When Frank Lloyd Wright started contemplating his “Usonian Homes” concept, i.e., communities for the American middle class in the 1930s, he probably had no idea that his little doghouse would one day become as famous as any of his residential buildings. Wright’s “Usonian Homes” were homes to America’s middle classes, one-story L-shaped houses with neither a garage nor storage space, but with a clear relation of the interior and exterior. The houses expenses didn’t exceed 15.000 dollars, thus making the idyll of quality yet affordable living available to the masses.
However, as history (of architecture) often doesn’t record those small and simple life stories, thus the story of one little doghouse emerged in a roundabout way, that is, by way of uncovering the correspondence between a twelve-year-old boy and the renowned architect. From which stemmed Wright’s project the “Jim Berger Doghouse”, better known as Labrador Eddie’s doghouse.
Namely, as the website Architects & Artisans notes, Wright designed the doghouse in 1956, following a letter twelve-year-old Jim sent him asking him to draw up a doghouse blueprint for his Labrador Eddie. The boy specified in his letter that he would be able to cover the expenses of the plans and materials with wages he earned from his paper route, which should serve as a guideline for the selection of materials used. He furthermore wrote stating he “would appreciate it if you would design me a dog house, which would be easy to build, but would go with our house.” Jim’s house, named after his father Robert Berger, is one of the first Usionans, located in San Anselmo, California. Robert Berger, an engineer by profession, built this house himself, according to Wright’s design. The house in question served as a kind of prototype that fulfilled the architect’s original conception of the Usonian homes.
Back to the doghouse. When he first got the letter, Wright politely declined, citing his busy schedule but suggesting young Berger write to him again later on the off chance he would have more time by then. “Someday I shall design one,” he wrote the boy, asking Jim to send him a reminder in a year’s time.
After writing the architect a second time, young Jim was surprised to receive a complete set of drawings for a small triangular hut whose form was in line with the hexagonal geometry of the house’s hexagonal plan. Wright specified that scraps of the Phillipine mahogany and cedar used in the main home be incorporated in the doghouse. Among the plans are several Wright details such as an inconspicuous entrance hidden on the opposite side of the structure and the low-pitched roof with a large overhang. The Bergers didn’t actually construct the hut until 1963, when they made changes to the location of the door and removed the concrete base Wright had planned so as to make the house portable. Unfortunately, neither Eddie nor any of the Berger’s subsequent dogs ever took to the doghouse, and the structure was dismantled just ten years later.
Michael Miner, the director of the documentary ‘Romanza’ on Wright’s opus in California, came across this story, enlisting Jim Berger to show him his blueprints of the doghouse to see how much they resembled the original. The doghouse kept Wright’s original design, while fixing some of the old problems – namely, Wright’s original leaked.