Restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright boathouse seeks to showcase small space design

Described by some as a “man cave,” the small brick structure shows Wright working on a smaller scale, designing in tune with the landscape

BY PATRICK SISSON  @FREQRESPONSE SEP 1, 2016, 5:09P

Frank Lloyd Wright loved Wisconsin. But a project in Quasqueton, Iowa, gave the architect a unique opportunity to reflect the Midwest landscape from multiple dimensions. At what’s known as the Cedar Rock House, he designed a series of structures that anticipated how the owners would enjoy and appreciate the landscape, including a standout Usonian house. A $220,000 restoration project currently underway, seeking to preserve and protect the property’s two-story boathouse, is bringing a small but significant part of Wright’s vision back from decades of deferred maintenance.

The Cedar Rock boathouse, which sits on the Wapsipinicon River, was the property of Lowell and Agnes Walter, who retired in the 1940s and enlisted Wright to create a perfect home for their twilight years. Using profits from Lowell’s Iowa Road Building Company and real estate investments—the Walters smartly bought up acres of prime local farmland—they were able to present the architect with an 11-acre riverfront site in Lowell’s hometown.

The couple asked the architect to design a residence that would best showcase the natural advantages of the site. Swamped with work when he received the offer, Wright said he’d just sketch something without visiting Iowa, but Lowell and Agnes eventually convinced him otherwise. Wright would visit, get inspired, and even stop by during construction; archival photos show Wright demonstrating the best way to lay bricks to local contractors.

Completed in 1950, the home was a unique example of complete Usonian-era work by Wright, featuring brick walls and an interior decorated with the architect’s furniture (he even picked out all the draperies). The "tadpole" shaped house—a central cluster of living rooms attached to a long hallway of bedrooms—features a celebrated garden room ringed in three glass walls, which offered wide-angle views of the surrounding countryside.

"There’s something really special about the garden room at Cedar Rock, the way he brings the outdoors into the house just touches people," says Kathryn Hund of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, who manages and oversees Cedar Rock. "There’s a quote where Wright talks about the building growing from the site, and I agree. I looks like it just grew from the ground.The boathouse site about 100 yards from the main building on the opposite end from the home on a limestone outcropping that gives the estate its name. A miniature version of the house that mirrors its flat roof and profile, the tiny space provided an escape for Lowell.

Some have called it a Wrightian version of a man cave: the two-story structure contained a garage-like space for Lowell’s custom wooden motorboat, gear, and canoes, as well as a second floor space with a bed and desk. There’s both an indoor working space, fireplace, and screened-in porch.

The boathouse is just one of the other outdoor spaces Wright designed at Cedar Rock that made the landscape, the primary selling point, more enjoyable and accessible, according to Alison York, President of Friends of Cedar Rock, the local organization that helped fund the restoration.

"There’s a council fire, a large fireplace with a built-in bench, and then boathouse down below by the river," says York. "The structures really let the owners interact with the site."

Frank Lloyd Wright designed other boathouses in his career, but the one at Cedar Rock stands out as being the only one designed in concert with the main residence, as well as an original that’s still standing; a similar project on Lake Delavan in Wisconsin burned down.

The push to restore the boathouse project started in 2009, when a Department of Natural Resources engineer noticed the the building was leaking and was in dire need of work. When Lowell passed away in 1981, Agnes donated the Cedar Rock house and all 11 acres to the state, which placed it under the purview of the Department of Natural Resources, and set up a trust fund to pay for the upkeep of the home.  But beginning in 2009, the state began to pick up the tab for maintenance.

After Iowa funded a roofing project that served as a stopgap to prevent further damage, and began soliciting donations from visitors, the Friends of Cedar Rock, a local non-profit, decided to pitch in and help cover the needed boathouse restoration project. Beginning in 2010, the group raised enough money, and won enough grant funding, to fund a full renovation, which is currently underway and set to finish sometime in September or October.

Currently, crews are working on concrete, brickwork, and tuckpointing, and recovering from floods caused by a recent heavy rainstorm. The season at Cedar Rock runs from May to October, so those wanting to check out the new boathouse will probably need to wait until May to see the finished product, since the contractors are racing to finish by the end of October.

