Frank Lloyd Wright and the Usonian House

For those of you on or near campus later this morning, architectural historian Kathryn Smith – one of the foremost experts on Frank Lloyd Wright and modern architecture – is giving a lecture on “Frank Lloyd Wright and the Usonian House” as part of the Horizon of Knowledge Lecture Series. For more specific information about the event see here.

In general the term Usonian – first coined in 1936 with the design of the Herbert Jacobs House in Madison, Wisconsin  – refers to Wright’s rethinking of the small affordable house in his effort to shape the period of prosperity and development that he envisioned for post-Depression America. In many ways quite similar to Wright’s earlier Prairie style homes which featured low roofs, open living areas, and an apparent relationship to nature, the Usonian style homes however were smaller, one-story structures. The traditional plan consisted of an L-shaped footprint for the house, with the back of the house facing the street and the front organized around a courtyard. On the interior, he eliminated the concept of the separate dining room, reorienting the kitchen and the dining area into one space. The traditional garage was replaced by the carport, while the need for a basement was eliminated by the use of lightweight floor slabs resting on a grad of packed sand containing a radiant heating system.

The announcement for this lecture, reminded us of related correspondence in the recently re-processed Henry Radford Hope papers. Hope – who served as the Chair of the School of Fine Arts for 27 years and as the first director of the Indiana University Art Museum – gave a talk in June of 1943 before a faculty group on Wright’s domestic architecture. In preparation for that talk, Hope surveyed several current owners of Wright designed homes, asking them to provide “information such as the cost of your house, difficulties you had with priorities, differences of opinion between architect and contractor”, and “details with which you were satisfied or dissatisfied.” While carbon copies of these inquiries are included in the collection, of particular note are the responses from the owners of two Wright designed Usonian homes – each with a rather differing opinion on the success of the final product.

Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum House (Florence, AL)

Flikr Creative Commons, by Gino

Added to the National Register of Historic Place in 1978, the Rosenbaum House was built for newlyweds Stanley and Mildred in 1939 and exists as the only Frank Lloyd Wright designed structure  in the state of Alabama.

On May 25, 1943, Hope sent Stanley Rosenbaum a letter outlining the above questions, and the following day Rosenbaum responded in a rather critical way – to put it mildly. The second page from that letter is shown here, with  “Jack” serving as a pseudonym to refer to the Wright-recommended contractor who worked on the project. You can view the letter in its entirely here.

Today the site serves as a museum open to the public, so for more information you about the history of the site visit their website.

Gregor S. and Elizabeth B. Affleck House, Bloomfield Hills, MI

A childhood friend of Wright, in 1940 Gregor Affleck and his wife Elizabeth chose to commission the design of their new home from the renowned architect – despite the fact that Elizabeth  had originally desired a “‘Colonial’  with white pillars to the roof.” Wright directed the couple to locate a site for their new home that “‘no body else can do anything with,” and the resulting product brought on a rush of local and national attention. In October 1940, Progressive Architecture published a 4 page spread on the house, while the model for the design was included in a Wright retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1940-1941. Upon inquiry, the resulting – and much more positive – correspondence between Gregor Affleck and Henry Hope elaborates upon the merits of the design (see here) as well as an stylistic comparison between Wright’s style as compared to those of his contemporaries Le Corbusier and Walter Groupius (see here).

In 1980, the home was donated to Lawrence Technological University to ensure that it would continue to be available to the public and to inspire students of architecture. More information about the history of the site can be found through their website.

Looking for an Interesting Summer Vacation Spot?

In the process of writing this entry, I happened to find that you can actually rent this little Usonian gem in northern Wisconsin – originally designed for business man Bernard Schwartz in 1938.

American Association of University Women, Bloomington Branch records (version 2.0)

The finding aid for the American Association of University Women, Bloomington Branch records has been updated with new materials!  Founded on February 12, 1913, the AAUW, Bloomington Branch (then called the Association of Collegiate Alumnae) worked to fight prejudices against women in higher education and in the workplace.  It also helped fund scholarships and fellowships for women to conduct research and pursue advanced degrees.

