Meeting Mr. Wright
Plans for Woodside were imminent in 1950, when Dr. Richard Davis met the architect Frank Lloyd Wright at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota (Davis 1). It was there that Dr. Davis was a fellow in surgical training under Dr. Charles W. Mayo. Mr. Wright was scheduled for surgery with Dr. Mayo due to a chronically inflamed gallbladder. Dr. Davis was the first assistant in charge of Dr. Mayo’s surgical service. While Davis was making rounds the night before surgery, Wright expressed to him that he had changed his mind concerning the surgery. Wright said he was feeling much better and that he had too many projects to attend to back in his office in Taliesin, Wisconsin. In a conversation with Davis, Wright asked whether he was to stay on at the Mayo Clinic when he finished his fellowship. Davis replied that he would be returning to his hometown in Indiana to join his orthopedic surgeon father and general surgeon brother and build their own clinic.
Wright was intrigued at the thought that Davis was a third generation physician, his grandfather having been a horse and buggy doctor in the same town. They also discussed Davis’s interests other than medicine. Dr. Davis told him of his interest and background in music. His mother had been a concert pianist and was well recognized not only in music, but the art world as well. His father had been an accomplished reed instrument musician who also played the piano (Davis 2). His brother was a cellist and there were always two pianos in their living room. In addition, Davis’s wife, Elaine, was a music school graduate from Indiana University and was an accomplished pianist. The Davis family had one 2-year-old child and another child well on the way. Upon hearing the background of Dr. Davis, Mr. Wright suggested that he could build a house to complement his family’s lifestyle. As Mr. Wright was dismissed from the hospital, he suggested that the couple come visit him at Taliesin and talk about their house.
In early September Richard Davis and his wife traveled to Wisconsin to meet with Mr. Wright, who referred them to his fellow, Alan Davidson. Together, Mr. Wright, Mr. Davidson, and the Davises discussed what they would be looking for in the house. Mrs. Davis wanted the living room to be the most important part of the house, being the center for music and family life, with provisions for bedrooms for a growing family (Stewart 14). Dr. Davis said he was planning on having four children (Davis 4). Wright said the open design located on a site of interest was important. He also said that fireplaces are important for family unity and atmosphere. When discussing the house with an interviewer, Mrs. Davis said, “We wanted our youngsters to have a house where they could be surrounded by beauty. Both of us had the experience of our family’s building their ‘big house’ after we were grown so that we never really enjoyed living in them. We want our children to grow up in ours” (Stewart 15).
Mr. Wright instructed the Davises to purchase a plot of land in a suburban setting with hills, a creek, and something nobody wanted (US Dep. Of Interior 18). Upon returning to Marion, Indiana, Davis looked at the Shady Hills subdivision, which had been platted in 1945. Shady Hills had formerly been a part of the Matter family’s “Maple Camp,” a vast land of maple trees, buckeyes, walnut, oak, Osage orange, crab apple, and pine trees (US Dep. Of Interior 1). A dense screen of trees developed along the west property edge as a visual barrier to the adjacent golf course. Wright never actually saw the site, but he worked from photographs and maps of the site.
After studying the topography maps, Wright proceeded to design a home to fit the landscape. In 1950 at his studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin, he presented the Davises a prospective drawing of a home he named “Woodside,” after the wooded creek side location (US Dep. Of Interior 1). The design of the Usonian style home was resurrected from an unbuilt project in Lake Tahoe, California, thirty years earlier (Boo 21). Wright had tried several times to get the Lake Tahoe project built after he designed it in 1922 (Davis E-mail). Woodside’s main living area was modeled after the resort’s central lodge and was designed to complement the surrounding mountainous forest (US Dep. Of Interior 1). The walls and other elements were based on equilateral parallelograms (Boo 21).
Native American Influences
Jens Jensen, a landscape architect for Wright, had criticized him for not incorporating the Native American influences on the prairie into his residential designs (Monberg E-mail). Jensen felt that low hipped roofs were not appropriate to their environment. Jensen had specifically noted the Sioux Indian teepees on the great American prairie as a better model for prairie home design. Finally, when designing Woodside, Wright was inspired by the geometry of Sioux tipis and designed a home that was 40-feet tall at its apex (US Dep. Of Interior 1).
