Frank Lloyd Wright, Historic Preservation, and Me

For nearly half a century, Frank Lloyd Wright has been my historic preservation muse.

Courtesy Library of Congress

For nearly half a century, Frank Lloyd Wright has been my historic preservation muse.  Early experiences in saving buildings and current work conserving neighborhoods have been influenced by him. The thread of influence has been both overt and subliminal and has led to valuable lessons about his legacy and relevance.

I got my start in historic preservation two days after graduating from Vassar by helping to save a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Milwaukee—the 1916 Frederick C. Bogk house the city’s east side. A neighboring hospital, St. Mary’s Hospital, was using a “secret agent” to buy houses across the street from the Bogk House and then demolishing them for a parking lots and future expansion, blockbusting the neighborhood and the context for the Bogk House and others. Hearing a brief television report on the situation, I rode my bicycle over and volunteered to help Barbara Elsner, the Bogk House owner, to research the hospital’s use of federal funds (Hill-Burton Funds) in order to require project reviews, to get the neighborhood activated, and to involve an attorney. To explain and expose the issues I wrote an opinion piece in the Milwaukee Sentinel/Journal. We went door to door and organized the Water Tower Trust which led to creating a historic district and successfully negotiating with the hospital to completely change its expansion direction.

Today the Bogk House and the neighborhood remain and are magnificent. Years of improvements guided by the historic district protect the Bogk House and sustain the Water Tower Historic District as one of the great neighborhoods of Milwaukee, one that Wright appreciated in designing the Bogk House.*

This challenging, positive experience confirmed that I wanted to be a historic preservationist. Working with Barbara in the Bogk House all that summer of 1973 made me an eternal appreciator of the genius of FLW.

*Barbara Elsner, who led the Water Tower Trust preservation work, was a founder of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, and several other Wisconsin preservation organization. Today, she leads the effort to revive Wright’s American System-Built Homes, known collectively as the Burnham Block, in Milwaukee. Her daughter, Margaret Howland, lives in the Bogk House with her two children.

Kathryn Welch Howe is a Member of Scenic America Board of Directors and President of KWH Associates Inc., a preservation planning and adaptive use development firm.  As a consultant, Kathryn prepared the restoration and usage program for the revitalization of Grand Central Terminal for the Municipal Art Society and Metro-North Railroad. For the Getty Conservation Institute Kathryn led the development of the Los Angeles Historic Resource Survey.  She has been a regional director and vice-president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and president of the Los Angeles Conservancy Board of Directors. 

If you liked this reader-submitted article, check out “This Architect Digitally Preserves FLW’s Unbuilt Projects In His Spare Time.”

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