Book: Car is Architecture - FLW's cars & motorcycle

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SDR
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Post by SDR »

I purchased a copy of Richie Herink's "The Car is Architecture" last week. I was amazed to read that the Cord 810 or 812 convertible that appears in a photo provided by Jack Howe, published on p 45 of Besinger's "Working With Mr Wright," may not have been Wright's car. Herink writes (p 20) "There is no available documented evidence that Wright ever bought or received, during his lifetime, any of the following cars: Cord model 810/812, Duesenberg, Morgan, Rolls-Royce or any other make not listed in this publication" -- which claims to include all 85 cars and one motorcycle in Wright's possession at one time or another.

There is a possibility of confusion; Wright bought a "four-door convertible" Cord L-29 (probably the Phaeton model) -- the one that was involved in a wreck -- and, in the 'fifties, a Cord L-29 Cabriolet (the bright orange one). This later car is (possibly) referred to in the book as a Phaeton; in fact the Cord 810/812 open car with back seat was called a Convertible Phaeton Sedan. And a couple of Wright quotes about the Cord(s) he owned are ambiguous as to which models he is talking about; Herink (and others -- he relies heavily on work by a Mary Jane Hamilton, "author and Wright scholar," who had previously researched and written about Wright's automobiles) reads those as referring to the L-29. And Wright writes of a mysterious "long, low, black" Cadillac model 61 custom which he drove in Los Angeles in the early 'twenties, with its "built-down sides": "That Cadillac thus had the look of the later Cord -- streamlined, very compact. Wherever we parked the crowd would gather to see the 'foreign car.' "

Two pages of the Autobiography:

http://tinyurl.com/oxsvr9q


Image Mr Wright's Cord L-29

Image ditto

Image




In Tafel's "About Wright," Ben Masselink describes seeing the "Cherokee red, 1935 [sic -- car was either a '36 or '37] Cord convertible sedan, top down, rumbling along the streets of Grand Rapids, Michigan and turning into our driveway." "Gene had driven Mr Wright in that open Cord down the rolling green hills of Wisconsin" and on to Grand Rapids, where the dentist, Masselink Sr., would remove all of Mr Wright's teeth in one session (!). While that was happening, Gene drove Ben past Ben's high school "a hundred times, just what I wanted," so his admiring classmates could gawk at the car.

Nowhere does he say that Wright owned the car. The implication is certainly there. Could it have been Gene's car ?


Image

Image (Not Wright's car)

Image (ditto)
Last edited by SDR on Thu Aug 06, 2015 10:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.

jmcnally
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Post by jmcnally »

I find it hard to believe he owned 85 cars, unless his debt problems meant they repossessed one every 5 or 6 months. Is there an explanation in the book for those numbers, or do they include cars he rode in?

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Thanks -- thought I'd provide new scans of two photos above.

Mr Wright had cars none of us knew about. The author says Wright just liked cars. There were a lot of run-of-the-mill makes and models "filling in the background," daily drivers (I'd say) for cast and crew (as it were).

The architect began owning cars in 1909, according to Herink's listing, and stopped only during the early years of the Depression. The L-29 Cord was car number 13, and, aside from the Stoddard-Dayton, is almost the only one he writes so lovingly about. Perhaps he owned it a bit longer than some of the others ?

The remaining list of 72 cars begins in 1934, with a Ford Club Cabriolet. Herink illustrates each car with a carefully-selected print ad (most full-page as original) depicting the year and model Wright owned. In Fords alone we have the '34, 4 35's, 2 36's, a '37 -- and 3 53's. That's not counting three Zephyrs, two Continentals, and the first-year '38 Mercury convertible. After the war, in addition to his better-known domestic and imported vehicles, there are four Beetles, a Chevy Nomad wagon, a '58 Plymouth Fury (apprentice gift to Olgivanna), and a '69 Pontiac sedan purchased for Iovanna.

Mr Wright stopped driving at 70, in 1937.

SDR

DRN
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Post by DRN »

I was able to access my copy of FLW Quarterly Winter 2010, which featured Wright's cars.

