You may recall the super-cute story of how, in 1956, a 12-year-old named Jim Berger wrote the architect who designed his family’s under-construction home in San Anselmo, Calif. and asked if he would be so kind as to also design a shelter for his loyal black Lab, Eddie. Berger offered to pay the architect with money earned on his paper route for his services. Reads Berger’s letter, dated June 19, 1956: “I would appreciate it if you would design me a doghouse, which would be easy to build, but would go with our house ... (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.”
As the story goes, that architect just happened to be the godfather of modern sustainable architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright. The 88-year-old Wright eventually did indulge the young Berger and sent along plans for a triangular kennel, free of charge. Although there was some delay, Berger’s younger brother and father eventually built “Eddie’s House” using mahogany and leftover cedar from the main home's construction. In 1973, recently widowed family matriarch, Gloria Berger, trashed the Wright-designed doghouse at a local dump. Whoopsie daisy.
When FLW doghouse-destructor Gloria Berger passed away last year, she left the 1,760-square-foot home at 259 Redwood Road in a trust with her four children, Jim included. The reason for the sale (remember it's not every day that a classic FLW home hits the market)? According to the Wall Street Journal, “the four siblings are all established in their own homes and no one wanted to live in the house.” Understood.
The two-bedroom, two bathroom home itself is a lovingly preserved Usonian beauty — all stone walls, natural wood, beautiful craftsmanship, and plenty of space for family time — that Robert Berger, a mechanical engineer and professor at the College of Marin, actually built himself with his own two hands. It's one of only a handful of Wright buildings in the Bay Area — including, most notably, Wright's last commission before his death, the Marin County Civic Center — and one of about 60 Wright-designed Usonian homes geared toward middle-class families of the early 1950s.
Frank Lloyd Wright Sites has some back story:
Berger wrote to Wright, asking him to 'design a home which was expandable, inexpensive and easy for one person to build.' Wright responded with a request of his own: photographs and a topographical map of the site. In an eventual meeting with Wright, Berger stated that he could afford no more than $1,500 in architectural fees and $15,000 in construction costs. Mr. Wright agreed to the terms and sent the preliminary drawings to Berger in January of 1951.
Construction began in April of 1953, but it took until July of 1957 to complete the core living area of the home, finally allowing Robert Berger, his wife Gloria and their four children to move from their sleeping bag encampment outside. Berger did all of the work — save for the radiant heat installation and the concrete floor — himself, under the guidance of Wright’s San Francisco Associate, Aaron Green. Unfortunately, Berger fell ill in 1969 and died in 1973 before the house was totally complete, but his wife Gloria hired a professional carpenter to finish the job including construction of the furniture.
And from the official listing:
Nestled on a promontory with views overlooking San Anselmo and the surrounding hills, the two bedroom, two bath, 1,760-square-foot Berger Residence is a shining example of Wright’s Usonian design. The building materials include Philippine Mahogany wood work, Sonoma field stone, desert masonry style 14-inch thick walls, and cement floors with radiant heat. The living area encompasses three sides of the central kitchen and is made up of 120-degree corners. The dining room area flows naturally off the kitchen and into the living room where a large, built-in seating area follows the contour of two of the exterior living room walls and faces an imposing stone fireplace. The fireplace, made of the same 'desert masonry' technique as the exterior, is the core of the main living area, a signature of Usonian homes. In addition to the home, Wright designed furniture and a matching dog house, which was commissioned by Berger’s son. The home sits on nine-tenths of an acre and affords stunning views of the surrounding area, which can also be viewed through walls of windows and from the large deck.
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