Wright-de­signed dog­house re­built for doc­u­men­tary

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY SUDHIN THANAWALA

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.

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