Constructed during the summer of 1940 at a cost nearly $6,600, the Goetsch-Winckler House in Okemos, Michigan, is a modest, one-story Usonian house that embodies trademark Frank Lloyd Wright design elements such as: organic relationship to the site, horizontal planes, cantilever roofs, and innovative construction techniques. The house is situated on the nearly two-acre site in a way that allows for maximum privacy, as well as free-flowing interplay between structure and nature. Essentially unaltered from its original design, the Goestch-Winckler House is significant as the second of Wright’s Usonian house designs to have been built; the first being the 1936-37 Herbert Jacobs House in Madison, Wisconsin.
Wright’s commission for Alma Goetsch and Kathrine Winckler began as a larger development known as Usonia II. During the late 1930s several Michigan State College (present-day Michigan State University) professors formed a cooperative with the hope of constructing their own community. This group of professors subscribed to the progressive theories of the New Deal and to the Humanist belief “that art and architecture had a critical role to play as the great educators and enhancers of life.”
The professors purchased forty acres south of the campus along Herron Creek and, by late summer 1938, Wright agreed to design their houses. Wright completed seven designs for the group of eight professors. Despite the work Wright had done, and the money already invested by the group for purchasing the land, the project was not completed. Much like The Acres and Parkwyn developments near Kalamazoo, the vision for Usonia II was not shared by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), which, along with local banks, believed Wright’s designs for Usonia II were too unconventional. Even a trip to the FHA offices in Washington, DC, by Wright could not convince officials to support the project.
Although Usonia II never left the design phase, Alma Goetsch and Kathrine Winckler, two of founding members of the Usonia II cooperative, were able to continue with their dream of owning a Wright-designed home. Believing that “heaven was within reach,” Goetsch and Winckler abandoned the Herron Creek location and purchased land on Hulett Road in Okemos, a mile to the east. The virtually undeveloped area was ideal for the design Wright had completed for them. Wright made small revisions adjusting the placement of the house on the new plot, but the house design remained essentially the same.
The house sits atop a small rise with the ground sloping away gently on the northeast, and more steeply to the southwest down to the neighboring property line. In characteristic Wright fashion, the house centers on the central living room/kitchen core, with a bedroom wing and a carport extending horizontally from the center. The kitchen at the home’s east corner opens into the living room, but the fireplace stack acts as a screen between the kitchen and the living room alcove to its southwest. The two bedrooms and bathroom are located in a separate wing off the living room to the northwest. The interior finishes are limited to the four-foot, red-stained concrete squares on the floor, the oiled four-foot square plywood panels of the ceiling, brick, and redwood in the same horizontal board and batten pattern as the exterior of the walls. Radiant heating is provided by hot water pipes built into the concrete floor.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places on December 13, 1995, the Goetsch-Winkler House “is the quintessential example of Wright’s early design philosophy for the construction of moderate income housing.” The house’s modern design and its history perfectly illustrate the period of Wright’s career that was characterized by his growing desire to meet changing societal needs.