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Special windows return to Lake Geneva

Frank Lloyd Wright's design makes home in library

Some of the people who attended the special open house for the arrival of the Frank Lloyd Wright windows were (front, from left) Library Board of Trustees Duanne Lafrenz; Barbara Dresser, wife of Wrtight protege James Dresser; architectural historian Frank Landi and (back) Lake Geneva Mayor Jim Connors.

November 02, 2011 | 09:24 AM
It's a notable addition, but one that some may not be able to put a finger on when they walk into the Lake Geneva Public Library. That's mainly because the change fits in perfectly.

The library recently installed two original Frank Lloyd Wright windows from the old Lake Geneva Hotel, which was torn down in 1970. The geometrically-designed Wright windows are in the library's foyer — straight across from the main entrance.

The windows fit right in because the library was designed in the early 1950s in the prairie style by the late James Dresser, a Wright protege.

"They are very historical," architectural historian Frank Landi said about the windows. "It's nice that the public can see these free of charge. We are sharing a piece of Lake Geneva history here."

Landi, who was key in obtaining the windows from a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning storage shed, long has presented programs and lectures on Wright and his architecture, many at the Lake Geneva Library.

The windows now are in Lake Geneva on a permanent loan from UWM with hopes to provide "a view into the visionary designs" of Wright. The windows were unveiled at the library during a special open house Oct. 22.

Olivia Hare, Dresser's granddaughter, spoke about her grandfather's style of architecture and connections to Wright, who was his mentor.

"The building, completely in classic Dresser, and yes, organic and Wright style, gently opens itself to you, inviting you to come in and explore its space as it expands and widens out," she said. "You're greeted by the expansive view of floor to ceiling glass ... a breathtaking view of beautiful Lake Geneva, and you are — whether you realize it or not — invited to sit and read awhile as the natural flood of daylight streams in. You could almost forget you're inside looking out or outside looking in."

Dresser also was Wright's friend and studied with him at Taliesin. But he was more than that to Barbara Dresser. Wright gave Barbara away to James on their wedding day and Barbara said her family and Wright shared a long relationship. Her father was one of Wright's first draftsmen.

Barbara, who attended the unveiling event at the library, called it a special afternoon for her and her family.

"It was special feeling the appreciation of all the guests who recognized the creativity and beauty that James gave the community so many years ago," she said Monday. "Now today, it seems like a perfect place for the Frank Lloyd Wright windows."

The story of Dresser and Wright doesn't end there.

Barbara said during a dinner party in the mid- to late-1950s, Wright stood up, shook hands with James Dresser and complimented him on the "excellent job of designing and executing" the Lake Geneva Library building.

"Those accolades were exceptional as he rarely gave any," Barbara said of Wright.

Although both are gone, Barbara said they would be proud of what has occurred with the windows. She said they fit in "beautifully."

"I think it's great," she said. "Both would be very happy with it."

Barbara also mentioned one other important person.

Ethel Brann, a former library director in the 1930s and 1940s, was friends with Barbara and that's how James became involved in the design of the lakefront structure. He designed the building, which eventually was dedicated late in 1954. Barbara said without Brann, it may not have happened. She said Brann's concern and foresight made it possible to build such a facility.

"We felt they have come home to Lake Geneva," current Library Director Andrea Peterson said last week about the windows. "They look like they belong here."

Some parts of this story were provided by Alisha Benson from the Lake Geneva Public Library.


It took more than year, but for Frank Landi, the wait was worth it.

The architectural researcher and historian found windows from the old Lake Geneva Hotel stored in a shed at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning. About a year later, they have been installed in the Lake Geneva Public Library.

Discovery of these windows came up a while after Landi went to a Lake Geneva woman's house, which had similar windows. She wanted to sell them and Landi said the cost was just too much.

During further research of the hotel, Landi discovered the windows were stored at UWM. He checked around and with the help of his son, found there were a "bunch of" the windows there.

Landi asked to borrow the windows. Time went by and eventually the deal was made. The school delivered the windows about a month ago and they were hung recently. Landi said the windows were piled in a storage shed where they were taken away when the building was torn down. Landi said the school also still has some of the more famous and rare tulip windows.

During the Oct. 22 open house and program, Allen Hermansen, nephew of the owners of the hotel from 1939 to 1964, shared his memories of the facility.

"I wish we were standing in the foyer of the Lake Geneva Hotel," Hermansen said.

The hotel, which was built in 1911, was torn down in 1970.
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