Welcoming Visitors to the Delbert Meier House

Copies of photos from the 1920s are taped to the garage wall to show visitors how the house would have looked before additions.

We knew when we bought the Delbert Meier House that we would receive visits from people interested in Frank Lloyd Wright and the American System-Built Homes. The couple we bought the house from – who had only owned it for about three years – attested to this at the closing by sharing stories of drop-ins. And they were correct – we started getting visits from those interested in the house and its history almost immediately.

Fortunately, the advance warning from previous owners had given us a nudge to learn as much as possible about American System-Built Homes and the history of own house. If we’re going to fill the role of docents at our own house, we figured, we’re going to arm ourselves with ALL information!

In the past five years we’ve welcomed visits – some pre-arranged, others wholly impromptu – from architecture buffs who’ve learned about our house’s unlikely location in small town Iowa. I say unlikely because ours was only the third Wright design constructed in Iowa. Also, of the American System-Built homes, ours is the westernmost model (as far as we know).

Jason is probably saying, “Just look at the amazing stucco! Can you believe it’s over 100 years old?”

We’ve pre-arranged visits from Wright fans who have travelled from other points in the midwest. We show them around the house – inside and out – and give them a thorough history of the house’s ownership, including details on when the additions were constructed and the built-ins pulled out. We’ve given impromptu tours of the house when we’ve seen a car slow to a crawl and a camera pointing toward the house. One time last summer, The Mister was mowing the yard when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a man standing in the front yard.  The MIster shut off the mower and approached the man, who, as it turns out, was visiting from Australia and attempting to see all the Wright sites in the US.

All of these visits were the perfeect preparation for what we experienced in October – a tour bus full of Wright aficionados who were making the journey from Milwaukee to Mason City and wanted to stop at our house along the way. We agreed to the visit months in advance and yet still found ourselves scrambling to “stage” the house when the day of the visit finally arrived. And let me tell you – nothing encourages a person to spruce up a house quite like the prospect of thirty people coming to walk through it!

A literal busload of people came to see our house!

The visit was scheduled to last only an hour but you would think that we were preparing for a day-long symposium. There’s so much information to share about our house and the ASBH project that we tend to ramble. So we wrote ourselves a little script to keep us on track and make the most of the sixty minutes allotted to us.

We met the group in the driveway as soon as their tour bus pulled to a stop at the curb. We started on the outside of the house – pointing out the original features like the stucco and carriage house while also explaining the additions and alterations that were made by a previous owner – before moving inside and giving the group free reign to look around. The people in the group were friendly, inquisitive and patient of our tendencies to go on and on about the details of our house’s ownership. The sixty minute tour went by in a flash!

One of the reasons we bought the Meier House was to reclaim it, gussy it up and tells its story. Five years into ownership, we’ve lost sight of that. This visit from the Wright in Wisconsin group was a wonderful reminder to keep plugging away. To loosely quote a sports movie I’ve never seen, if we gussy it up, they will come.

Rites of Summer: Mother-in-Law’s Rhubarb Crunch

My Mother-in-Law's Recipe Box and Rhubarb Crunch Recipe

“What’s this?” I asked our friend Joan as I pointed down at the ground. It was our first spring in the house and Joan, the real estate agent’s wife, was kindly helping us get the mess of a yard into shape. (And helping two city guys avoid a freakout over the amount of work they had just taken on with this new house!)

“Oh that’s rhubarb!” Joan said, and then furrowed her brow. “That’s a strange place to put it.”

We were standing in the front yard, pulling plants out of a bed that the previous owners had installed.

“It’s grows like a weed,” Joan said. “We used to just mow over it!”

I dug up the fledgling little plant and plopped it in a corner of the garden. Joan was right. Rhubarb is an easy plant that will thrive anywhere you put it. By the end of that summer I was able to get a few mature stalks off the plant. And we’ve had rhubarb ever since.

Mother-in-law’s rhubarb recipe

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I may not have been able to recognize rhubarb in the wild, but I had bought enough of the red stalks at farmers markets over the years to know that it was one of The Mister’s favorites. Having a plant in the garden has been a wonderful addition to our lives … and waistlines. And since it’s an early plant, springing to life and offering mature stalks that are ready to cut by the end of May, when we’re just planting the rest of the garden, it’s a nice way to kick off the growing season.

And so every Memorial Day weekend I pull out my mother-in-law’s recipe box and make The Mister his favorite dessert, rhubarb crunch.

Welcome to summer, folks! (And here’s Louise’s recipe.)

3 C rhubarb, diced
1 C sugar
2 eggs
4 T flour
sprinkle cinnamon

Mix above in a large bowl and then pour into a greased dish. (Lately, I’ve been making the crunch in smaller dishes or ramekins. That means that everyone gets some of the extra crunchy edges – arguably the best part!)

