply by those accidental spaces, as likely imaginary as real, and that he incorporated them in his work throughout his career. The buildings of Taliesin exemplify that connection more blatantly than most of his other work, and it all, as a single effort, should be the major focus of study.

Posted: Sat Mar 09, 2019 12:46 pm
by JimM
It didn't hurt that C.E. Roberts was on the Unity Temple building committee, but Wright was not a complete shoo-in for the job either. Along with a history of the congregation, the design and construction story can be found in "The Nobel Room" by David M. Sokol, who put 20 years into researching the chaotic creation of the masterpiece.

Charles's Roberts daughter, Isabele, was Wright's office manager (and client).

Posted: Sat Mar 09, 2019 4:02 pm
by sjnorris
John W. Geiger collection at Northwest Architectural Archives ... urces/5826

Posted: Sun Mar 10, 2019 10:17 am
by Tom
Never could place that Futagawa shot before now.

Posted: Sun Mar 10, 2019 11:34 am
by JimM
Tom wrote:Never could place that Futagawa shot before now.
The triangular soffit above the door is a slick reference to the window bay...

Posted: Mon Mar 11, 2019 9:36 pm
by Tom
Yes, I get that
and the way it reflects light in that shot is powerful.

...the model of the pavilion is way cool too.

Isabel Roberts

Posted: Tue Mar 12, 2019 7:24 am
by pmahoney
Isabel Roberts was Wright's office manager but she was not related to Charles Roberts.

She was born in 1874 in Mexico, Missouri to James H. and Mary Roberts. She spent much of her youth in South Bend, Indiana where her father was a machinist.

Posted: Tue Mar 12, 2019 9:22 am
by DRN
...and Isabel Roberts was friends with Laura Bowsher in South Bend, who later married Kersey DeRhodes. The DeRhodes' built a Wright house in South Bend that has lately been attributed to Isabel Roberts as a derivation of the Walser/Barton/Horner plan type. ... 398da90b56

Posted: Tue Mar 12, 2019 12:51 pm
by Roderick Grant
Of course, if there were a shred of evidence that Isabel Roberts had anything more to do with DeRhodes than possibly steering them toward FLW, the house would never have made the cut for the Wasmuth Portfolio.

Isabel was a designer of modest talent, as she proved once she left FLW and went into a practice of her own.

Posted: Tue Mar 12, 2019 3:31 pm
by SDR
Did she study architecture, or pick it up as an interest while in Wright's employ ?


The Roberts Room

Posted: Wed Mar 13, 2019 10:31 am
by SpringGreen
AT TALIESIN, July l2, l934
Extensive operations at Hillside have added two new studios to the Fellowship's list of accomplishments and they have been named after two of the old Hillside Home School patrons - The Dana Gallery, named for Mrs. Susan Laurence Dana of Springfield, Illinois, who gave to Hillside the north wing of the school and The Roberts Room dedicated to the patronage of Mr. Charles E. Roberts of Chicago....
Thanks to Randolph Henning for his transcriptions of the "At Taliesin" articles that allowed me to find this so quickly.

And thank you, pmahoney, for pointing out that Isabel Roberts was not the daughter of Charles E. Roberts.

And, Roderick Grant: we're in a discussion (at Taliesin Preservation) right now of how, in ways, the Hillside structure is better than the Taliesin structure. People want to see FLW's studio, but we're trying to emphasize that most photos you see of the older FLW, in Wisconsin, in the studio, were taken at Hillside. And that, if Taliesin were not on the estate, Hillside would be seen as the great building that it is.

So far, we've not figured out how to draw people in on those positive points. The quest continues.

Posted: Wed Mar 13, 2019 11:04 am
by Reidy
Her Wikipedia article says she studied architecture formally ca. 1900. It also says she was one of the first employees in the Oak Park studio, which would put her there before these studies.