Frank Lloyd Wright’s imprint upon Mason City

CONSTRUCTED WITHIN MY HOUSE of memories, I see my mother paging through floor plans in booklets picked up at the local lumberyard. She dreamed of a new house for her large and growing family.

She bulged heavy with child in 1967, the year relatives and contractors built the house of her dreams and the August she birthed her final of six babies.

By the Christmas holidays, we had abandoned our cramped wood-frame farmhouse for the walk-in basement rambler across the driveway. We welcomed a bathroom, a basement with a cement floor and plenty of closet space. And the warmth of a central heating system.

I attribute my appreciation and interest in architecture to those pre-teen memories of Mom sifting through house plans and of watching Dad unfurl blueprints for our new home. Vivid, too, are the earthy scent of sawdust, the open two-by-fours nailed into rooms, the grind of the cement mixer.

To this day, I study the lines of houses, consider their architecture, often wish I could step inside.

Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
A Prairie School house in the Rock Glen neighborhood of Mason City, Iowa.

So on a recent visit to northeastern Iowa, I was thrilled to discover the greatest concentration of Prairie School architecture (eight homes, a bank and hotel, by my count) in the upper Midwest in Mason City.

Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Martha Pettigrew’s “American Architect,” a sculpture of Frank Lloyd Wright, stands permanently in Mason City’s Central Park, across the street from the bank and hotel he designed and which were completed in 1910.

Frank Lloyd Wright himself imprinted his Prairie School architecture upon Mason City with the design of the Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank, both listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and of the Stockman House, built for Dr. George Stockman and his family.

Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Frank Lloyd designed this house, moved to 530 First St. N.E. and today open to the public as an interpretative center, for Dr. George Stockman. I did not tour the home during my visit to Mason City.

Today the Stockman House is open to the public as a showcase of Wright’s work. You can also tour the historic hotel and former bank.

Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
A Prairie School neighborhood snapshot.

A walk through the Rock Crest/Rock Glen neighborhood reveals more Prairie School homes designed by students of this definitively first American style of architecture. I don’t pretend to be an expert in architecture. But Prairie School homes are easily recognizable with their primarily flat and looming rooflines, rectangular windows, plainness, imposing strength and sense of privacy.

Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Not just any old street corner in any old neighborhood.

Enjoy this tour of Prairie School homes in Mason City. Now if only I could have toured the interiors, I’d have been especially pleased.

Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Signs embedded in the sidewalk identify some, if not all, of the Prairie School houses.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
An entry to the 1915 Hugh Gilmore House designed by Francis Barry Byrne. It’s located at 511 E. State Street.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
A stunning car port on a Prairie School style house.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
The E.V. Franke House at 507 East State Street, designed by Francis Barry Byrne in 1917.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
A view of the 1915 Sam Schneider House at 525 E. State Street and designed by Walter Burley Griffin.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
The 1920 George Romey House was designed by J.M. Felt & Co. with Prairie School influence.

This post was written and photographed by Audrey Kletscher Helbling and originally published on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

If you blog and would like your work considered for Minnesota Blog Cabin, please submit our registration form.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Scott Walters on 10/09/2014 - 03:41 pm.

    Inside the Prairie School Homes

    I have no photos but do have memories of one of those homes, where a childhood friend lived. As you would expect of older houses, the rooms are not large, but the detail from the exteriors continues inside. Everything is long and low, with a lot of exposed stone. There are a LOT of steps as the interior follows the contour of the landscape. The entry way was a few steps above the kitchen, which was a couple of steps above the dining room, which opened into the living room, which had a row of those great windows.

    The upstairs was all one level, if I recall correctly, but it was a long time ago.

    I’m glad you enjoyed your visit to my hometown.

Leave a Reply