Prairie School Architecture. Plus.

26 May 2015 – Let’s start with the Plus, because it really is very, very nifty. In the parkland in front of the Mason City Public Library stands this status: “Circle of Friends,” by Karen  Crain.

"Circle of Friends" in front of Mason City Public Library

Charming without being saccharine & entirely appropriate for a public library, you think. All true — but the story is even better than that. Each year, River City Sculptures on Parade, Inc. (not-for-profit, despite that “Inc”), in partnership with Sculpture One Network, invites artists to lend the city one of their works of art for one year. The sculptures are displayed in a big walking-tour loop around the city, and are available for sale. So: good art for the city; good marketing opp for the artists.

On top of that, each year people are invited to vote for the People’s Choice award. Whichever sculpture wins, is purchased by the city and kept on display.

Back to “Circle of Friends.” In 2014, someone purchased it, and donated it to the library.

Danna & I lingered at another reading-related sculpture, also in front of the library. “Oh look,” says Danna, such delight in her voice, “look at the dolly hanging off the scooter handle…”

"Summer Distractions II" in front of Mason City Public Library

This is “Summer Distractions II,” by Lee Leuning & Sherri Treeby. It won People’s Choice in 2013, was therefore purchased by the city, and now also stands near the library.

We wander over to one side, drawn by this powerful bear. “Beetle the Bear,” by Cedar Mueller, is built entirely from recycled pieces of metal, cunningly fitted together.

"Beetle Bear" by the Mason City Public Library

Did you notice that hapless salmon, hooked in the raised paw? Here’s a better view of the underside, the pad & claws, of that paw.

the salmon hooked in Beetle's paw

He is a 2015 entry. Danna & I agree he’d get our People’s Choice vote, hands down. (Paws down.)

There is a lot more, but alas we didn’t get to much of it (though we did study each image in this year’s pamphlet). If you’re in Mason City, go find the art. It is a treat.

Prairie School Architecture

I already knew some very basic basics about the Prairie School — balance, horizontal lines, Frank Lloyd Wright. I did not know about FLW’s presence in Mason City, or about other great architects of that same school.

Herewith the world’s shortest primer, first with two FLW buildings — each deserving the abused adjective “unique” — and two buildings by another architect, whom many prefer to the “starchitect” whose name we all know.

First unique building: the 1908 Stockman House, an early example of the Prairie School by Frank Lloyd Wright — and the only FLW house in Iowa open to the public.

Stockman House, 1908, FLW

I find, with Prairie School buildings, that I become mesmerized by the details, all carrying through the same great themes, in perfect harmony.

Stockman House windows

Second unique building: the Historic Park Inn Hotel, completed in 1910 and reopened (after a $20-million restoration) in 2011 — the last remaining FLW designed and built hotel in the world.

Historic Park Inn Hotel, FLW, 1910

This shows just one end of the structure, which originally housed a hotel at this end, a bank at the other end, and a set of law offices in between. All are now part of the hotel.

Restored tiles in the entrance pillars welcome you inside. (You can glimpse some window & light fixture details as well.)

restored tiles in entrance pillar to hotel; note also window detail

Inside, the restored skylight, a very FLW kind of detail I am told, but one that had been lost — now back in place, complete with the original 25 panels of art glass. See the furniture below? Mission-style, of course.

skylight, with the 25 original panels of art glass

The entrance to the bank section of the building originally had two imposing FLW-designed “Spirit of Mercury” statues flanking the door. This one and its partner are inside, and are reproductions, but faithful to the original.

"Spirit f Mercury" repros of FLW originals

But. But.

Prairie School is not all about Frank Lloyd Wright. Among its other practitioners you’ll find Walter Burley Griffen, who also had considerable impact in Mason City and seems to have the respect shown him mixed with real affection.

Here is one of his buildings, the 1913 James Blythe House. (Something else I really admire about Mason City: they have informative plaques embedded in the sidewalk outside each architecturally significant house.)

James Blythe House, 1913, WBG

Can’t go in .. but I can still fall in love with window detailing.

windows in James Blythe House

And now, my friends, for a very special Walter Burley Griffen house: the 1915 Sam Schneider House, which backs onto Willow Creek.

