Meyer May House

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Meyer May House
Meyer May House, south side, 2009.JPG
Meyer May House is located in Michigan
Meyer May House
General information
Type Brick house
Architectural style Prairie School
Location 450 Madison Avenue SE,
Grand Rapids, MI
Coordinates 42°57′15″N 85°39′33″W / 42.954189°N 85.659189°W / 42.954189; -85.659189Coordinates: 42°57′15″N 85°39′33″W / 42.954189°N 85.659189°W / 42.954189; -85.659189
Construction started 1908
Completed 1909
Governing body Steelcase
Design and construction
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright

The Meyer May House is a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in the Heritage Hill Historic District of Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the United States. It was built in 1908-09, and is located at 450 Madison Avenue SE. It is considered a fine example of Wright's Prairie School era, and "Michigan's Prairie masterpiece".[1]

History[edit]

Commissioned in 1908 by Meyer S. May, a prominent Grand Rapids clothier,[2] and his wife Sophie Amberg, the house stands in contrast to the Victorian and Neoclassical houses typical of the period and neighborhood, the Heritage Hill neighborhood east of downtown Grand Rapids.

Meyer May House is stylistically typical of Wright's Prairie houses, a two story, T-plan constructed of pale brick, with hip roofs and long broad eaves, art glass windows and skylights.[3] The first floor windows are tucked under the eaves and raised from ground level, providing both privacy and providing light to the staircase and second floor gallery.[3]

Wright carefully sited the house to allow maximum southern exposure for the living room windows and skylights and to create a spacious yard for the perennial gardens. Each terrace and each section of art glass was artfully designed and placed to enhance the interior and to draw nature into the house.[2] Doors open out to the terraces and gardens with garden walls and planters all incorporated into the design to intermingle the interior and exterior.[4]

Inside, wood grills hide the radiators, iridescent strips of gold art glass were placed in the horizontal grout lines of both brick fireplaces,[3] and a pastel mural of hollyhocks wraps around a dividing wall between the living room and dining room. The mural, painted over during years of alterations, was rediscovered during the restoration and has now been restored. The interior was finished in 1910 by George Niedeken, Wright's Milwaukee based associate,[5] who was also a talented decorative painter and executed the mural in the dining room.[4]

1922 saw a major alteration of the house, two bedrooms were added upstairs, as were servants' quarters on the ground floor.[5] May died in 1936 and the house remained empty for six years, not selling until 1942.[5] Sold again in 1945 carports and additional entrances were added, and the bedroom additions were rented out.[5]

The Meyer May House was placed on the Michigan State Register of Historic Sites in 1986.[4] and is a contributing building to the Heritage Hill Historic District. The district was listed in 1971 on both the National Register of Historic Places[6] and the Michigan State Register of Historic Sites,[7] and was protected by the City of Grand Rapids' historic preservation ordinance in 1973.

Restoration[edit]

Madison Ave facade

Steelcase, an international office furniture company founded and headquartered in Grand Rapids, purchased the house in 1985.[8]

Before restoration began, extensive research was conducted to determine the original building design. Interviews were held with relatives, neighbors and friends of the May family, Wright scholars, past building occupants, historians, and local residents.[2] Documents about Frank Lloyd Wright were also studied to pinpoint information on the Meyer May House and Wright's Prairie style of architecture.[2] Historic photos, drawings, and documents were found in public institutions and private collections. These proved to be the most valuable tools in reconstructing the history of the actual structure and its contents.

Restoration began in 1986 and was completed, and the house opened for visitor tours, in 1987.[2] The house is one of the most completely restored of Wright's Prairie residences.[4][8]

Rooms in the restored house are furnished with a mixture of original pieces, reproductions of original pieces, and compatible Arts and Crafts style items from the period.[2] One piece original to the home is the living room sofa, which was still in the home at the time of restoration, though it was heavily upholstered over and almost discarded. The dining room chairs, also original, were purchased from a descendant of the family living in the Grand Rapids area.

Public tours[edit]

Meyer May House opened to the public in 1987.[2] Tours are offered Tuesdays & Thursdays from 10 to 2 and on Sundays from 1 to 4.[2] Admission is free.[2]

Wright's other Grand Rapids work[edit]

David M. Amberg House

The David M. Amberg House, near the Meyer May House at 505 College Avenue SE, was commissioned by the parents of May's wife Sophie in 1910. The house is not a complete Wright design as he left the country during its construction following his scandalous affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of Wright's client and neighbor Edwin Cheney. The Amberg house was finished under the supervision of Wright associates Marion Mahony Griffin and her husband Walter Burley Griffin.

References[edit]

  1. ^ William A. Storrer, The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, p.146, University of Chicago Press; 2002
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Meyer May House at Steelcase.com
  3. ^ a b c Caroline Knight, Frank Lloyd Wright, p. 88, Parragon; 2004.
  4. ^ a b c d Meyer May House, Michigan State Register
  5. ^ a b c d Chronology at the official site
  6. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. 
  7. ^ Heritage Hill, Michigan State Register
  8. ^ a b House, at the official site

External links[edit]