October 2, 2018
While hitting the Lincoln sites in Springfield we noticed a flyer for a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home, the Dana-Thomas House. I like some of Wright’s designs so we figured we’d check it out. They do not allow any interior photography so we have shots of the outside of the house only. There are many interior pictures on their website https://dana-thomas.org/
The site consists of the Dana-Thomas house and carriage house. The carriage house has been converted into the visitor center and gift shop. This is where you buy your tour tickets and meet your guide. Our guide was a volunteer that had chosen the added duty of cleaning all those thousands of panes of glass in the classic Frank Lloyd Wright art glass windows. They put storm windows up on the outside to protect the windows but the glass still gets dirty and has to be cleaned one by one with cotton swabs. She loves the house and can’t stand to see the windows dirty. Illinois can’t afford to pay to have them cleaned so… she is spending hours cleaning art glass windows. Her knowledge and love of the house showed during the tour. She did an awesome job.
The tour was excellent. We learned the history of the house and of Susan Lawrence Dana-Thomas. She inherited the house from her father… sort of. Let me rephrase that. She inherited a house on that site from her father. She wanted to remodel it and make it suitable for entertaining. She was very wealthy so she contacted Frank Lloyd Wright and basically gave him a blank check. We’ve toured several Wright homes and he ALWAYS goes WAY over budget. The houses are beautiful and I’m sure the homeowners request changes and extras that cost more but Wright built what he wanted… and the owners paid. This time he didn’t even have a budget. Our guide told us that he considered every home he built to be his. In fact, there is a signed picture of Frank Lloyd Wright in the Dana-Thomas house. The guide told us that he would often arrive unannounced and check that the furnishings were EXACTLY as he had designed them to be (if not he would move them back) and that his picture was hung in the appropriate place on the wall. This included furniture, artwork, sculptures, and so on. His was a total design and he didn’t like anything to be changed. I always thought his built in furniture was neat. Now I think it was just so nobody could rearrange it. If you nail it down, they can’t move it.
Back to that inherited house. Susan told Wright that she didn’t want to tear down the old house because it had been her father’s, just remodel it to suit her social style. She liked to entertain and was very involved in the community, local youth, women’s rights, local artists and performers, etc. She held meetings, parties, club events and full performances at the house. She needed room to do this. The “remodel” she got was monstrously drastic. The new formal entry was around the same place as that side entry on “Dad’s House” was. It went from a little square building to a huge house and complex that spans a city block. On the tour we saw all the awesome rooms and designed views that Wright is famous for… then we stepped through a doorway into Dana-Thomas’ father’s study… the only room left from the house she inherited but it was left just as her father had left it. It was totally different than anything else in the house. We stepped through the next doorway and were swept back into Frank Lloyd Wright’s style with a stunning wall of windows.
The tour covered the exterior lawns and garden areas and the entire house: all three floors, private areas and formal entertainment areas including the basement which contains a duckpin bowling alley, vaulted billiard room and massive walk-in safe as well as other utility areas. The house was very modern for its time and definitely luxurious. There was not one, but TWO balconies for musicians to play and that was in the “family” portion of the house. One was just inside those art glass windows over the main entry so guests would have music when they entered and mingled. On the opposite side of that balcony was a full player pipe organ in case you didn’t have live entertainment. The second musician balcony is over the dining room. The massive “prow” style windows at the back of the house are at the end of the dining room. I can’t remember how many her table could seat but it was a lot.
The house is huge, beautiful and I totally enjoyed the tour. John, not so much. After the tour he admitted that Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses just aren’t his thing. Oh well. I do civil war battlefields with him and he does creative architectural stuff with me. It all works out in the end.