Thursday, April 29, 2010

The persistence of the individual

I’ve tried to select some of Don’s lesser known buildings to detail the breadth and depth of his work. Known principally for Indian Lakes, there are many of his designs that have gone unnoticed, one of which is the Larson home.

Mr. Larson worked for Bell Telephone; his wife Beverley grew up in Elmwood Park. In fact, Beverley lived across the street from Don and his parents, Ebba and Gunnar. In speaking with Mrs. Larson in 2007, Beverley remembered being invited to the Ericksons for neighborhood parties, dancing with Gunnar, and the remodeling that Gunnar did in his Elmwood Park home, beginning with a replacement of the stairs and ending with hand-crafted kitchen cabinets and built-in book shelves.

Shown, the Erickson home on 77th Avenue, Elmwood Park, Illinois.

Ebba was a reader; she read everything from poetry to biographies and she ensured that her son, at age four, was privately tutored in classical piano. Ebba hailed from a family of church organists in Sweden. It was important to her that Don follow the family tradition, albeit on a piano versus a church organ. But, again, I digress...

By 1954, Beverley was married to Carl Larson, had three children, $10,000 in savings and the couple had a dream of living in a home inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. Carl purchased a four-acre site in Bartlett, Illinois and, set out to build his own home.

As quoted from "House Beautiful:"

“But an intelligent man knows his limitations. Mr. Larson is a qualified electrician and has handy-man proclivities. . .but he had no illusions about being an architect. So, at the start, he explained his ideas and financial limitations to architect, Don Erickson, whose houses he had seen, and who he knew would understand the kind of house he was driving at. By fall, Mr. Erickson had designed a three-level house of concrete brick, redwood siding, and cedar shake roof . . .While the design demanded materials of high quality, the triple-level plan was a measure of economy. The exterior walls of a house are the most expensive structural parts, and by splitting the floor space of a house into several levels, you can enclose more livable area within your expensive walls. Mr. Erickson acted as advisor and consultant throughout the project. . ."

By December 1957, the shell of the house was built. . . “For nearly four years [Mr. Larson said], all I did was work, sleep, eat, and build my house. It was rough, but then nothing can compare with the swell of pride you feel when you look at the place and think, 'I did it myself.'"

House Beautiful, July 1960.

Like Don, Carl Larson built his house with material, tools, and sweat equity. Today, the house still stands in Barlett but the Larson family outgrew the home. However, Beverley still remembers people driving up the driveway, as the family stood outside to rake leaves or mow the grass, to ask them about their unusual home. . .a home which they discussed with their visitors with pride.

Drawing from "Alit I Hemmet," article entitled,"Hos Carl Larson Illinois," November 1961.

The house is located somewhere near the junction of Sutton Road (Highway 59) and Lake Street, in Barlett, Illinois.

Please contact me, or provide comments on this page, if you would like to submit information that you may have on the work and/or its history. And, if you would like to contribute to championing the preservation of the Don Erickson Legacy, please email me at the address posted under my profile.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sweat Equity

Schooled in the Wright tradition, Don not only learned how to become a designer and a draftsperson, but the apprentices also worked to construct and repair buildings at Taliesin. This training served Don well.

After leaving Taliesin, Don first worked for Flexicore Company, doing drafting. Flexicore manufactured pre-cast concrete slabs and were the originators of floor slabs. Don was later retained and worked for the architects Schewier and Eating, Frank Louis Glick, and Victor L. Charn of Ragnar Benson and finally as a construction superintendent and estimator for E. Zari & Son.

Not only did Don construct his first home in Palatine, Illinois, but having invested in the Barrrington land in 1965, and after finalizing the designs for his second house, Don worked alongside the carpenters and brick-layers to fully invest himself in the construction of his new home.

Pictured is a view from one of the bedrooms from the first Barrington home. Also pictured is Don pouring “sweat equity” into his new home.
The first house was leveled by a tornado, only to be rebuilt on the same foundation but with “pagoda” roofs.

