Frank Lloyd Wright Homes for Michigan Scientists!

Frank Lloyd Wright Homes for Michigan Scientists!

In the late 1940s, the Upjohn pharmaceutical company was the largest employer in Kalamazoo, Michigan with a company emphasis on family and quality of life. It was a national leader in providing benefits to its employees including group life insurance and shorter work weeks. Also in the 1940s, Frank Lloyd Wright had become the most famous architect in the world who was devoting much of his time to his Usonian homes for the middle class. About 60 Usonian homes were built between 1936 and Wright’s death in 1959.  

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In 1949, a group of twelve scientists from Upjohn sought out Wright to design a community of homes.  With simplicity, form and function in mind, Wright’s Usonian designs met their criteria.  They wanted houses that they could build themselves or with limited help and chose a 70-acre parcel of open and wooded land with a three-acre pond in Galesburg, Michigan. They originally named it Galesburg County Homes Acres but later abbreviated it to The Acres. Each scientist wrote a letter to Wright requesting his help to design the project. The plat outline consisted of 22 homes on one acre each with 50 acres left natural for the enjoyment of the residents.

The Acres' Usonian designs were Wright’s first foray into organic ranch-style architecture.  They were affordable but tailor-made to the individual client’s needs, practical, functional and blended in with their surroundings.  They were organic in that they appeared to come “out of the ground and into the light,” as Wright was fond of saying.  Access to nature, both physically from every room in the house and visually from inside the home interiors, played a major role in defining Usonian style.  Homes were built with natural materials, walls of glass for winter passive solar collection, radiant-heated floors, flat roof lines with overhangs, carports and built-in furniture which, according to Wright, made additional furniture unnecessary.

Although the project had many supporters at Upjohn, it was a bit of a drive from Kalamazoo before Interstate 94 was built and perhaps too unusual for midwestern tastes. Only four Wright homes were ever built at The Acres:  The David and Christine Weisblat Residence, the Eric and Pat Pratt Residence, the Samuel and Dorothy Eppstein Residence and the Curtis Meyer Residence.  A fifth residence that was designed by Wright protegee Francis "Will" Willsey for Günther and Anne Fonken, now referred to as the Günther and Anne Fonken House, was built in 1959, the same year Wright died.

Currently for sale is the Samuel and Dorothy Eppstein Residence.  Samuel was a research scientist and Dorothy a researcher at the Upjohn labs. They had only been married six months when they commissioned their new home and construction was completed in 1953. The 2,250-square-foot Usonian includes three bedrooms, two baths, two fireplaces, and a general purpose room used as an additional living room. Though the kitchen has been rebuilt by a local craftsman in the Wright style, the home has all of Wright’s built-ins including two tables that were reconstructed to exact specifications. Ten-foot walls of glass are positioned to capture idyllic views of valley and meadows.  There is also a swimming pool that was added in later years.

Rare opportunity to own a Wright Usonian in a 70-acre, fully Wright-designed community kept completely intact since its inception.  Asking $455,000, it is the lowest priced Wright home currently on the market. The listing agent is Fred Taber of Jaqua Realtors in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

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