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Frank Lloyd Wright in Iowa

During the Prairie School years, the early period of Frank Lloyd Wright’s long career, Iowa was privileged to have at least two of his buildings: the Dr Stockman house and the combined City National Bank and Park Inn, all in Mason City. From an Agincourt point of view, that’s interesting on several counts.

First, both of those projects date from 1908-1909, a little earlier than Sullivan’s bank and church commissions. In 1908, our hero Anson Tennant was nineteen years old and already oriented toward a career in architecture. Second, both of these Wright designs were located in Mason City, which coïncidentally happens to be the home town of his mother Martha Corwin Curtiss. Indeed, summers at his maternal grandfather’s house exposed Anson to carpentry and construction, important events in young Tennant’s life. Why had the question never arisen in my mind: Was Anson Tennant aware of the Wright projects during any of his visits to Mason City. Since all this is substantially fiction, perhaps I get to decide.

A third coïncidence is the 1909 construction of Agincourt’s street railway company, Northwest Iowa Traction. Anson would have been too young and inexperienced to have been involved with the NITC depot. BUT — and this is an important “but” — a small trolley station was built in the burgeoning industrial district on the Muskrat’s west bank. Anson’s dad Jim Tennant was an NITC stockholder and in a position to nudge a small project like that in his son’s direction. I can’t speak for you but that’s enough justification for me to break out pencil and paper.

The Wasmuth Monograph

A fourth and clinching coïncidence was the publication in Berlin of Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright, usually abbreviated as the Wasmuth Monograph or Portfolio after its publisher Ernst Wasmuth. Published in 1910 in two folio volumes, it included one hundred large plates of his work to that date. Some were drawn by Marion Mahoney Griffin, some by Wright’s son Lloyd Wright (FLlW junior) but all in the style of ukiyo-e Japanese prints that characterize the Oak Park years.

I don’t know the number of folios that were published, but those destined for the American market were shipped to Wright’s home in Wisconsin, “Taliesin”, where they were promptly destroyed in the fire of August 1914. I don’t know the number of copies that actually found buyers, but Wright did advertise its availability in architectural journals. If you’d like a copy today, there’s one offered for $85,000. Please buy it and remove the temptation.

My point is simple: Anson Tennant could easily have known and actually seen an important early work by Wright, the City National Bank and adjacent Park Inn. And as Jim Tennant’s only son and heir, one wonders if a copy of the Wasmuth Portfolios could have materialized under the 1911 Tennant Christmas tree.

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