Iowa Stories and Tips

Quasqueton: Frank Lloyd Wright in a Field

Cedar Rock Park Visitor Center Photo, Quasqueton, Iowa

Just 90 minutes from Dubuque, 40 minutes from Waterloo and an hour drive from Cedar Rapids you will find a jewel in the prairie. In 1945 Lowell Walter asked Frank Lloyd Wright to design a summer home for Lowell and his wife. He had property just NW of Quasqueton, his home-town. The house they wanted would sit on a ridge overlooking the Wapsipinicon River. His request also included a boathouse and an outdoor fireplace. Wright took on the project, as usual insisting on complete control including the furniture and décor. This Usonian style dwelling followed Wright’s every order and earned the coveted FLW red tile. Wright only affixed the red tile to works that completely followed his plans. The house was named Cedar Rock and now is the main focus of Cedar Rock State Park. Stop at the Visitor Center to familiarize yourself with the works of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Walter Family. Good idea to use the restrooms as there are non available at the house. There is no admission charge, but reservations are encouraged (call 319 934-3572 or e-mail Cedar_Rock@dnr.lowa.gov). The day we were there we had reservations but others arrived as walk-ins and became part of our tour group. Although there is no admission they encourage you to contribute $5 for the River Pavilion (boat house) restoration project.
At the appointed hour our tour group boarded a hayrack pulled by a tractor and were driven to the house site. This isn’t as primitive as it sounds. The ride skirts cornfields on one side and a ravine on the other. At the house our guide first walked us around the maids quarters (used by the Walters as an extra guest room). At this point we had many of the Wright architectural details pointed out such as cantilevered roof, Cherokee red stucco and brick, glass walls, horizontal lines and long thin bricks. Between the maids quarters and the main house is a carport. This was intended for a summer or three-season house, so Iowa winters were of little concern to Wright. Wright used one of his most famous tricks at the entry-way to the main house. The entry is very dark and has a low ceiling. Chunks of colored glass are set in boxed holes that are backlit. That just emphasizes the "Oh, WOW" factor when you walk into the main living area. Not only are there floor to ceiling windows on three sides of the room, there are also skylights and clearstory windows. The view is of the lawn, woods and beyond the to the river. Wright designed all of the furniture. We asked why it was so low. Our guide told us Wright was not a tall man and neither where the Walters, but even if they were tall, Wright would have design the furniture to fit the ideal person….himself. He also picked out their dishes, tableware and decorative items. One time when he came to visit a couple of years after the project was done, he made Mrs. Walter rearrange the dishes on the shelves. He also banned a Tom and Jerry set they received as a gift to an out of the way shelf in the kitchen. The kitchen does have a window over the sink, but otherwise it is a dismal place, utilitarian and not intended for a gathering place. Separated from the kitchen by a brick wall is the furnace room. The bedroom wing has a long low dark corridor with built in shelves and closets on the right side. On the left side are two guest rooms and the master bedroom with floor to ceiling window walls. Some have right angle glass panels. Wright wasn’t concerned that they leaked rain and wind, but the preservationists have used modern sealing materials to make them weather-proof. The guest bath is unique. Looks like it might have been stolen from a Pullman coach. To use the bath, you have to pivot the sink over the toilet. Interesting.

Outside is the fireplace which Wright grandly called The Council Fire. We followed a trail downhill to the river’s edge where we could tour the boat-house, or as Wright called it the River Pavilion. Mr. Walter’s boat could be pulled out of the water and protected inside. There is also a large room for entertaining or solitude above the boat storage. It has a lovely view of the river.

The easiest way to find Cedar Rock Park is to look for the Brown signs on Highway 20 just East of Independence. Take Exit 261 and head south on W40 towards Quasqueton. At the very edge of town take a right onto W35. The road may be labeled Quasqueton Diagonal Boulevard.

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