In 1946 a group of Upjohn Company scientists from Kalamazoo and their families jointly embraced the idea of cooperatively building modern, affordable homes in a rural setting. The group identified a site about twelve miles east of Kalamazoo in Charleston Township on which to build.
Some of the group felt this site was too rural, and about half of them amicably split and formed a second group to look for a parcel of land nearer to Kalamazoo. The splinter group located a parcel near the southwest corner of Kalamazoo city limits, bought it, and named it “Parkwyn Village” (map). The remaining members of the original group purchased a seventy-one-acre site, in 1947 and nicknamed it “The Acres.” People in both cooperatives admired Frank Lloyd Wright’s work and, again working in cooperation, they approached the architect about designing their respective parcels. He agreed, and visited the area in March 1947 to walk the lands for planning purposes. Wright’s original plans for The Acres called for twenty-one homes on round, one-acre sites. However, only five houses would be built, four of which are Wright-designed Usonians.
Interestingly the Federal Housing Authority would not approve financing for houses built on the Wright-prescribed circular lots, but the families were eventually able to finance the construction of their homes without FHA funds. In order to keep constructions costs down, the four families participated in the construction of their homes by building the concrete blocks that were to be used for the buildings.
Eric and Pat Pratt House
Heading east on Hawthorne from Thirty-seventh Street, the first Acres’ home that comes into sight on the south side is the Wright-designed Eric and Pat Pratt House on the Acres’ lot #6. In February 1948 the Pratts wrote to Wright, requesting that he design a home for them. He responded in the affirmative, asking about their specific desires. Displaying a playful sense of humor, Wright wrote, “we are glad to add you to the Galesburg family,” crossing out “family,” and substituting “victims.”
The Pratts responded that they would build the house themselves, and asked that he design it to be built in stages, so they could add on as their family grew. The task would prove to be quite a challenge. Upon receiving the drawings, the Pratts found “an awkward roll made up of sheets and sheets of blueprint paper… many of them covered with undecipherable markings.” Though the Pratts “knew almost nothing of reading them (the plans), or of the methods of following them to construct a building,” they eagerly studied them “hour after hour,” and eventually the “mysterious drawings” began to make sense.
The Pratts began their home in 1950, working until dark many nights, as well as forgoing vacations. During the spring of 1951, Wright toured the homes in both The Acres, and Parkwyn developments. The Pratts noted that at each house, Wright found “numerous almost fatal faults” including poorly laid blocks. Despite Wright’s criticism, the Pratts continued, and moved into their home in September 1951, and then continued to work through the fall of 1954, adding additional bedrooms and a family room.
Curtis and Lillian Meyer House
Returning to Hawthorne and proceeding east, a drive just beyond the Pratt house heads up a slow grade in the southeasterly direction. At its end, it loops north, and then back onto itself. On the east side of the loop sits the Curtis and Lillian Meyer House.
The Meyer House was constructed in 1950 and 1951, and is the Acres’ only solar hemicycle design. The concrete blocks used in the construction of the Meyer House were custom built, rather than utilizing the molded blocks used in the other homes in The Acres.
At first glance from the drive, it appears as though there are two curves that open to the east and slightly south that are connected at their inside tips. In reality, this is a two-story home, and the curve on the right serves primarily as a carport.
The mass of the house takes the shape of a drum and curved wing, with the wing’s lower living level below the grade of the principal façade. The home was built with only two bedrooms.
An earlier owner painted the varnished mahogany trim on the home’s exterior brown. Inside, some original built-in benches were also removed by an earlier owner, but the Wright-designed dining table remains, as well as other pieces. Despite the losses, the integrity and condition of the Meyer House are very good.
Samuel and Dorothy Eppstein House
Returning to Hawthorne and turning east, the façade of the Samuel and Dorothy Eppstein House comes into view.
Upon receiving Wright’s plans, the Eppsteins reviewed them, and made several suggestions they felt made the house more livable, including enlarging the children’s bedrooms, and both enlarging the kitchen and including a window (the initial plans had no window) and a desk. Wright agreed to these suggestions, and construction soon began.
Started in 1951, it forms an “in-line” plan oriented north-south, almost perpendicular to the Pratt House. A low, cantilevered roof that extends west just north from the home’s midsection fills the view as one approaches from the street. Its exterior materials are hand-made solid and perforated concrete block and mahogany.
Much like the other homeowners in The Acres, the Eppsteins did some of the construction work themselves, constructing some of the three thousand concrete blocks required in Wright’s plans. Dorothy Eppstein recalls scrubbing the blocks with a sponge and concentrated sulfuric acid to remove lime deposits left by the Asylum Lake water. Another of her jobs included drilling holes into concrete blocks to create a rough rectangle, which would then be knocked out and used for light switches and outlets. This latter job she did while pregnant!
Like the Pratt House, the Eppstein’s dwelling was also built in several stages. In 1953 the Eppsteins moved into a finished first phase, which included living and dining rooms, a workspace, a master bedroom, and a bath. Over the following several years, the remainder of the south end was completed.
David and Christine Weisblat House
Continuing almost to the east end of Hawthorne Drive, you arrive at the David and Christine Weisblat House, on the north side of the street. The Weisblats moved into their house in 1951. It was the first Acres home completed, despite the bankers’ dire predictions that Christine “would get a sunstroke from the skylight in the kitchen,” and that the carport roof would eventually fall in.
Like the Eppstein and Pratt homes, it was designed using Wright’s “in-line” plan. The workspace, living, and dining areas are again nearer to the street toward the southern end of the plan, while the original bedrooms and baths are lined up along a gallery running north.
Also like the Eppstein and Pratt homes, and the other homes in The Acres, the Weisblats participated in the construction of their home. To construct the concrete blocks for their home, the Weisblats hired “a crew of young men most of whom didn’t know beans about anything.” The process was made all the more difficult because the designs Wright sent for the blocks had no instructions. The family spent many winter evenings figuring out how to make the blocks.
The Weisblat home is also of handmade, solid, and perforated concrete block and mahogany. Inside, the only major room without windows is the workspace. A door to the small, walled yard at the southeast corner of the house allows some light inside, but the primary source of light in the workspace is a skylight that was part of Wright’s original plan.
In 1961, an addition, designed by John Howe and Wesley Peters, was made to the Weisblat house, adding a long gallery, a utility room, a full bath, another study, a green house, and a potting shed. Though it differs somewhat in construction method, “it seems a natural extension of the original house.” A fourteen-by-twenty-foot pond was also dug at this time.
Other than the 1961 addition, no other changes were made to the Weisblat house, and all interior and exterior surfaces retain their originally specified finishes.
It should also be noted that, fifty-nine years later, Christine never did suffer from sunstroke, nor has the carport roof ever collapsed.
The Acres is nationally significant as the most fully and purely realized example of American master architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s eight, middle twentieth-century, organic community landscape designs. Its progressive use of open space and subdivision location; its topographically sensitive setting of homes and other landscape features, as well as its architecture and design, which employed new house forms, floor plans, and planning and construction methods, were developed by Wright in his effort to provide affordable, well designed housing in a naturalistic setting for the United States’ middle class. The Acres is the only such development that was actually built as planned, with intense involvement with its cooperative members. The Acres contains four of Wright’s Usonian homes, and one other built by a Taliesin Fellow. There are no other known collections of Usonians like it in the United States.
The Acres, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Galesburg Country Homes, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on May 19, 2004.