Frank Lloyd Wright's American System-Built Homes
Many Frank Lloyd Wright fans would be surprised to learn that the largest amount of drawings done for any of his creations was not Tokyo's Imperial Hotel or even the Talieson, but a much lesser known project, The American System-Built Homes. For this project alone, Wright created 960 drawings. These homes aren't well celebrated among Wright enthusiasts, although they are extremely important. The System Built Homes show us that Wright found value in creating beautiful spaces for everyone, not just the wealthy. Later in life, in a 1938 issue of Architectural Forum, Wright was quoted as saying, "I would rather solve the small house problem than build anything else I can think of."
The only known grouping of FLW's System Built Homes including both single families and duplexes are nestled onto the 2700 block of W Burnham St on Milwaukee's south side. The homes on W Burnham were created between 1914 and 1916 by Milwaukee's Arthur L. Richards. Richards and Wright met after Richards and a partner contracted with Wright to build a hotel in Lake Geneva in 1911. When Richards learned about Wright's project he gained rights to manufacture and distribute the homes and began construction on six as demonstrator models. Unfortunately, World War 1 and a lack of building materials and funding threw a wrench in the project and it's believed that only about 25 of the homes were ever constructed.
The System-Built homes came in seven different models and started at $2,750. They are often referred to as pre-fab, but that is incorrect since the homes were assembled entirely onsite. Lumber for the homes was pre-cut by The Richards Company and made into Wright designed home kits. The homes were then shipped out and assembled onsite by builders, much like the popular Sears homes but of a higher quality.
Only about 15 of the homes are standing today and they're located in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Indiana. Two of the homes are in Chicago and five of them are on the 2700 block of W Burnham St. Another is located at 1835 S Layton Blvd a few blocks away from the Burnham St. homes. Some of the homes have been altered throughout the years. Vinyl siding has replaced Wright's signature stucco on one home. Many of the open porches he so loved have been enclosed reversing his intention of bringing outside in.
Of the Burnham block homes, 4 are duplexes. Three of the duplexes are identical and one is a mirror image. The duplexes are referred to as Model 7a duplexes, Model C or Model F. The corner duplex at 2732 2734 W Burnham is currently being renovated and is included in the tour of the Burnham Block homes for visitors to view the interior. Even though it's bare bones at this time and has been damaged over the years, it maintains some of it's original charm. The bedrooms each have built in wardrobes to save floor space and the windows and window boxes are in beautiful condition.
One of the duplexes on Burnham block has been converted to a single family home and is available for short term rental, link below-
There is one single family home, which is known as the Arthur L. Richards Small House, Model B1 or Cottage B. This bungalow was restored in 2010 by the Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin Program and is now a museum for fans to visit. Although the home is only 805 square feet, it feels much more spacious. The large, open front porch hides the street from the living room and lends an air of privacy to the space. The living room has been restored to include a stunning original fireplace and built in shelving and table. A built in dining table is adjacent to the kitchen and light flows between the signature wooden slats separating the spaces. The floor plan is open and there are a total of 33 windows illuminating the rooms.
Tours of the Burnham Block System-Built Homes are available through Wright in Milwaukee. You can also see the homes for free during the upcoming Open Doors Milwaukee 2019, September 28th and 29th. For more information feel free to reach us via email at Lifetimerealtygroup@kw.com or call (262)696-9884.