In 1971, the Barrington house, capped by its new "Jamaican" roofs, was featured in House and Home magazine. In 1972, the fireplace in the living room was featured on the cover of "The Book of Fireplaces," which is pictured here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Decorel Today

The original building featured glass windows offset by rose brick. . .today the brick is painted a soft grey. . .the retaining wall is in need of repair. . .the sculptural roof line is still stunning and is reflected in the canal. . .pointing out the need for preserving architectural work that is a work of art.

For more about this award-winning building, see "Landmarks in Illinois," March 2010 archive.

Photos courtesy of Richard Erickson, Chief Draftsperson to Don Erickson, Architect

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Going Green in Jamaica

What I failed to mention was that John Behmiller, owner of the Playboy Pad (see entry, April 13, 2010), had a penchant for peculiar things. Behmiller owned a collection of shrunken heads from Africa. He also owned a phython which, when it died, he had stuffed; the stuffed remains hid among the tropical forest inside his home, to his visitor's surprise.

Despite his peculiarties, Behmiller expanded Don's world beyond the U.S. and introduced Don to Jamaica. Behmiller sold "The Rock House," a few thatched cottages to Don and four other investors, a private and primative retreat on the West End Road of Negril. Don designed and built more cottages with one of his apprentices, Charles, residing in Jamaicia and supervising the construction of the huts. Today, The Rock House features a spa among other amenities, and while less primative, it remains a favorite of visitors to Negril.

Pictured is one of the "rock houses" circa 1970:

Social by nature, Don met other investors native to Jamaica, one of whom commissioned the development of Coconut Cove Hotel.

The Jamaican government "had developed plans for [the east end of Negril] for strict rules against for high-rise buildings and in keeping in tune with the environment. Now, the east end has sprouted...the handsomely landscaped, apartment-style Coconut Cove Hotel, designed for privacy, offering sea or pool swimming, tennis and horse-back riding." "Negril Jamaica's Tranquil Hideaway," The Independent Journal, March 17, 1977.

Sometime in the late 1970's, Don flew to Jamaicia to accept an award from the Prime Minister. It appears that Coconut Cove Hotel is now owned by Sandal's hotel chain, as evidenced below:

"Amidst a pristine tropical setting, this world-class beachfront resort combines the laid-back atmosphere with refined elegance. Spanning the longest and best stretch of Jamaica's famous seven-mile beach, this is the only hotel in Negril to have won the coveted Green Globe Award, emblematic of its environmentally friendly ambiance. Where even the architecture has been designed to be lower than the highest palm trees. At Sandals Negril, kicking back and doing nothing is considered a native art form...and doing everything is 'no problem.' Discover why Sandals Negril is perfect...for an ocean of reasons."

It seems that Don's designs attracted many hotel owners from executives of the Hyatt Hotel, to the Hilton, to Sandals...

Please contact me, or provide comments on this page, if you would like to submit information that you may have on the work and/or its history. And, if you would like to contribute to championing the preservation of the Don Erickson Legacy, please email me at the address posted under my profile.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The McNeal Home

Mr. Wright thought that the Ennis house would stand on a hill for 100 years. Perhaps he thought that because the house is built of concrete block; the house has withstood the test of earthquakes and floods and, while damaged, the house is still standing. But, other houses are less permanent.

Built of wood and stone, one reader of this blog informed me that the Playboy Pad was destroyed by a fire and that in its place a Prairie home now stands. He also informed me that Mark Zinni, an architect, remodeled the “Pad” while owned, I believe, by DePorter.

These comments lead to much thought about Don's homes and how permanent they have been. Don’s first home was one level and located in Palatine, Illinois. Given seed money from their parents, Don and Shirley built the home themselves, and with associates. A simple home with Taliesin red concrete floors, this is where Don’s first studio was located. Growing up together, two Chicago boys, Don and Richard stood at wooden drafting tables developing designs for business that slowly “arrived.” Even the Glores came to the Erickson home to share Wright’s plans and to consult with Don about the construction of their home.

Today, the Palatine home no longer exists nor was it an architectural masterpiece. It was Don’s first family home, a simple structure that sheltered a young family, an artist, and an architect.

Even Don’s Barrington home was once leveled by a tornado and rebuilt immediately after the debris was cleared from the land. Indomitable, Don and Shirley worked on the home, recruiting their children to lay brick and saw wood.