Sam Schneider House, 1915, WBG

Here is what’s so special. It is for sale, by the bank that holds title, for USD $285,000.  So if you have a spare 285-grand lying around, doing nothing special for the world, why don’t you buy the house — and donate it to the River City Society for Historic Preservation?

They’d be very grateful, they really would.




Leave a comment


  1. Reblogged this on So, I Read This Book Today and commented:
    I had to reblog this from Walking Woman. I adore Prairie architecture, but the first two statues are so gorgeous as well!

  2. Loved the tour. Thanks so much.

  3. This is wonderful architecture and art work. Thanks for sharing.

  4. are you sure that price is correct? it seems very cheap.
    as you probably know, Walter Burley Griffen got to design an entire city, Canberra.
    Australians being what we are, there was enormous competition between Melbourne and Sydney from the time of Federation onwards. Melbourne was the capital for many years, but to keep everyone [Sydney] happy, it was decided to build a Capital City exactly half way between Melbourne and Sydney. At the time, this was a large expanse of bush. WBG won the competition to design the whole city….. its layout and ‘lack of soul’ is still a talking point today. We have been there twice and I have to say that I love the place. If we could get rid of all the politicians and public servants, it would turn into a wonderful place. {at least it got them all out of Melbourne}
    Love the statues, and the buildings…… love to own that house….. it’s a steal at that price

    • Yes I’m sure, my source is a key figure in the Society that hopes to lay hands on it. I imagine it needs some serious work. Andyes, same source told me a oug WBG in Canberra — I spent time there visiting my nephew in 2008 (or so), so I know exactly the layout you are describing. I did like all the pods, but also saw how hey made it more difficult for the city to have a centre of gravity, an urban focus. Not necessarily a bad thing, just a characteristic of the layout.

  5. Hi Penny – thank you for writing that. I’d never heard of the Prairie School before. I could see a few ghosts of William Morris, but expanded into a sensibility of space that is all American. Is it cast-iron in the window frames or is it all wood?

    The lovely sculptures outside the Mason City Public Library reminded me of Morris too – ‘I do not want art for a few, any more than education for a few or freedom for a few.’

    Thank you, yet again, for recording the world around you in such a gracious way. Your choices say a great deal, about you and about the positive choices of your community.

    Best wishes

  6. Reblogged this on The Realm of the Chaos Fairy and commented:
    Historic Preservation 🙂 from a blog I follow.

  7. Thanks for writing about Mason City’s Prairie heritage! You mention that the Stockman House is the only FLLW home open to the public. Not only is the Walter House in Quasqueton open to the public, it’s owned by the public: the Walters donated the house to the people of Iowa in 1982. From : “Tours begin May 20, 2015. Cedar Rock is open to the public May 20 to October 18, Wednesday through Sunday. Tours of the home depart hourly beginning at 10:00 a.m. and concluding at 3:00 p.m. For more information and to reserve your tour of the Walter Estate, please phone 319-934-3572 or email:

    • Hi John, Many thanks for writing. I think we’ve just seen an example of carefully accurate, but somewhat misleading, promotional writing! My statement came from the Stockman House brochure, which claims it is the only “Prairie School house” open to the public in Iowa. I’ve just visited the Cedar Rock site, and see it is described as being a fine example of his Usonian design. So technically, the Stockman claim & my statement are correct. However they are misleading, since you broadened it to mean the only FLW house of any design. I’ll give the Cedar Rock URL in my next post, credit to you, so readers know there is another FLW home to visit in Iowa, of a different design category.

  8. What a great looking place! I really like the perspective of your pictures.

    • Thank you for that — I try to find an angle that best shows what I think most … most what? relevant, or appealing, or indicative of the object, or amusing to me. I’m totally amateur, so I’m really glad it strikes a chord.

  9. So so interesting Penny – I have looked at many books about Frank Wright
    also I find architecture interesting Recently visited Royal Institute of British Architects to see a small exhibition of Mackintosh’s plans.


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