For more photos, click here.

The boathouse at Cedar Rock under construction in 1949.

The boathouse at Cedar Rock under construction in 1949.

Boathouse Restoration Underway

Restoration underway at Frank Lloyd Wright-designed boathouse in northeast Iowa

Cedar Rock State Park 'man cave' is 'shining example' of architect's work

QUASQUETON — A $220,000 restoration of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed boathouse at Cedar Rock State Park is to burnish a rare architectural gem.

“We are incredibly excited about getting it back to its original condition,” said Katie Hund, site manager at Cedar Rock, the state-owned estate built by Wright for Lowell and Agnes Walter in the early 1950s.

The restoration, ongoing for the past two weeks, “will make Cedar Rock a shining example of Wright’s work,” she said.

Of the few boathouses Wright designed. Lowell Walter’s “man cave,” as she calls it, is thought to be the only one in its original condition, she said.

Lowell Walter considered the boathouse his personal retreat and spent time there relaxing and making phone calls to the tenants of the approximately 5,000 acres of farmland he once owned in Buchanan County.

Hund said the pavilion housed Walter’s wooden boat, powered by a 33-horsepower outboard, that was capable of 30 mph in an era when that was fast. “He liked to pick up friends at the park in Quasqueton and take them upriver in the boat to play cards in the pavilion,” she said.

While the house itself remains in good repair, deferred maintenance and exposure to the elements have degraded the elegant brick pavilion that features a fireplace, sleeping and lounging quarters, boat storage and launching facilities and a deck overlooking the scenic Wapsipinicon River.

The boathouse, with its overhanging roof, cantilevered construction and Wright-designed furniture, echoes key features of the main house, which sits at the opposite end of the limestone spine known as Cedar Rock.

Workers are restoring the building’s brick and concrete exterior and refinishing the walnut woodwork inside the boathouse. Completion is expected in September, according to Josh Smyser, owner of TNT Tuckpointing and Building Restoration of Stockton, the lead contractor on the project.

Smyser said about 6,000 deteriorated bricks are to be replaced as part of the restoration.

“This is our first Wright project,” said Smyser, whose company specializes in restoring historic structures, including Terrace Hill, the governor’s mansion in Des Moines.

Hund said watching workers pump concrete through an extensive set of pipes to the remote site made her wonder about the labor involved in the original construction.

Restoring the boathouse has been the top priority of Friends of Cedar Rock, a volunteer support group that has raised most of the money for the project through grants, donations and special events.

Hund said the friends have secured grants from the Buchanan County Community Foundation, the Community Foundation of Northeastern Iowa, the Black Hawk County Gaming Commission and the state Resource Enhancement and Protection program. The largely depleted Walter Charitable Trust has also contributed $50,000 to the project, she said.

The trust fund, which consisted of two bequests totaling $1.5 million, covered Cedar Rock’s expenses from 1982, the year the Walters bequeathed it to the state, until 2009, when the Department of Natural Resources assumed most of the site’s operating expenses.

The park hosts about 10,000 visitors a year, many of whom come to see Wright’s handiwork and have donated to the boathouse restoration fund, Hund said.

It appeals to people with diverse interests ranging from engineering and architecture to woodworking, Iowa history and scenic beauty, she said.

More photos available online here: The Gazette   http://www.thegazette.com/subject/life/home-garden/restoration-underway-at-frank-lloyd-wright-designed-boathouse-in-northeast-iowa-20160822 

Cedar Rock opens for the season, begins renovations

 

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BUCHANAN COUNTY, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) – If step onto any of the 320 acres of Cedar Rock State Park you will experience a piece of history. On the grounds sits one of the few signature Frank Lloyd Wright homes and structures.

The famous architect built the home for the Walter family in 1950. It received so much attention, the Walters opened it up to the public for viewing. In 1981 the Walter’s donated the home to the Iowa Conservation Commission, and now more than 10,000 people from all over the world travel to Buchanan County to visit the home every year.

