Stepping through the door of Cedar Rock is like stepping through a portal in time.
The Quasqueton home, built in 1950 by famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright for Lowell and Anges Walter, is just as the Walters left it when they dedicated it to the state after Lowell’s death in 1981 — all of the furniture, decor, clothing and even knick knacks like personalized match boxes, tools, even a dog toy hanging in Lowell’s gun closet, are left where the Walters had them — as if frozen in time.
Now owned by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and run as a state park, the home is maintained by state officials and open to to the public for tours during park hours. The park draws some 10,000 visitors each year from all over the world, said Katie Hund, park manager of Cedar Rock.
Cedar Rock is one of hundreds of Frank Lloyd Wright’s unique and innovative designs across the United States, but is one of few to be left in its original form — including furniture and decorations Wright designed himself, Hund said.
“No place is as completely original as this house,” said Jerry Reisinger, board member of the Friends of Cedar Rock, a nonprofit that raises money to maintain the property.
“It would be hard to find a site to rival it,” he added. “You come here and it’s like the Walters are just out to lunch and you’re in their home.”
“Even the plants are descendants of the originals,” Hund added.
After amassing more than 5000 acres of farmland throughout Buchanan County in 1945, the Walters wrote to Wright hoping he would build their retirement estate on eleven of those acres, locally known as “Cedar Rock.”
“They specified they wanted something nice, but not too nice,” Hund said.
Although, the home would cost the Walters $150,000, which was about 30 times more than the average home of that era, she added.
“That was a ton of money for a house back then, especially out here,” Reisinger agreed.
Wright responded in only three sentences: he’d build it, there wouldn’t be a basement or attic and to send further details.
“He was incredibly busy during the time of the Walters’ construction,” Hund said. “I think he appreciated their interest in his work and their willingness to let him design it as he saw fit.”
Wright completed the 1800 square foot, three bed, two bath home in 1950 after two years of construction. The Walters lived there for 31 years in the spring through fall, in addition to their other home in Des Moines.
“This was their real show place,” Hund said. “Wright called it his Opus 497.”
In fact, Cedar Rock is one of Wright’s 40 or so “signature houses,” Hund said, explaining that only a few homes he designed earned a special tile signed by Wright himself, signifying his favorite clients.
After the home was turned over to the DNR in the 80s, it was funded by the Walter Charitable Trust Fund until 2009. Over time, the state purchased more land, growing the park to include 400 acres, Hund said. After 2009, the cost of maintaining the park was absorbed into the state park budget.
“We’ve operated on budget constraints since 2009 — considerably less than what we had in the past,” Hund said. “Staffing and hours of operation were reduced.”
Seeing the DNR’s budget restraints, a group of community members formed the Friends of Cedar Rock to support maintenance of the home.
“The fact is, the DNR’s budget has been cut so badly it’s affected the park and how well it’s maintained,” Reisinger said. “We saw we could be a huge help, how we could keep this park going. We can get things done that the DNR can’t. ... (But) something needs to happen to change the trajectory so the DNR’s budget comes around.”
Most recently, the group raised around $170,000 to renovate Cedar Rock’s boathouse, which was in desperate need of repair, Reisinger said.
“The DNR was not going to be able to renovate it because they have a huge backlog of things more important to deal with, like roads and maintenance of public buildings,” Reisinger said. “I guarantee (the boathouse renovation) wouldn’t have happened without that money. It would have continued to deteriorate.”
Hund said the renovations came at a “serendipitous time,” as this year is the 150th anniversary of Wright’s birth.
“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate,” she said.
In fact, just a couple days after Wright’s birthday on June 8, the park will open for a special nighttime tour of Cedar Rock for their Strawberry Moon Fundraiser on June 10 from 7 to 9:30 p.m.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to see the house at night,” Reisinger said. “It’s like a totally different world. It adds a dimension you don’t get to see during the day.”
Liz Zabel - The Gazette