Today, the A.A.U.W. has around 150,000 members and 1,500 branches around the country.  The organization remains very active, frequently endorsing legislation promoting women’s rights in higher education and beyond.

New additions include meeting minutes between 1927 and 1954, as well as numerous newspaper articles which highlight the many issues with which the A.A.U.W., Bloomington Branch was involved, including women’s rights, education, and politics.

The branch was active in raising money for the national A.A.U.W. Fellowship fund.  They also frequently formed committees and hosted guest speakers to address a wide range of important issues such as women in public office (1948) and the “denazification” of Germany after World War II (1946).  Notable speakers include Dr. Kathryn McHale, national general director of the American Association of University Women in Washington, D.C. (ca. 1936), and Dr. Margaret E. Morgan, Mental Health Commissioner of Indiana (1956).

The AAUW, Bloomington Branch was also host to many students who came to study in the United States through AAUW fellowships, including Laura De Arce of Uruguay in 1939.  She was the first woman from Uruguay to receive the American Association of University Women Latin-American fellowship and studied at Indiana Univesity in 1939.

For further information on the collection, contact the Archives!

Elementary Reference

The past few months at my internship here in the IU Archives I have been given quite a few reference questions to research for patrons. Two of these questions were from elementary school students in Indiana looking for information about IU for class projects. We’re quite flattered to receive letters from students and even more prepared to help (so if any readers have any questions about IU that you’ve always wanted answered, drop us a line!). One girl was doing a report on March Madness and specifically wanted information on the history of IU’s basketball program (about which we have a large folder of reference information, not surprisingly). The other query concerned a student who wanted to know more about IU’s history for his class report. These questions are easily answered with the use of our many reference files, located in the reading room. These files are great for a quick research question or just for finding out more about IU in a topical manner.

The wonderful part about being an archivist (or a lowly archival intern) is that archivists typically learn random facts about random things throughout the day, especially when working on research questions. For example, I always knew IU’s basketball program had a gloried history (since I grew up in Indiana) but I’d never thought to look more into it. After pulling out two or three packed reference files on the subject, however, it was clear that there is a lot to the story. I never realized that IU’s basketball program has produced so many NBA players – and has for decades – or that we have so many NCAA titles. (Granted, to most fans these realizations will seem obvious.) There are also photos of games throughout the century, and an article describing the first basketball game. I had some trouble narrowing down the folders to a few articles to xerox and mail to the student for her project. There was so much information in the folders.

Additionally, when I looked up basic histories of IU, I found a lot of neat facts that aren’t quite well-known anymore. As a graduate student who lives in Wells Library, I never would have known that there’s a statue of a duck in graduation garb above the west entrance of Goodbody Hall without answering this reference question. Last week I took a walk around campus when the weather was nice and I was able to find the duck-professor. Knowing tiny details about things like this makes me feel closer to this school. A general history of the campus is also online in multiple locations – the archives have a timeline on our web page, which is a great overview of the university’s past. The internet is a good place to find information about the college, but the best place is the archives and the reference files in the reading room. You can learn a lot more than what you came in to find out.

Not all archives have these kind of reference files available to patrons, and arguably an archivist’s time is better spent processing collections and creating finding aids instead of updating reference files. However, files like these provide a wealth of information. Answering archival reference questions can tell you all kinds of things that you otherwise would never have thought to look up. Reference can be a learning experience for both the patron and archivist.

On Goodbody Hall

“Borkenstein and His Monster: The Man Behind the Breathalyzer” — A New Exhibit at the IU Archives

OFFICIAL Press Release: New exhibit at the Indiana University Archives on display now through May!

Borkenstein and His Monster: The Man Behind the Breathalyzer

Robert F. Borkenstein working on his Breathalyzer Prototype, invented in 1954.
Robert F. Borkenstein working on his Breathalyzer Prototype, invented in 1954.