The L-29 Cord collided with the florist truck on or about November 12, 1933. From the 14 page FLWQ article written by Mary Jane Hamilton, it is clear that Wright had the L-29 repaired and it was in use by Wright and the Fellowship until the summer of 1936 when Wright consigned it for sale at a Madison Lincoln dealer. In March 1937 Wright ordered a new Lincoln Zephyr, presumably following the sale of the Cord. Hamilton writes that following the accident, the L-29 was repainted according to an "At Taliesin" article in a newspaper of the time, "...long grey Cord being repainted until it shone like new-a red square on the right side of the hood near the radiator made it sing." From a sepia tone photo, the car appears to be two tone with a darker color from the belt line up.

Perhaps the L-29 was the car Ben Masselink remembered.

Is the photo of the 810/812 (810 has no side pipes coming from the engine compartment; 812 is supercharged and has side pipes) clear enough to read the front license plate? Can we see the state? I guess another question would be, when was John Howe's photo of the 810 at TWest taken...before or after the war? Used Cords became more affordable after Cord folded and production ceased in 1937 as prospective owners became concerned about the availability of parts and service. Could the 810 have belonged to an apprentice post war such as Wes Peters who was even more of a car enthusiast than Wright?

On another note, a 1958 Plymouth Fury seems an appropriate choice for Olgivanna from a styling perspective:

http://www.allpar.com/photos/dodge/1960/christine.jpg

Stephen King chose the '58 Fury as the demonically evil car in his novel Christine.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Thanks, Dan. The excerpts from the Autobiography linked above describe the L-29 accident quite well; Mr Wright was indeed at the wheel. It is good to hear of the remaining history of the car.


Ben's description of the Cord Gene drove to Grand Rapids (with Wright as passenger) makes it pretty clear that he's talking about the later model. Was the L-29 painted Cherokee red ? Not according to your quoted description.

The photo in Besinger's book was taken (according to the caption) "at the end of the 1938-39 season." I've peered at the front license plate with my glass; the figures on it are not fully legible but one possible reading is MT 111, with the letters stacked at the left. The very light color of the plate is informative; even more so is the unusual shape, a much taller rectangle than the typical plate of today.

The photo is evidence, at least (even were Besinger wrong in labeling the car "Mr Wright's Cord"), that such a car was present in the camp at that time. Besinger could have chosen any number of period photos to present; he seems to have wanted to show the car as well as the place ?

Would Wright have spoken glowingly of the "later Cord" (comparing it to the black custom Cadillac in LA) and not have become the owner of one -- a feat he seems to have easily accomplished, over and over ? There must be definitive proof somewhere. Hamilton and Herink appear convinced that the answer is no; could they have missed the two pieces of evidence presented here, in their research ? Clearly a Cherokee red Cord 810/812 was present at Taliesin in the late 'thirties. Whose was it ?

SDR

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Further: The FLW Quarterly Winter 2010 issue which Dan cites contains the following sentences (p16, sidebar): "Frank Lloyd Wright's passion for cars was shared with his son John and with his son-in-law, William Wesley Peters. Along with Wright, both also owned cars produced by the Auburn Automobile Company. The claim was made that it was John who encouraged his father to purchase the first Cord L-29 Phaeton. John would later own a 1932 Auburn, the company's entry-level offering, as well as a later 1930's Cord . . ." (Wes Peters "reportedly" acquired his 1934 Duesenberg J in 1951, she writes.)

This appears to be the only mention in the piece of an 810/812 Cord. As for "Phaeton," Hamilton's phrase "first Cord L-29 Phaeton" is slightly erroneous, as the second L-29, the (now) bright orange one, is the Cabriolet model.

Further along in the p 16 sidebar she writes, "While the fate of Wright's original Cord L-29 Phaeton has remained a mystery [the car was finally sold by Wright in the summer of 1936 (p 14)], and his son John's Cord was reportedly ruined in a house fire . . ." This incident is also reported in a Chicago Historical Society publication of 1982, an accompaniment to an exhibit of the work of Barry Byrne and of John Lloyd Wright. And we see in this booklet not one but two building photos which include a later Cord sedan -- one car light-colored, the other dark:


Image

Image


It is hard for me to imagine that neither of these images shows a car owned by the younger architect . . .


So, we can almost certainly rule out the interesting possibility that the Convertible Phaeton Sedan in the Howe photo in Besinger's book was the car owned by John. That leaves the possibility that the car belonged to another apprentice, or other person associated with Wright. We have Ben Masselink reporting that Gene drove Mr Wright in the car; was the car perhaps's Gene's ?