“Cedar rock is one of 10 homes in Iowa, but it is the only signature house,” Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Kathryn Hund said. “We get a lot of visitors that want to come through the house, but they like to spend time outside here as well. They check out the view of the house, we have a trail that leads from the visitor’s center down to the house, a lot of people doing photography. We also have people who come out here for mushrooming, hunting, all sorts of different uses.”

Along with the home, Wright designed the formal entrance gate, entertainment area, and the famous river pavilion. The boat house sits off of a prominent rock on the Wapsipinicon River. That’s how the park got its name of Cedar Rock.

“It’s one of fewer than a hand full of boat houses that Wright designed worldwide, and probably the only one still in its original condition,” Hund said.

With the boat house being more than 65 years old, upkeep is difficult. Its original funding fell through in 2009, and the structure is in rough condition.

There’s missing bricks, water damage, broken gates, and ripped screens. After seeing the damage a group joined together to begin restoration and promotion.

Friends of Cedar Rock is not your typical park group.

“Typical park friends group are neighbors right around the park, and the friends in this group are really from a wide area in eastern Iowa ranging from Cedar falls, Dubuque, Iowa City, and beyond,” Director Patty Resignger said.

The group was recently granted its official nonprofit status, and members have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars toward fixing the boat house. They want to keep it in its original state to educate guests on Wright’s work.

“The boat house will look as it did 50 years ago, and we’ll preserve the structure another 50 years until weather takes its toll again. This will be an example that people from all over the world will come to see,” Risingnger said.

“There’s no way it would of happened without them at this point. We’re apart of state parks, but the funding for this project would not have come together for probably quite some time,” Hund said. “We’re incredibly lucky. This is their first funding project, and I couldn’t imagine it going any better than it has.”

The entire renovation project can be live streamed here, as it begins in the next couple of weeks. 
The park opens for the season Wednesday. Tours are given hourly Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Boathouse restoration will begin in spring 2016

Dec 26, 2015
Orlan Love
The Gazette

QUASQUETON — A $200,000 restoration of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed boathouse at Cedar Rock State Park will get underway this spring.

“We call it the man cave,” said Katie Hund, site manager at Cedar Rock, the state-owned estate built by Wright for Lowell and Agnes Walter in the early 1950s.

“The boathouse was Lowell’s personal retreat, a place where he could get away and relax,” Hund said.

The boathouse, with its overhanging roof, cantilevered construction and Wright-designed furniture, echoes key features of the main house, which sits at the opposite end of the limestone spine known as Cedar Rock.

While the house remains in good condition, deferred maintenance and prolonged exposure to the elements have degraded the elegant brick pavilion, which features a fireplace, sleeping and lounging quarters, boat storage and launching facilities, and a deck overlooking the scenic Wapsipinicon River.

The contract, awarded to Eugene Matthews Inc. of Broadview, Ill., calls for restoring the building’s brick and concrete exterior and refinishing the walnut woodwork inside the boathouse. Completion is expected in October.

Restoring the boathouse has for several years been the top priority of Friends of Cedar Rock, a volunteer support group that has raised most of the money for the project through grants, donations and special events.

“I don’t see how this could have happened without the Friends,” said Hund, who noted they secured grants from the Buchanan County Community Foundation, the Community Foundation of Northeastern Iowa, the Black Hawk County Gaming Commission and the state Resource Enhancement and Protection program.

Hund said the largely depleted Walter Charitable Trust will contribute $50,000 to the project.

The trust fund, which consisted of two bequests totaling $1.5 million, covered Cedar Rock’s expenses from 1982, the year the Walters bequeathed it to the state, until 2009, when the Department of Natural Resources assumed most of the site’s operating expenses.

The park hosts about 10,000 visitors a year, many of whom come to see Wright’s handiwork and have donated to the boathouse restoration fund, Hund said.

The house and boathouse together “form a wonderful ensemble,” said Friends member Carl Thurman of Cedar Falls, who drafted the grant proposals.

Although Wright designed several boathouses, the Cedar Rock pavilion is the only one whose construction was overseen by Wright that remains standing, according to Thurman, who has visited all the Wright-designed structures open to the public in the United States.

http://www.thegazette.com/subject/news/frank-lloyd-wright-designed-boathouse-being-restored-20151226