Wright-designed doghouse rebuilt for documentary
SAN FRANCISCO | The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The Fallingwater home in southwestern Pennsylvania. But a child’s doghouse?
Frank Lloyd Wright designed hundreds of landmark buildings and homes during a prolific career that spanned more than seven decades. But in what is widely considered a first and only for the famed architect, Wright indulged a boy’s humble request for a doghouse in 1956 and sent him designs for the structure.
“I was probably his youngest client and poorest client,” Jim Berger, now 68, said during a phone interview.
Using the original plans, Mr. Berger rebuilt the doghouse last year with his brother. It was featured in a documentary film and will be displayed during screenings starting this month.
Wright designed Mr. Berger’s family’s home in the Marin County town of San Anselmo, prompting Mr. Berger, then 12, to ask his father whether Wright would design a home for his black Labrador, Eddie.
The elder Mr. Berger told the boy he didn’t know, so he wrote to the great architect himself.
“I would appreciate it if you would design me a doghouse, which would be easy to build, but would go with our house,” read the letter, dated June 19, 1956. “[My dog] is two and a half feet high and three feet long. The reasons I would like this doghouse is for the winters mainly.”
Mr. Berger explained that he would pay Wright from the money he made from his paper route.
“A house for Eddie is an opportunity,” Wright wrote back. But he said he was too busy at the time (construction on the Guggenheim began in 1956) and asked that Mr. Berger write him back in November.
Mr. Berger did so on the first of the month, and the plan for the doghouse followed — at no charge.
“The story of a 12-year-old kid having the chutzpah to write a letter to the greatest architect of all time and having him design something as modest as a doghouse . . . I just knew it was a great story,” said Michael Miner, who produced and directed the documentary, “Romanza,” which features the doghouse and other structures Wright designed in California.
The Dallas filmmaker is scheduled to screen the documentary at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield on March 25, according to his website, designedbyfranklloydwright.com. Screenings are scheduled to follow in Iowa, Georgia, Florida, New Jersey and New Hampshire. The doghouse will be on hand.
Mr. Berger said the original doghouse was not built until about 10 years after he received the designs. Since Eddie had died by then, Mr. Berger’s father and brother built their house for another family dog.
That doghouse later ended up in the dump. Mr. Berger said his mother did not have a dog, and did not see much other value in it. He rebuilt it for the documentary last year by working off Wright’s original plan, which said, “Plan of Eddie’s house.”
“When I wrote him originally to design the doghouse, I specified that it be real easy to build,” said Mr. Berger, who became a cabinet maker. “It was a nightmare.”
The roughly 3-foot-wide-by- 5-foot-long-by 3-feet-high doghouse has a sharp triangular shape, with a sloping shingled roof. It is made of Philippine mahogany and weighs about 250 pounds.
“It’s definitely in the master’s hand,” Oskar Munoz, assistant director of archives at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, said of the design for the doghouse.
Jim Berger presents the doghouse he built with his brother based on the design of Frank Lloyd Wright. At age 12, Mr. Berger wrote Wright a letter asking the architect to design a shelter for his black Labrador, Eddie. “A house for Eddie is an opportunity,” Wright wrote back.