By Scott Elpers
If you’ve wandered through Wichita’s cherished College Hill neighborhood, you might have stumbled upon one of the greatest works or art of the 20th century without even realizing it.
Wichita is home to two buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, widely considered the greatest architect of the 20th century. The Corbin Education Center at Wichita State University is one. Designed by Wright in 1915, and competed three years later, the other is tucked away in College Hill on 255 N. Roosevelt.
Named after the original owners, Henry and Elsie Allen, Allen House was named one of the Top 10 Frank Lloyd Wright homes to visit by USA Today.
“We started to get visitors from all over the world, and they haven’t stopped,” said Howard Ellington, the preservation architect, a founding trustee and executive director of the Allen House Foundation, which has owned the home since 1990. “This house is my absolute favorite.”
Allen House, which Frank Lloyd Wright considered among his best, is the last of the Prairie Houses. The L-shaped home features a living and dining room wrap around a sunken garden with a large water garden filled with water lilies and Koi fish from Japan. A garden house and wall capped by large concrete garden vases line remaining edges of the property.
The first floor of the house contains a reception hall, dining room, living room, butler pantry, kitchen, maid’s room, and two-car attached garage. The second floor contains Mr. Allen’s study, master bathroom, maid’s room, guest room, three bathrooms and a circulation gallery overlooking the water garden, which served for art displays.
Exterior window flower boxes establish a strong visual relationship to nature. Lighting is integrated into the environment with the living room ceiling lanterns made of wood, mulberry paper and art glass in the dining room. Radiator grilles, built-in furniture and bookcases are all interrelated designs for a harmonious whole.
“Wright’s work is totally consistent. There is nothing flamboyant about it. There is nothing that’s unfinished. It’s a totally organic design, just like a beautiful plant or a flower or a tree. His houses are the same way,” he said. “It’s always in harmony with nature. He uses the colors of nature. The indoor and outdoor spaces flow visually and physically.”
Allen House will turn 100 in 2018. Keeping the work of art in the best shape possible is a never-ending process.
“It’s a work of art that sits out in the rain and snow. It’s constant work. Our whole purpose of existence it to preserve this house. All money raised goes toward maintaining the home and constant restoration,” Ellington said. “The colors are the same. We use the same materials. Everything matches the way it was when Henry and Elsie Allen moved in.”
The foundation raises funds through memberships, donations and tours of Allen House. The house was built for $30,000.
“It was bargain then. It’s a bargain today,” Ellington said
Photography provided by Allen House Foundation.