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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Cedar Rock Boathouse Gets Some Much Needed Love

The perfect Mid-Century man-cave has been due for a renovation.

By Annette Barlow September 12, 2016
Photo courtesy of kickingthebucketlistwithmeg.com

Frank Lloyd Wright was a rock star. If architects could have groupies and sold-out stadium shows, he’d have been all over that. In his pre-hipster pork-pie hat, the man was a legend during his time—and his legacy endures. Nowadays, you can’t swing a cat without bumping into a FLW restoration project. But just when you thought all his buildings were known, up pops another.

This latest find, however, is a little different from many, as it’s one of FLW’s few small built spaces. The Cedar Rock Pavilion, overlooking the Wapsipinicon River in Quasqueton, Iowa, was designed in the 1940’s by Wright as part of an 11-acre estate for retired couple Lowell and Agnes Walter.

Related: Your Dreams Are Not For Sale, But Maybe They’re For Rent: Five Frank Lloyd Wright Houses You Can Rent

Completed in 1950, Cedar Rock House—as the main house was known—was true to Wright’s enduring vision, melding the man-made with the natural, and maximizing exposure to the buildings’ landscape. When Lowell passed away, Agnes entrusted the iconic home to the Department of Natural Resources, along with a trust to help with repair and maintenance of the property.

But when base-level repairs were undertaken, including the installation of a new roof, the fund ran dry, and a full restoration of the estate and its outbuildings ground to a halt. Which is where Friends of Cedar Rock, a local non-profit, stepped in, managing the fundraising effort which would grant a full makeover to the property‘s boathouse.


By 2010, the group had raised enough money to begin the project, and the completed building is due to be revealed sometime in late September or October. Costing a modest $220,000, the scope of work is mainly directed at protecting against flood damage, repointing the brick work and restoring the dated interiors.

The two-story building, located 100 yards from the main house on a rocky outcrop overlooking the river, has previously been labelled a “man-cave”, designed as it was for Lowell’s personal use. The lower level housed his custom motorboat and canoes, while the upper levels provided sanctuary, with a bed area, a desk and a large fireplace with built-in reading bench. In fact, this was less a boat house and more a crash pad, as the structure also features a screened-in second floor porch, perfect for sun-soaking.

Photo courtesy of friendsofcedarrock.org
Photo courtesy of friendsofcedarrock.org

It’s a rare beast, because although FLW designed other boathouses in his time, Cedar Rock Pavilion is both the only boathouse he designed in tandem with the main house, and the only one still standing, despite recent flooding. It’s testament to how much the owners loved their home, that it’s still around, and in such good condition over 60 years later.
And while the house is open to the public from May through to October, you’ll likely have to wait until next year to see the restored boathouse in its all its glory.

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In the meantime, you’ll have to make do with the Walter’s home: a unique, Usonian building, replete with trademark FLW brick lines, garden wall with three walls of windows, offering wide-angle views of the surrounding greenery and beautiful period furnishings, selected by FLW himself.

Annette Barlow

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Annette Barlow

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Annette Barlow

Annette is freelance editor, sub-editor, journalist and proofreader with a fierce love of all things feminist, food and music. She is a regular fixture on the arts, culture and feature desks at The Guardian, and her words have appeared on NME, Great British Chefs, The Fly, The Line of Best Fit and Australian Times.

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