Mary Jane Hamilton, author of the Quarterly article on Wright's cars, refers once to Tafel's About Wright; could she have missed Ben's recollection elsewhere in the book -- or did she simply not note the young man's mention of the color of the car ? And could she have seen the photo in Besinger's account without wondering whose car -- identified by Besinger as Wright's Cord -- it was ? Was it too much of a leap to think that there might really have been three Cords in Mr Wright's stable ?

SDR

Paul Ringstrom
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Post by Paul Ringstrom »

I saw the L-29 Cabriolet at the Auburn Museum five or six years ago along with a collection of other cars that Wright owned. The color was listed as: Cherokee Orange.

I think that that car is now at the Pierce-Arrow Museum in Buffalo, at least there is a picture in Pat Mahoney's new book of that vehicle.

BTW: Pat did a lot of research for that book. It has 240 footnotes and lots of historical photos and plans. He also has a section at the end of the book that compares and contrasts Wright's development of brick prairie-style houses, plus a discussion on Wright's various gas station designs and the building of the replica in Buffalo.
Owner of the G. Curtis Yelland House (1910), by Wm. Drummond

SDR
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Post by SDR »


DRN
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Post by DRN »

According to Mr. Herink's book, a letter written by Eugene Masselink in 1935 document's Wright's request to another auto dealer for a car to be painted to match the color of a 1935 Oldsmobile Wright had seen while driving past an Oldsmobile dealership.

The following is a link to a website that lists historic car color names and codes that provides the relevant information:

http://www.paintref.com/cgi-bin/paintde ... okee%20Red

...apparently Oldsmobile was the first, but not the last, car company to offer a color named Cherokee Red. It would appear from further searching on the paintref site that they are all different colors, but based on the citation in Herink's book, the 1935 Oldsmobile color #108 Cherokee Red manufactured by DuPont, #246-30986 is what Wright originally saw, liked, and requested.

DRN
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Post by DRN »

A Cord L-29 sedan very similar to Wright's first Cord is for sale. Detailed pics can be seen here:

http://hymanltd.com/vehicles/5441-1931- ... ble-sedan/

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Aesthetically, cars of the 30s are far superior to today's cars. There is nothing terribly wrong with modern car design; it's just boring. They're all designed as if they are driven at the highest speed possible, zero wind resistance, when in actuality, most cars putt along the freeway parking lots at the pace of a tricycle. That Cord is a true work of art.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Whether a car "is architecture" may be debatable; what is clear is that the earlier phases of automotive styling perfectly represent the functionalist mode of design, where each element is presented frankly and clearly: engine is here, passengers go here, a trunk (if you're lucky) -- and the wheels are elementally dominant, as they should be.

The road wheel came back (in America) with a vengeance only in the mid-sixties, when GM (at last) pushed them to the outside of the body shell; for a while designers seemed to be trying to make them go away altogether. The 'thirties are to me the epitome -- of auto design divorced from the practical necessity of aerodynamic streamlining, which counts for much as fuel prices continue to rise (as they must). It's true that city cars could do away with it altogether.

Unlike the later Cord, whose designer is lauded almost as much as the car itself, the L-29 apparently bears no designer's name. Many chassis were delivered to carrosiers like Le Baron, or Walter Murphy of Pasadena -- but there were factory bodies as well, like the one presented here. But all L-29s had the painted radiator shell and V-shaped grille, which someone must have penned. I had assumed it to be Gordon Buerig, who, before getting to the Cord 810, had spruced up the Auburn line and, before that, designed the Duesenberg J . . .

SDR

SDR
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Post by SDR »

I knew I had this pic somewhere; it's on p 79 of John H Howe, Architect (Hession and Quigley, © 1915 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota).


Image


"Sure, we can call anything 'Cherokee Red' . . ." ?

SDR

DRN
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Post by DRN »

Gordon Buehrig's predecessor as chief of design at Auburn Cord Duesenberg was Alan Leamy; he penned the L-29 among other great cars. Mr. Leamy died of an infection in 1935 at the age of 33.

http://www.coachbuilt.com/des/l/leamy/leamy.htm

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