SAN FRANCISCO — Frank Lloyd Wright designed hundreds of landmark buildings and homes during a prolific career that spanned more than seven decades: The Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Fallingwater, a home in southwestern Pennsylvania.
But a child’s doghouse?
In what is widely considered a first and only for the famed architect, Mr. Wright indulged a young boy’s humble request for a dog house in 1956 and sent him designs for the structure.
“I was probably his youngest client and poorest client,” Jim Berger, now 68, said recently.
He rebuilt the doghouse last year with his brother, using the original plans. It was featured in a documentary film and is to be displayed during screenings starting this month.
Mr. Wright designed the Berger family’s home in the Marin County town of San Anselmo, prompting Jim Berger, who was 12 at the time, to ask his dad whether Mr. Wright would design a home for his black Labrador, Eddie.
Mr. Berger’s father said he didn’t know, so the 12-year-old decided to write to the great architect himself.
“I would appreciate it if you would design me a doghouse, which would be easy to build, but would go with our house … “ read the letter dated June 19, 1956. “[My dog] is two and a half feet high and three feet long. The reasons I would like this doghouse is for the winters mainly.”
Mr. Berger explained that he would pay Mr. Wright from the money he made from his paper route.
“The story of a 12-year-old kid having the chutzpah to write a letter to the greatest architect of all time and having him design something as modest as a doghouse — I just knew it was a great story,” said Michael Miner, who produced and directed the documentary Romanza, which features the doghouse and other structures that Mr. Wright designed in California.
Mr. Berger said the original doghouse was not built until about 10 years after he received the designs. Because Eddie had died by then, Mr. Berger’s father and brother built the house for another family dog.
That doghouse, however, ended up in the dump because Mr. Berger said his mother did not have a dog and did not see much other value in it. He rebuilt it for the documentary last year, working off Mr. Wright’s original plan, which said, “Plan of Eddie’s house.”
“I specified that it be real easy to build,” said Mr. Berger, who became a cabinet maker. “It was a nightmare.” The roughly 3-foot-wide-by-5-foot-long-by 3-feet-high doghouse has a sharp triangular shape, with a sloping shingled roof. It is made of Philippine mahogany and weighs about 250 pounds.
“It’s definitely in the master’s hand,” Oskar Munoz, assistant director of archives at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, said of the design for the doghouse. Mr. Munoz said Mr. Berger’s is believed to be the only doghouse Mr. Wright designed. The architect likely sketched it out and then handed it to a draftsman in his studio who turned it into a working drawing, he said.