Spring House One Of Florida’s 2015 Eleven Most Endangered Historic Sites
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The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation recently announced the designation of Spring House, formerly the home of Clifton and George Lewis II, of Tallahassee, as one of Florida's Most Endangered Historic Sites for the year 2015. Spring House is the only original residence built in Florida designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. More after the jump... The Florida Trust announced Florida’s Eleven Most Endangered Historic Sites as part of their Annual Statewide Preservation Conference, being held...
The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation recently announced the designation of Spring House, formerly the home of Clifton and George Lewis II, of Tallahassee, as one of Florida's Most Endangered Historic Sites for the year 2015. Spring House is the only original residence built in Florida designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. More after the jump...
The Florida Trust announced Florida’s Eleven Most Endangered Historic Sites as part of their Annual Statewide Preservation Conference, being held in Miami today through Saturday (May 7-9, 2015). The Most Endangered Historic Sites program is designed to increase the public’s awareness of the urgent need to save Florida’s threatened historic resources.
Tallahasseans Clifton and George Lewis II, crossed paths with Frank Lloyd Wright in 1950 at Florida Southern College, in Lakeland. The world-renowned architect was there for the dedication of one of his "Child of the Sun" buildings, and the Lewises were there for a World Federalist Conference. The Lewises met Mr. Wright at a reception, and Clifton – not being shy and encouraged by George – asked him to design a house for them.
He replied, "Find your ground ... not on a lot ... then get in touch."
In 1952, the Lewises found their ground – a beautiful five acre parcel on the outskirts of Tallahassee, with a natural spring that flows from the property to Lake Jackson. They sent Mr. Wright photographs and topographical drawings of the property, and provided him with information about their life in Tallahassee. The great architect incorporated a nautical theme into the design, perhaps derived from what he learned about George's love of boats (he built a sailboat named the "Clifton") and the family's fondness for the Gulf coast and offshore islands. He completed the plans in 1952.
The unconventional passive solar "hemicycle" design and curvilinear shape made it difficult to find a builder willing to commit to a price to build it. In 1953, Mr. Wright arranged for Nils Schweizer, one of his apprentice architects who was overseeing construction at Florida Southern College, to travel to Tallahassee and help George find a qualified builder.
Contractor Jack Culpepper agreed to take on the project. Mr. Schweizer drove up from Lakeland at the end of every week to work with the onsite supervisor and the various construction trade workers, plan the following week's work, and act as Mr. Wright's onsite representative.
Local building codes and site conditions required modifications along the way. The presence of pipe clay necessitated a larger foundation and the installation of pilings. Due to the additional costs, some of the features of the original plan were not completed – among them a round reflecting pool that would have drawn water from the nearby spring and served as a reservoir for the integrated passive heating and cooling system; and a curved terrace wall that would have wrapped around the pool. Some of the built-in furniture included in the original plans also fell victim to cost overruns, as did the air conditioner (though the duct work was installed).
Construction on Spring House was ended in late 1954 and the Lewis family, delighted with their new home, moved in. Frank Lloyd Wright died in 1959 never having visited the property.
Spring House also has historical importance as the home of Clifton and George Lewis II. Both George and Clifton were descended from early settlers in North Florida – and unlike most others of their background and social class, they were among the all-too-few white “foot soldiers” supporting the Tallahassee civil rights movement. Clifton drove passengers during the bus boycott. She marched with the Reverend C.K. Steele in solidarity with local students. George, president of Lewis State Bank (founded by his family), quietly provided loans to black homeowners and businesses, and bailed civil rights protesters out of jail.
George lost authority at the bank in reprisal, but President John F. Kennedy, recognizing his dedication to social justice, appointed him as chairman of the Florida Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission. The Lewises invited civil rights leaders and activists to gather at Spring House to hold discussions and make plans – activities that could have brought violence down upon them if it had been generally known. Both George's and Clifton's footsteps are represented on the Tallahassee-Leon County Civil Rights Heritage Sidewalk on East Jefferson Street in downtown Tallahassee.
From their home at Spring House, the Lewises also promoted cultural and civic life in Tallahassee. Clifton and others started the Junior Museum with a tiny collection in one room. It grew to the present-day 52-acre Tallahassee Museum. Clifton was also a founder of LeMoyne Center for Visual Arts, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2014. Clifton often attended and spoke at meetings of the city and county commissions, as well as assemblies of Florida's Governor and Cabinet.
George Lewis died in 1996 and Clifton passed away last year. But before she died, Clifton and others formed Spring House Institute, Inc (SHI), a 501(c)(3) tax exempt not-for-profit organization, intending that SHI would buy the house and host classes, musical events, poetry readings, community meetings, seminars, and other activities associated with the arts, the environment, science and social justice.
Last year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated Spring House as one of America's Most Endangered Historic Places® for the year 2014. The National Trust is the premier institution in the US dedicated to preservation of historic buildings, sites, rivers or districts. The National Trust highlights sites threatened by encroaching development, deterioration, disinterest or destruction in the hope that attention to these historic treasures will save them for the next generation.
Using the "most endangered" designation as a call to action, SHI embarked on a capital campaign, called "Do the Wright Thing," to raise the funds to acquire the house and begin the restoration process.
"Spring House Institute will use this latest designation by the Florida Trust to further raise awareness about Spring House and the importance of preserving it for public use," said Byrd Lewis Mashburn, daughter of Clifton and George Lewis II.
To learn about Spring House, the efforts being made to preserve it, opportunities to tour the house and more, visit PreserveSpringHouse.org.
Image credits: First photo by Byrd Lewis Mashburn; Second photo by Stuart Rochford; Third photo via the Spring House Institute