The award-winning Round House in Glen Ellyn no longer stands . . . the Gustafson home leveled to make room for a new addition to the neighboring home. . .

So, reflecting, I thought that I would tell you about a house that, while standing, is a shell in great need of repair. . .In fact, Richard, Chief Draftsperson to Don, who located the house on Irene Road and who worked on the plans, said, "To see the house would make you cry."

“Spiral stairs spins way through unique new home.”

“A spiral stairway designed by a master of his craft, 85 tons of Wisconsin natural rock, 10-foot sliding glass doors, and a dumb waiter to take the groceries from the garage to the kitchen are some of the feature of the area’s most unique new homes.”

Located on Irene Road, Belvidere, Illinois, the home was commissioned by Mr. and Mrs. Earl McNeal. “Four of the eight points of the house are done in natural rock hauled from near Tomahawk, Wisconsin” and constructed by stonemason Maynard Thorp."

“The entranceway has a floor of black stone imported from Mexico.”

“The house sort of surrounds the stairway…which is fabricated for steel, but looks more like sculpture, is supported on a foundation of its own within a 12-foot square piping running from the bare ground to the peak of the open-beamed Jamaican-style roof.”

One wonders what happened to the McNeals. . .

"Register-Star," Rockford, November 28, 1971. Byline: Doug Adams. Photo from article.

Please contact me, or provide comments on this page, if you would like to submit information that you may have on the work and/or its history. And, if you would like to contribute to championing the preservation of the Don Erickson Legacy, please email me at the address posted under my profile.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Playboy's Pad

This 5,000 square foot home at 2627 Knob Hill Road in Johnsburg, Illinois included two waterfalls inside the home dating "from the home's 1965 origins as a ... Jamaican style 'bachelor pad' worthy of featuring in Playboy magazine."

See "Water world: Waterfalls and pools make Japanese-decorated mansion a liquid asset." Daily Herald, August 9, 1996.

Little did the author know that the home was featured in Playboy magazine in March 1967. Having met one of the men who commissioned the home (John Behmiller) as a child, I remember the hanging walkway in the home which overlooked the pool room, replete with a lava rock bar (foreshadowing the "Cave Bar" at the Hilton Hotel in Indian Lakes), and waterfalls. Behmiller, in turn, owned resort property in Negril, Jamaica which led to Don's development of "The Rock House" and of the award-winning "Coconut Cove" hotel on the beach near Hedonism Village.

In 1984, Don DePorter, a former executive of Hyatt Hotels purchased what came to be known as "the House of Many Waterfalls." DePorter redesigned the interior of the home, using Japanese artifacts and decor, as his private retreat. DePorter died two years later, at age 54, when the home was sold.

Prior to DePorter's ownership, Dorie Koenig acquired the home on or about 1975. Ruth Dietel, Chicago Daily News, wrote an article entitled "Jamaica on the Fox River," some of which is quoted below:

"Mrs. Koenig admitted that it was easy decorating such a great house."

The house was "a little bit of Jamaica nestled into a hillside along the Fox River . . . [and designed for] a man who liked the Caribbean Isle and wanted a bit of it up North."

"The tri-level house...consists of three cedar shingle domes supporting gently curving laminated beams and capped by [skylights.] The interior is of natural cedar and...cypress with lots of stone and greenery and all those waterfalls. The super-sized boulders used to build the falls came from New Mexico and many of the other materials were imported from such faraway places as Hawaii, Tahiti, Haiti and Jamaica."

I hope that "Playboy" doesn't mind. Featured are a few of their photos (sans adult content) that made this home unique...

But, then, Don Erickson's own home echoes the love of nature, cedar walls, "pagoda roofs," and the green interior while all without is a world encased in snow...

Please contact me, or provide comments on this page, if you would like to submit information that you may have on the work and/or its history. And, if you would like to contribute to championing the preservation of the Don Erickson Legacy, please email me at the address posted under my profile.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Award Winner on a Ravine"

In 2007, this award winning home was listed for sale for $1.6 Million as "Exciting and Dramatic House with Spectacular Ravine Setting. Family Room Opens to Kitchen. Wonderful Space throughout Offers Total Livability. Most of the Rooms Overlook a Lovely Large Terrace. Beach Rights. Designed by Architect, Don Erickson."

