Elam (Plunkett) House, 309 21st Street Southwest, Austin, Minnesota

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Elam (Plunkett) House

Address: 309 21st Street SW
City/locality-
State/province
Austin, Minnesota
County-
State/province:
Mower County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1951
Primary Style: Other
Historic Function: House/single dwelling or duplex
Current Function: House/single dwelling or duplex
Current Function: Bed and Breakfast, Radio Station
Other Current Function: Bed and Breakfast, Radio Station
Architect or source of design: Frank Lloyd Wright
Builder: A.J. Zeimer
Material of Exterior Wall Covering: Limestone
Material of Roof: Wood Shingle
First Owner: S.P. "Pearl" Elam

Austin Mower County

Elam (Plunkett) House, 309 21st Street Southwest, Austin, Minnesota
(43.665411° N, 93.005408° WLatitude: 43°39′55.48″N
Longitude: 93°0′19.469″W
)


S.P. "Pearl" Elam and his wife were touring Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin in Southern Wisconsin in the late 1940's when they mentioned their desire to build. Wright was in the stage of his career when he was constructing affordable homes for the middle-class Americans. These houses were generally small, single-story dwellings without a garage or much storage space. These houses were usually L-shaped in plan in order to accommodate for the landscape and terraces or gardens on the lot space. This series of homes also generally had large, south facing windows in order to let in an ample amount of sunlight, allowing the home to use passive solar for both light and heat conditions. As with his prairie style homes, Wright maintained the hearth as the focal point in the homes since he believed this to be the center of the family. Lastly, Wright designed these homes to have radiant in-floor heating.

These homes were termed "Usonian" houses, with the root of the word coming from Wright's desire to re-name and re-structure the landscape of the United States. Wright constructed nearly 60 Usonian homes throughout the United States; 13 of those are located in Minnesota, and only four of those are located in Southern Minnesota, one of which is the Elam (Plunkett) House. At the height of Usonian house construction, Wright was able to construct a house for $5,000 for a family with children, which was very unheard of at that time. Frank Lloyd Wright had never actually visited the site of the Elam (Plunkett) House, but drew up the plans bases solely on pictures of the site.

Contents

History

The Elam (Plunkett) House was constructed with low-cost materials in order to maintain status as a Usonian house. The exterior of the house is made up of limestone and cypress board and batten siding. The limestone was taken from a quarry near Wright’s home in Spring Green, Wisconsin and shipped to Austin, Minnesota. The roof is covered in cedar shakes, again, a fairly inexpensive building material at the time. The house is constructed on a four foot module, with it spanning 148 feet long. Similar to other Frank Lloyd Wright designs, people enter the house on the lower level, arriving in the loggia where they then ascend the stairs into the main living space of the house. This house is particularly iconic for its large cantilevered roof structures that make up the living room. These cantilevers allow for the ceiling to open up to a larger space, which allows for more windows. This is where a majority of the passive solar lighting and heat comes from in the house. These cantilevered roof structures extend from large cantilevered balconies that span over the main entrance into the house. The original design of the house included eight bedrooms, but the house was only built with five bedrooms and six and a half bathrooms. The reason behind the change has never been stated, however S.P. “Pearl” Elam and Frank Lloyd Wright had a lot of conflicting ideas about certain aspects of the house. One of these conflicting ideas revolved around the heating and cooling system in the house. Wright designed each Usonian house to have in-floor radiant heating, but Elam insisted upon having a forced air system in the house as well. This resulted in two large “Kewanee” boilers and a large air circulating system. Another controversy between the two men was brought about because of a narrow window in the kitchen. Wright was adamant about not installing the window because he thought it was inappropriate for the design, but Elam protested and eventually the window was installed. It is said that there was a falling out between Wright and Elam before construction was completed, leaving Elam to finish the kitchen on his own. This could have been a result of the conflicting ideas between the two men.

Memories and stories

While the Elam (Plunkett) House is a Usonian house, it is also very accommodating for a large family. The first owners of the home, the Elam family, lived comfortably in the home for eight years with five children. After eight years the home was purchased by Warren F. Plunkett, who was a State District Court judge at the time. Plunkett and his wife lived in the home with three children until his wife died in an automobile accident in 1963, after which Plunkett remarried and introduced five more children into the home. The home comfortably fit ten people and is still in the family to this day. Warren Plunkett’s son, Peter Plunkett lives in the home and as of May 2013 has been renting out the guest house on a nightly basis. This rental includes a stay in the guest house, a tour of the main house (for guests only), and a chance to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture first-hand.


Photo Gallery

Image:SallySchretenthaler--Cantilevered Windows.jpg Image:SallySchretenthaler--Elam 9.jpg Image:SallySchretenthaler--Elam House.jpg Image:SallySchretenthaler--Exterior East Face.jpg Image:SallySchretenthaler--Exterior South Face.jpg Image:SallySchretenthaler--Exterior West Face.jpg Image:SallySchretenthaler--Guest Fireplace.jpg Image:SallySchretenthaler--Interior Living Room.jpg Image:SallySchretenthaler--Living Room Windows.jpg Image:SallySchretenthaler--Main Entrance.jpg </gallery>

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