March 12, 2012 in Nation/World

Doghouse has design master’s pedigree

Architect Wright planned structure for 12-year-old
Sudhin Thanawala Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

In this photo provided by Michael Miner, Jim Berger poses next to a doghouse in Glendale, Calif., designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
(Full-size photo)

SAN FRANCISCO – The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The Fallingwater home in southwestern Pennsylvania. But a child’s doghouse?

Frank Lloyd Wright designed hundreds of landmark buildings and homes during a prolific career that spanned more than seven decades. But in what is widely considered a first and only for the famed architect, Wright indulged a young boy’s humble request for a doghouse in 1956 and sent him designs for the structure.

“I was probably his youngest client and poorest client,” Jim Berger, now 68, said during a recent phone interview.

Berger rebuilt the doghouse last year with his brother, using the original plans. It was featured in a documentary film and will be displayed during screenings starting this month.

Wright designed Berger’s family’s home in the Marin County town of San Anselmo, prompting the then 12-year- old Berger to ask his dad if Wright would design a home for his black Labrador, Eddie.

Berger’s dad said he didn’t know, so Berger decided to write to the great architect himself.

“I would appreciate it if you would design me a doghouse, which would be easy to build, but would go with our house …” read the letter dated June 19, 1956. “(My dog) is two and a half feet high and three feet long. The reasons I would like this doghouse is for the winters mainly.”

Berger explained that he would pay Wright from the money he made from his paper route.

“A house for Eddie is an opportunity,” Wright wrote back. But he said he was too busy at the time (construction on the Guggenheim began in 1956) and asked that Berger write him back in November.

Berger did so on the first of the month, and the plan for the doghouse followed – at no charge.

“The story of a 12-year-old kid having the chutzpah to write a letter to the greatest architect of all time and having him design something as modest as a doghouse … I just knew it was a great story,” said Michael Miner, who produced and directed the documentary, “Romanza,” which features the doghouse and other structures Wright designed in California.

Berger said the original doghouse was not built until about 10 years after he received the designs. Since Eddie had died by then, Berger’s father and brother built their house for another family dog.

That doghouse, however, later ended up in the dump because Berger said his mother did not have a dog, and did not see much other value in it. He rebuilt it for the documentary last year, working off Wright’s original plan, titled “Plan of Eddie’s house.”

“When I wrote him originally to design the doghouse, I specified that it be real easy to build,” said Berger, who became a cabinet maker. “It was a nightmare.”

The roughly 3-feet-wide by 5-feet-long by 3-feet-high doghouse has a sharp triangular shape, with a sloping shingled roof. It is made of Philippine mahogany and weighs about 250 pounds.

“It’s definitely in the master’s hand,” Oskar Munoz, assistant director of archives at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, said of the design.

Munoz said Berger’s is believed to be the only doghouse Wright designed. Wright likely sketched it out and then handed it to a draftsman in his studio who turned it into a working drawing, he said.

Wright was past 80 and likely busy with dozens of projects at the time, Munoz said, so for him to take the time to make the sketch was unusual. Wright died in Phoenix in 1959.

Berger, who now lives in the Sacramento area and has three rescue beagles, said he’s not sure what he will do with the doghouse.

Although his beagles are worthy of it, he said they would probably prefer to stay in the house.

“My feeling is that I’d like it to go to a museum because it is a historical monument,” he said.

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