Located on Brentwood Drive, in Glencoe, Illinois, this home won the the 1968 Distinguished Building Award of the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry and the Chicago Chapter, American Institute of Architects.

Quoting from a Chicago Tribune article published on June 22, 1968, "Award Winner on a Ravine:"

"The architect, who said too many contemporary houses today are sterile and without heart, has used sweeping curves and circles throughout to soften the hard lines of brick and beams. The circular staircase between the two floors is a dome of its own projecting from the ground..."

"Another skylight illuminates the circular staircase. . ."

Similar to his own home and that of other residences that Don designed, "among the...evidence of the architect's attention to detail are the strategically placed lighting fixtures . . ."

And the common theme, echoed throughout the buidling of spirals and things round. . .another home that is part of Don's architectural legacy.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

That Bank with the Trees

This blog, like a tree, is growing organically, and branches grow as a result of patient searches through the tangle of the Internet and comments from readers. Out of curiosity I entered the phrase, "the bank with the trees" and was surprised to see "The Care of Trees" featured the Wauconda bank on their Web site.

They said, "The Care of Trees worked closely with architects and builders to develop ways to minimize impact to tree roots, create water distribution channels for root systems, and carry out the architect's vision of building within nature."

And, they featured several photos of the building with the giant oak trees, a building that grew out of a need and creative inspiration, just as this blog is growing. . .

Has the bank, under new ownership retained the same spirit as its predecessor, while wearing the mantle, "that bank with the trees...?"
Also see "Care of Trees - Wauconda Bank" under "About the Architect" on the side bar to this blog.

Photo from web site:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Preserving the Architectural Legacy of Don Erickson

I am pleased that visitors from Hawaii to Arizona to Texas and beyond have visited my blog. I hope that I have captured your attention and whetted your appetite for more updates, if not succeeded in securing your contributions, large or small.

In today’s economic environment, art – in the form of architecture - sometimes suffers the fate of the wrecking ball. The “Round House,” underwent such a fate as did the Gustafson home, both homes designed by Don in the 1950’s, one of which was featured in Life magazine for its architectural bravery. Even the Ennis house, one which Wright expected to survive for 100 years, is listed for sale, the foundation unable to raise the monies required to restore the home to its former glory. (See side bar concerning all three homes...)

Don’s house aired on NBC TV’s “Open House” on March 14, 2010. (See “Invitation to Our House” to the right of this message.) And, while the TV airing shows the home unadorned with the hand-built furniture and art collection that used to be resident in the home, it depicts the unadulterated beauty of the design and construction of Don's home. Photos of the home, furnished, are included here, to show how loving attention to detail add warmth to the surroundings, surroundings that make a house a home.

Don’s house is close to 7,000 square feet, inclusive of the “coach” house where at least one apprentice lived. Nestled in the woods, on a private expanse of ten acres of land, the house should be owned by an architectural aficionado – someone who appreciates living in a work of art, for that’s what Don’s home is – a beautiful sculpture done in brick, mortar and wood.

A PayPal donation “button” appears to the right of this message to help preserve his architectural legacy. Please contact me, personally, for more details by email and a follow-up telephone conversation. For every donation valued at $1,000 or more, Shirley Erickson (see link to the right of this message), has agreed to donate one of the following signed prints of your choice. Choices are as follows: 1) Ruffed Grouse, or 2) Timberdoodle. Details about each of these prints can be found on the blog, “Shirley Erickson, Artist.”

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Singer Sewing Machine Company

Don continued to do work for Singer and was retained to develop their new store at Randhurst Mall in Mt. Prospect, Illinois. Probably not the most practical of designs, the magic of the design attracted visitors to the store where goldfish swam in skylights sealed together and displayed in the center of the store. . .skylights were using as lighting fixtures. . .and used for the front gates. . .

I am reminded of Wright’s Civic Center in Marin where circular windows adorn the building and a delicate gold framework greats visitors at the front door.. .

For more about the Marin Civic Center designed by Mr. Wright, please take a virtual tour. See link under “Architects and Architecture.”