1 C oatmeal
1/2 C butter
1 C brown sugar
1/2 C flour

Mix the above ingredients and then spread atop the rhubarb mixture.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes.

The American System-Built Home Revival in Atlantic City

This Zillow image shows the house at 212 N. Tennessee

When Frank Lloyd Wright and Arthur Richards partnered on the American System-Built Home project in the 1910’s, they surely envisioned a large scale endeavor that would see their houses popping up all across America. After all, Wright prepared hundreds of designs and was known to think big. Unfortunately, he was also known to be difficult to work with. By 1917, the relationship between Wright and Richards had soured and, with America entering World War, the ASBH project had all but fizzled. Continue reading

Before & After: A New Vintage Farmhouse Kitchen

Hallelujah and pass the peas! It’s been a year in the making and at some points I thought we might never finish it, but I’m happy to report that the kitchen at the Delbert Meier House is finally (mostly) done. There are still a few lingering little tasks – repainting the walls and replacing the faucet – but it’s finished enough to show off the before and after photos here on the blog. Continue reading

So Long Frank Lloyd Wright … and Delbert Meier

Last Monday marked the 59th anniversary of the death of Frank Lloyd Wright. Just three months before Wright’s passing in 1959, another visionary departed this world: Delbert W. Meier, the man who, with his wife Grace, boldly decided to build a Wright-designed American System-Built Home in a small town in northeastern Iowa in 1917, and lived happily thereafter and, indeed, passed on in that house – this “American house.”

Del Meier was the beneficiary of a very colorful obituary in the local newspaper, The Monona Leader, which we post here in tribute. We’ll leave it to Simon and Garfunkel to properly fete Frank on this anniversary.

D.W. Meier Funeral Held

Funeral services for Delbert William Meier, 78, were held Saturday afternoon, Jan. 10, at 2 o’clock at the Schultz Funeral home with Rev. E. Wayne Hilmer officiating.

Burial was in the City cemetery.

Mr. Meier died at his home Thursday morning, Jan. 8, at 3:30 o’clock from a heart attack. He had been suffering from a heart ailment for some time.

Music at the services was provided by Mrs. George Martin, soloist. She was accompanied by Mrs. Ivon J. Schultz at the piano.

Honorary pallbearers were: H.T. Orr, G.F. Fox, K.W. Rash, Edward Wirkler, Reuben Bernhard, Clayton County Bankers association, and Clayton County bar association.

Active pallbearers were: F.J. Peglow, Elmer Kurth, George Martin, W.C. Kruse, Ivon J. Schultz, George Wiethorn, Raymond Mielke, and William Hubacher.

Mr. Meier was born on a farm north of Postville, May 6, 1880, the son of John H. and Louisa (Splies) Meier. He was one of five children. Milo S. Meier of Minneapolis, Minn., is the only one who remains.

In that early day, life was rigorous, but he and an older brother spent many happy hours wandering over the wooded hills and fertile fields.

Then there was the country school to which they traveled with their swinging dinner pails for their early education. The family moved to Postville, later, so the children could have a better education.

He graduated from high school, then entered Upper Iowa university at Fayette. He was a good student and became a member of the debating team which won high honors for the school. His liking for forensics helped him decide to study law.

In the fall of 1903 he entered the University of Chicago, graduating there in 1905, taking two degrees, bachelor of philosophy and doctor of jurisprudence.

Then the question arose where to “hang out the shingle.” Being of a venturesome spirit, Indian territory seemed a likely place, so accordingly, Tulsa, Okla., was the town of his choice.

While in college he had met Miss Grace Estelle Burgess. They were married in 1903.

Not liking the climate in the southern territory, the couple returned to Iowa and Mr. Meier took over the law office of Ed Otis.

Two children were born to the couple, Esther, now Mrs. John Roberts of Darlington, England; and Martha, now Mrs. Walter Renk of Sun Prairie, Wis. These, with two grandchildren, John and Richard Renk, and a new great-grandchild, Wyatt Farley Renk, survive him.

Mr. and Mrs. Meier have resided in Monona for more than fifty years. On Dec. 28, recently, they celebrated their fifty-fifth wedding anniversary.

Mr. Meier served in official capacity in the town as mayor, and on the town council. As a school board member, he was instrumental in building the new addition to the “old building,” and the construction of the present one, serving again as a member of the board. At the time of his death, Mr. Meier was serving as president and director of the Union State Bank, in which capacity he faithfully served for many years. He was a life-long member of the Iowa State Bar association.

During World war I, he was a member of the Clayton County Draft board, and during World war II he served for a time as government appeal agent. For this effort he was given citations from two presidents, a selective service medal in the name of congress of the United States, signed by Harry S. Truman, and a certificate of appreciation signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

So passes another of the older residents of Monona. Few are left who took part in the social and business life of the town when he opened his office here in 1907.