He pioneered innovations like the indirect lighting, open great room/dining room, walls of windows, fluorescent lighting, miltered glass corners, no attics, and open ceilings (US Dep. Of Interior 1). His goal for Woodside was to apply cheap and basically ugly building materials like concrete floors, concrete block walls, plywood and glass to create an aesthetically pleasing home for everyone. Other unique features that Wright applied to this home include hot water heating coils laid beneath the concrete floor for gravity heat, wide shading eave overhangs, painted concrete block, custom built-in and movable furniture, large open fireplaces, room spatial effects and a hidden entry. Woodside was designed to have no eaves, troughs, or downspouts on the roof (Breen 14). Instead, Wright chose to let water run off the roof naturally by installing sunken concrete guttered with tiling covered with crushed rock to carry off the water. Wright theorized that children do not like to take baths, so the bathtub in the children’s bathtub is sunken below floor level to make it fun. After sending the original plans to Davis, Wright expressed that he really wanted to take on the project because the land was quite suited to the design (Davis 5).
Construction for the home was targeted to begin in the fall of 1953 (Davis 9). Construction was assisted on site by Alan Davidson. After only a short time, the original contractor quit with worries that the ceiling would collapse (US Dep. Of Interior 1). Mr. Wright instructed Davis to wait until spring to hire a new contractor, and to fix a phone to a tree on the lot. Davis used this phone to call Wright every morning until they hired their new contractor, John Stafford. Stafford had been a patient of the senior Dr. Davis and had been reputed to be the finest mason in the area (Davis 9). He came out of. retirement to help Richard Davis build his home. All the house’s woodwork--both interior and exterior--was built of cypress, an expensive and exotic wood that had to be shipped to Marion (Breen 14).
Wright did not provide landscaping plans for the property (US Dep. Of Interior 1). Mrs. Davis created an oriental garden in the west yard. Using limestone, she laid out a waterfall leading to a stone-lined pond. She also strategically placed a few cast-iron oriental lantern lights and ornaments in the garden.
The main portion of the house was built between 1952 and 1955, as was the independent guest house. The house originally consisted of three parts- the main portion, guest house, and dog house. The doghouse was specially designed for Zeno, the family’s St. Bernard. In 1958 Wright was commissioned again to design a “teenage wing” for the growing Davis family so the children could be close, but not too close. The wing was finished in 1960 after Wright’s death. At around the same time the teenage wing was added to the house, a guest house was built on the property (US Dep. Of Interior 13). The Davis’s growing family and larger house required a maid on the property. Mr. Wright was asked to design a small house. The guest house was placed between the teenage wing and rear of the property, with driveway access. A garage, which was not affiliated with Frank Lloyd Wright, was added to the property in around 1965 after the death of Wright.
Davis lived in his home until he moved to California in 1966 (Breen 14). The house was sold to Thomas McClain, who lived there until it was sold to the Thomas Dillon family in the early 1970s. Michael and Lois Ball bought the home in 1977. They knew the responsibility and expense of maintaining the house the way Wright would have preferred. One year after moving in, Ball began putting storm windows over the single-paned windows that opened into the surrounding woods. Also, when they had moved in there was a wall-to-wall white carpet throughout the house. Ordinarily, this would have been a nice feature- but not when the heating source for the house is imbedded in the cement floor beneath the carpet. Most of the carpet was removed to reveal the original cement floor (Conover B4). Removal of the carpets was quite a task as the original red, diamond shape floor did not match their furnishings. Wright would not have approved of the carpet’s removal because he specified Oriental area rugs on the floors (Breen 14). In addition to the Ball’s changes, they added a wood-burning stove to replace the inefficient fireplace in the living room. The next owners, Don and Sue Heuchert, painted the house back to its original colors and registered for the house to be considered a National Historic Place. The current owner is Mr. Matthew Harris.
The chance meeting between Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Davis was the beginning of the creation of a masterpiece. Situated in Marion is a historical, life-size piece of art in which family legacies are made. Woodside will forever be Marion’s monument to Wright’s imagination.
- Boo, Michael. “Frank Lloyd Wright in Indiana: Timeless.” Outdoor Indiana July- August. 2001.
- Breen, Ed. “Woodside: Marion’s piece of Wright history.” Chronicle Tribune 10 Jan. 1988: 10-14.
- Conover, Sheri. “Wright home a live-in work of art.” Chronicle Tribune 9 July 1992. B4
- Davis, Richard M. “Woodside.” E-Mail to Gregory Monberg. 29 Oct. 1998.
- Davis, Richard M. Building Woodside. 1992.
- Monberg, Gregory. “Re: Woodside”. E-mail to Richard Davis. 17 Nov. 1998.
- Stewart, LoWs Benning. “House of Many Sides.” Indianapolis Star 24 Nov. 1957: 14-15.
- United States Department of the Interior. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. National Park Service. Section 7, 1-10.
Dilkushi Poovendran wrote this article for Mr. Munn's AP U.S. History class and Mr. Lakes' AP English 11 class at Marion High School. It was submitted on December 17, 2001.