OGDEN DUNES — Every once in awhile a stranger will knock on the door at 43 Cedar Trail.
They're not there to visit homeowners Patricia and John Peterson.
Instead, laughed the couple recently, they want to see the house. The unexpected visitors have ranged from architects to the founder of Domino's Pizza, Tom Monahan.
The house is one of three in Northwest Indiana designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Wright, who would have celebrated his 150th birthday on Thursday, designed the home in 1939 for Chicago advertising representative Andrew Armstrong. It was completed in 1941, nestled in the dunes landscape.
John Peterson first saw the house in 1954, fresh out of the U.S. Army and working at what was then Standard Oil in Whiting. He was visiting a friend in Ogden Dunes. He liked the home, which was up for sale at the time, but didn't have enough money to purchase it.
At the time, he says now, he had no idea who Frank Lloyd Wright was.
Fast forward four years later and John and Patricia, an Oak Park, Illinois, native who was familiar with Wright, were married and looking for a home. The multileveled red-sided house was back up for sale. The Petersons, who wanted a three-bedroom house with a garage, purchased the home, which had only two bedrooms and no garage.
It is a house of balconies, from nearly each room, with doors leading to each space. A treehouse-like screened room cantilevers over the ground from the second floor.
Unique are its corner windows, glass meeting glass, and open concept, neither of which were typical of homes at the time.
The Petersons were the sixth owner, said Patricia Peterson, noting the house was in terrible shape.
"My mother and I drove out to see it. My mother said, 'That's the house he wants to buy?'" recalled Patricia Peterson. The exterior was pink, walls were patched and the previous owners had "varnished over dust."
"I figured I could do a lot of work on the house," said John Peterson, a mechanical engineer.
In 1959, the year Wright died, the Petersons met John Howe. Howe had been Wright's chief draftsman and his right-hand man, said John Peterson. They met through Howe's brother, who also worked at Standard Oil.
"Howe was very, very agreeable to do a set of plans for us if we ever had the money to expand the house," said John Peterson.
The Petersons bought the lot next door and began to work with Howe on an expansion that included an additional bedroom, a revised kitchen and dining area and a garage. Eventually, the Petersons worked with Howe, even traveling to San Francisco, a second time to design another addition — a fourth bedroom.
The remodeling and expansion projects were kept within the home's original Unisonian design. Different from Wright's most-famed, Prairie-style homes, his Unisonian-designed homes were meant to be for the masses.
John Peterson said one issue was the material for the board-and-batten interior walls. Originally cypress was used.
"We ended up putting in mahogany plywood. We wanted board-and-batten, but we couldn't get it in cypress because they had used a lot of it in WWII," John Peterson said. "I bought some 8-inch cypress that I did use in one bedroom.
"I traveled to the Philippines and bought 7,000 board feet (of mahogany) in the color I wanted. I stored it in that garage that Mr. Wright didn't want me to have," John Peterson said.
Since purchasing and renovating the home, John Peterson has become a walking Wright encyclopedia. The home is featured in "The Frank Lloyd Wright Companion," by William Allin Storrer, published in 1993.
"Some of it has rubbed off in the last 58 years," he said.
Other Wright homes in the Region
Wright designed two other homes in Northwest Indiana.
The Wilbur Wynant house was constructed in 1915 at 600 Fillmore St. in Gary. The owner was Wilbur Wynant, president of Gary National Lake Insurance Co. The contractor, Ingwald Moe, became the local representative for American System-built homes, which were also targeted for the masses, according to "Frank Lloyd Wright and Colleagues: Indiana Works," published in 1999 for an exhibition at the John G. Blank Center for the Arts in Michigan City.
The Wynant house was destroyed in a fire in 2006 and eventually razed.
The Ingwald Moe house was constructed in 1908 at 669 Van Buren St. in Gary for the Gary contractor. It stands today, a private residence, not far from where the Wynant house once stood.
Additional Wright projects and influences
In addition to the three homes, Wright also designed some commercial ventures for the Region.
According to the exhibition publication, Wright was commissioned to design the Wolf Lake amusement park on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, straddling the state line, sometime in the late 1890s. The project was never constructed.
He was involved in designing a cinema and shops project in Michigan City in 1952 along with his son, John Lloyd Wright. That project also died due to a lack of funding.
Wright's influence continued for years after his death through the architects he trained, including his son and others.
Alfred Caldwell, who studied under a Wright fellowship, designed landscaping plans for Roosevelt Park Elementary School in Gary.
George Robinson Dean, a Wright associate, worked for the architectural firm used by U.S. Steel Corp. in designing an office building and homes.
George Grant Elmslie, another associate, designed the Washington Irving, Oliver P. Morton and Thomas Edison schools in Hammond.
George Washington Maher also worked with Wright and is credited with designing the pavilion at Gary's Marquette Park and the Gary Country Club.
Howard Van Doren Shaw, a member of Wright's luncheon circle, designed homes for the Mark Manufacturing Co. and what would become Marktown in the Indiana Harbor.