Frank Lloyd Wright's Wisconsin Retreat

Organic Design at the Lake Geneva Hotel

Frank Lloyd Wright Lake Geneva Hotel Exterior
Exterior of the Lake Geneva Hotel, Lake Geneva, WI

In the early 20th century, Lake Geneva in southern Wisconsin was turned into a summer vacation destination by businessman John Williams and developer Arthur L. Richards. Given the rise of automobile transportation, Williams and Richards commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design the Lake Geneva Hotel, hoping to attract visitors from Chicago, Milwaukee, and elsewhere in the Midwest.

Completed in 1911, Wright's two-story Lake Geneva Hotel featured a lobby with fireplace, a dining room, and ninety guest rooms. The long structure was capped with a subtly pitched roof, had rows of decorative windows on both floors, and a covered terrace that ran the length of the property, all of which contributed to the hotel's horizontal emphasis.

Frank Lloyd Wright Lake Geneva Hotel Windows
Second-floor windows at the Lake Geneva Hotel, Lake Geneva, WI
(photographed by Richard Nickel in 1967)

Throughout the Lake Geneva Hotel, Wright installed a series of themed windows, skylights, and fixtures for a unified effect. In the lobby, Wright designed art glass "Tulip" windows, whereas the second floor featured geometric-patterned panes set in leaded glass. These window motifs in tandem with the hotel's organic architecture combined to harmonize the building with its natural setting.

Not long after the Lake Geneva Hotel was finished, Williams and Richards experienced financial challenges. While ownership of the hotel changed hands often in subsequent decades, no one could make the property profitable despite its famous architect. In 1970, a fire severely damaged part of the hotel and it was demolished.

Frank Lloyd Wright

During his seventy year career as an architect, Frank Lloyd Wright created more than 1,100 designs, half of which were realized and a large portion of which came about later in his life. Wright was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin in 1867. He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in 1885 to study civil engineering, completing only two years of the program. After working for Joseph Silsbee on the construction of the Unity Chapel in Oak Park, Illinois Wright decided to pursue a career in architecture and he moved to Chicago where he began an apprenticeship at the famed architectural firm Adler and Sullivan, working directly with Louis Sullivan until 1893.

After parting ways, Wright moved to Oak Park. Working from his home studio, he developed a system of design developed from grid units and rooted in an appreciation of natural materials that would come to be known as the Prairie School of Architecture and would change the landscape of American design forever. Wright devoted himself to teaching and writing during the 1920s and 1930s. 1935 marked the beginning of an immense surge of creativity and productivity as he began work on his most celebrated residential design, Fallingwater. In the 1940s and 1950s Wright focused on his Usonian designs that reflected his belief in democratic architecture, offering middle-class residential options. In 1943, Wright took on his most demanding commission, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The museum, which would open its doors six months after his death in 1959, would be called his most significant work.

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