An iconic feature of Longmeadow is “The Green” which is on the National Register of Historic Places primarily because of the historic homes dating to the 18th and 19th centuries. But did you know that within this historic area there also exist two adjacent 1950 mid-century modern homes designed by a disciple of one of America’s greatest architects? The designer was James Thomson and he was a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. These are remarkable additions to our town’s incredible architectural mystique.
Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) was one of the greatest American architects. He designed over 1000 structures during his career and was a proponent of organic architecture that integrated home construction with the surrounding natural environment. His most famous home design is Fallingwater located in Pennsylvania built in 1935.
Fallingwater in Pennsylvania
Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
Wright created the first real American form of architecture known as the Prairie Style. This consisted of a long, low, open plan structure to emphasize the horizontal line of the prairie landscape. This stood in contrast to the more common high, straight-sided, box-shaped designs. Following the Great Depression, Frank Lloyd Wright became interested in creating a high-quality home design that was relatively affordable. These designs are referred to as the Usonian style, a term referring to the United States of North America. The first Usonian home was designed in 1936. One Frank Lloyd Wright scholar notes, “Design elements for these single-story homes include flat roofs with generous overhangs and cantilevered carports…, built-in furniture and shelving, tall windows that softened the boundary between interior and exterior, radiant heat embedded in a concrete slab gridded floor, skylights, a sense of flow from one room to the next, and a central hearth. Floor plans dispensed with basements, attics, and, in smaller models, formal dining rooms to maximize efficiency.”
There is one Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in Massachusetts. This Usonian-style home was built in Amherst for Amherst College professor Theodore Baird in 1940.
However, in Longmeadow, we have homes designed by an apprentice of Wright’s, James Thomson (1913-1993). Thomson was born in Hartford, Connecticut and resided in Farmington, Connecticut for most of his life. He was educated at Yale and MIT and studied under Frank Lloyd Wright.
Thomson was an architect who utilized Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Usonian design elements in his home plans throughout New England. In Longmeadow, he designed adjacent homes for Mary Wallace and her son and daughter-in-law at 808 and 810 Longmeadow Street. This land had been purchased from Frank Smith in 1947.
These homes were built in 1950 and are great representations of the Wright Usonian design. The design elements combined into the natural environment are clearly evident.
Typical of the Usonian style, they have long, flat roofs with overhangs, large windows softening the boundary between inside and outside, along with a central hearth.
They utilize natural air flow and radiant heat embedded into the floors
Rear Property View, Longmeadow Street
The beautiful surrounding natural environment is typical of Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian style. Though the homes are set back from the street and not as easily visible as their Victorian and Federal-style neighbors, they are just as architecturally interesting to behold!
-Contributed by Lenny Shaker, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member, who also supplied all of the images from 808 and 810 Longmeadow Street.
Originally published September 8, 2022
Wright, Amy Beth. “Seven Hidden Gems from the Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian Period.” in Metropolis, July 4, 2017. https://metropolismag.com/viewpoints/seven-hidden-gems-from-frank-lloyd-wrights-usonian-period/