Over the course of his life, Professor Robert F. Borkenstein (1912-2002) rose from a full career in the police ranks to become an Indiana University professor, administrator, and highly respected leader in forensic science and traffic safety. Borkenstein’s most celebrated single achievement was his groundbreaking invention of the Breathalyzer in 1954. This instrument, which uses breath samples to measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), was the first practical device for roadside BAC testing for use by police officers investigating traffic violations and accidents. In the years since its initial invention, the Breathalyzer went on to revolutionize law enforcement practices and legislation concerning traffic safety and the combat against drunk driving.

A portion of the mechanical plans submitted along with Borkenstein's original Breathalyzer patent application, 1954.
A portion of the mechanical plans submitted along with Borkenstein’s original Breathalyzer patent application, 1954.

The Robert F. Borkenstein Papers at the Indiana University Archives contain a rich record of Borkenstein’s many professional and personal endeavors as well as his enduring influence, beginning in the 1930s and extending to the present. Highlights from this collection—including the original Breathalyzer prototype, several successive models, photographs, mechanical designs, and evidence of Borkenstein’s extensive influence—are featured on display through May.

All are encourage to visit the exhibit in the Indiana University Archives reception area (room E460) on the fourth floor of Wells Library at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Curated by Amy Jankowski, graduate student studying under the Archives Specialization in School of Library and Information Science.

Borkenstein (third from left) stands with colleagues displaying his Breathalyzer Prototype, circa 1954.
Borkenstein (third from left) stands with colleagues displaying his Breathalyzer Prototype, circa 1954.

Notes from the Curator: Earlier this semester, I had the pleasure of processing the Robert F. Borkenstein papers. The collection contains many document types that I am accustomed to working with in the archives, including correspondence, photographs, awards, news clippings, writings, and the like. However, the paper-based materials in this particular collection are complemented by more than a dozen three-dimensional artifacts, which are products of Borkenstein’s research into breath test technology with the goal of measuring blood alcohol content of motorists. In fact, Borkenstein was the inventor of the Breathalyzer–the portable, easily operated device used for decades by United States police forces in the combat against drunk driving.

Borkenstein examining a Breathalyzer Model 900B, manufactured by the Drager Corporation, circa 1985-1995.
Borkenstein examining a Breathalyzer Model 900B, manufactured by the Drager Corporation, circa 1985-1995.

Through his inventions, research, and heavy involvement in national discussions on traffic safety, Borkenstein became a renowned professional icon and a noteworthy figure in Indiana University’s history. Because of his significant influence and the visually engaging nature of his materials, the IU Archives decided to install an exhibit showcasing a number of Borkenstein’s Breathalyzer instruments and complimentary documents.  It provides an excellent opportunity for students, staff, researchers, and the otherwise curious to explore the diversity of the Archives’ holdings and learn a bit more about one of IU’s celebrated personalities from years past.

I hope you have the opportunity to swing by and take a look at the exhibit!

New Finding Aid: Newell and Eleanor Long Show files, 1939-1982

The finding aid for the Newell and Eleanor Long Show files is now available!  Newell Long was a music professor at Indiana University from 1935 to 1975 and his wife Eleanor taught English at IU from 1939 to 1962.  Together the couple wrote a number of musical pageants, plays, and skits for university and local events.  Newell Long would write the musical scores and Eleanor Long composed the scripts.  The collection includes general information on the shows, music, programs, and scripts.

Many of these shows were either Indiana or IU themed, including “All’s Wells That Ends Well,” a musical tribute to Herman B Wells upon his retirement as IU President in 1962.  The musical revue was performed by faculty and their spouses and included songs such as “The Might of the Humble B,” “Wells’ Belles,”  and “Be Yourself.” Other items you will find in the collection about “All’s Wells that Ends Wells” includes notes, musical scores, lyrics, scripts, and a newspaper article.

“Gloriana, Indiana,” a musical history of IU, was written by the Longs and presented to the University Club for the 150th anniversary of Indiana University.  Original songs include “Tomorrow is Foundation Day” and “Equality for Women.”  The show files also contain music for “Hymn to Indiana” and “Hail to Old IU.”

Among other shows featured in the collection are “The Cradle of the Commonwealth,” for the Corydon Sesquicentennial, “The Tale of the Lonesome Tulip Tree,” for the Tulip Trace Council of Girl Scouts, and “Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman,” for the University Club.