Frank Lloyd Wright is generally considered to have been an arrogant, irascible curmudgeon, whose voracious egotism was and remains legendary. But he could be a gingerly grandfather as well. Case in point, the Jim Berger doghouse. As Architects & Artisans reports, Wright designed the canis domus in 1956, after the 12-year old project’s namesake wrote the famous architect asking if he would fashion a house for the Berger family’s then 4-year old black Lab, Eddie. The boy, who specified in his letter that he would cover the expenses of the plans and materials with wages he earned from his bike route, wrote to Wright in June of 1956, saying that he “would appreciate it if you [Wright] would design me a dog house, which would be easy to build, but would go with our house.”
The Jim Berger Doghouse for Eddie
The house to which the boy was referring was the Robert Berger House in San Anselmo, California, designed by Wright as a kind of prototype which fulfilled the architect’s original conception of the Usonian homes. Wright furnished the plans for the $15,000 house, while Robert Berger, a trained engineer, would build the house entirely by his own means – a project that would take 20 years to complete. At first, Wright politely declined, citing his busy schedule but suggested that the young Berger write to him again later in the year in the off chance he would have something by then. “A house for Eddie is an opportunity,” responded Wright, “Someday I shall design one.”
Image credit: W.A. Storrer, from FLW Companion
After writing the architect a second time, the boy was surprised to receive a complete set of drawings for a small triangular hut whose form bowed to 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 Wrightian details such as a inconspicuous entrance hidden on the opposite side of the structure and the low-pitched roof with generous 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 other dogs ever took to it, and the structure was dismantled just 10 years later.
“Frankly, it’s the best story ever about Wright,” says filmmaker Michael Miner, who has launched a nationwide promotional tour for his new documentary Romanza on Wright’s work in California. Miner has recruited Jim Berger to showcase his reconstructed version of the house. The new house remains faithful to Wright’s design, while fixing some of the old problems. Wright’s original leaked.