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Singer Bowl - 1964 New York World's Fair

As I sit here, looking out onto a lush backyard of Cala lilies and fig trees with mountains just beyond, I am at peace. I am grateful for the generosity of people who have been moved by our story. . .To date, two people of modest means have each offered to donate $1,000.00 to helping preserve our father’s legacy, and their choice of a signed and numbered print of an original oil painting done by Shirley Erickson shall soon be gracing their wall. . .

So, in gratitude and as a gift for readers of this blog, I shall share with you a less well known story, a story about the Singer Bowl…

In 1964, Singer Sewing Machine Company set out to find an architect who could develop the Singer Bowl for the New York World’s Fair. Singer had acquired ½ of the “Bowl,” a large stadium in Flushings, Queens. Singer intended to display their sewing machines, dress patterns and machine accessories to the millions of visitors who would visit New York City and attend the World’s Fair. But, 6-months before the day the Fair was to open, Singer fired their architect. They were desperate to discover another or face the embarrassment of not having delivered against their promise to have the Bowl refaced and open for visitors.

My father learned about their plight. He was working out of EMMCO stairs and he was a “one-man show.” In a down-market economy, Richard Erickson (chief draftsperson) had found work for architects who designed churches where he worked for two-years.

Don flew to New York to learn about Singer’s requirements for the job; other architects from big firms were also present. After hearing about Singer’s plight from the President and the Board, Don returned to Chicago. And, on the flight back, with a cocktail in hand (and a pretty woman nearby), and so inspired, he began to etch out a design. The woman remarked on the beauty of the sketch, and asked what exactly Don was drawing. He said, “That’s the new Singer Bowl.”

One week later Don returned to New York to present his concept. Other architects sat outside with him, all waiting to present their designs to the President and the Board of Directors. Don watched as these architects walked in with their design boards and conceptual plans. When it was his turn, Don walked in with the cocktail napkin on which was drawn his “thumb nail” sketch for the Singer Bowl. He walked around the room, and spoke of Singer and their machines, the millions of visitors to the fair and his concept of marshalling the visitors through an impressive array of all things Singer. At last, he drew out his thumb nail sketch and presented it to the President, stating that this was his new Singer Bowl . . . Don walked out with the commission and Richard returned to work.

Photos of the Singer Bowl can be found to the right of this blog on the side bar under "About the Architect."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

From a tiny acorn, an idea grows

When the bank president approached Don it was with an unusual problem. The bank wanted to expand their building, but there were twelve, gigantic oak trees on their land, trees which the community had come to love. If the bank were to fell these trees to make way for the new addition, the community may be in an uproar. The bank could lose business to their competitors, just by raizing the trees. So, the bank set out to find an architect who could build their addition and save the trees.

After consulting four architects, the bank learned about Don Erickson. They explained their problem. Could Don design an addition to the bank without disturbing the trees that the community had come to love?

Don consulted with an arborist to determine the architecture of the trees themselves; he learned that oak trees are supported with a significant structure of roots beneath the ground. Damage these roots, and one would damage not only the support for the tree above, but the nutrient system that feed the tree.

Presented with this understanding, Don set-out to design a building around the trees. To do this, he designed the addition on caseins, cylindrical footings made of poured concrete with bell-shaped bottoms on which the building addition would “float.” These caseins needed to be placed strategically both to support the building, and in an area that would prevent damage to the root structure of the twelve, giant oak trees situated on the land. While other architects may have considered these trees impediments, Don instead considered this as an opportunity to “problem solve.”

The structure, itself, is a series of angles adorned with windows, and part of the building is literally built around the trees. In fact, some of the bank officers can actually reach out from their windows to touch the trees, and did, in fact, feed resident birds who had chosen the oak trees as their private residence.

While saving the trees added up to $75,000 in costs, the “bank scored a priceless public relations coup. . . ‘The community’s acceptance was overwhelming. We couldn’t have spent the amount in marketing dollars that it would take to get that kind of response from people.'”

Today, Wauconda National Bank is owned by Fifth Third Bank, and the new owner has assumed that mantle of “that bank with the trees.”

For building watchers, Fifth Third Bank is located at: 486 W. Liberty Street, Wauconda, Illinois.

Quotes and photographs from "Chicago Tribune," by Lisa Marie Carstone, "Friends of the Forest," April 18, 1993.