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Lake Geneva Hotel, Lake Geneva, WI (1911) (S.171)

(Note, due to the fact that the internet is constantly changing, and items that
are posted change, I have copied excerpts of the text, but give all the credits available.)


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Wright in Racine
11/23/2005: Lake Geneva Inn, Part One

Blog by Mark Hertzberg, Copyright 2005

Excerpts from Web Page.

There was scant opposition to the demolition of the hotel, according to Sue Hinske, circulation manager of the Lake Geneva Regional News. “There were some unhappy people, but not as many as I thought there would be. A lot more people were against the Towers going in than the demolition of the Lake Geneva Inn. A lot of people were unhappy with the looks of it and the height of it.” Hinske says the hotel was well past its prime in this small Wisconsin city which was a summer getaway for wealthy families from Chicago. “They tore it down because it just wasn't feasible to keep it open. Times had changed. They didn't have a bathroom for every room, for example.”

Charlotte Peterson concurs with Hinske. “You called it The Hotel. It was extremely popular with town people plus the tourists.” She worked at the Lake Geneva Chamber of Commerce and got many inquiries about the facility. “It got so we couldn't even send people there anymore, they had let it deteriorate so much. It was the days when they had a couple of rooms to one bathroom, but it was a grand place.”

The hotel was not only a social centerpiece for the community - Peterson says she has fond memories of prom dinner there - but it was also an important place to make business contacts. She says that her father, a real estate agent, was introduced to many clients there.

She remembers the demolition, too. “There was not a lot of opposition because its demolition was before its time (in terms of the attention that Wright’s buildings would later attract). People didn't understand. All they were interested in was something new and shiny, and this, it was not.” She says that the developer of the Towers unsuccessfully tried to save Wright’s hotel, “There wasn't enough money around to save it. Today it never would have happened.”

Local preservationists were splintered, trying to save various properties. “I remember going down and watching it. I had to go home, I couldn't watch it any longer.”

Her love of Wright’s work dates back to hearing Wright speak at Lawrence College. “He came in, in his porkpie hat and capes, looked at all of us and said, ‘how can you stand to study in such an ugly school?’ ”

Peterson says that Wright had plans for the hotel that were more ambitious than the final building.  “When he was getting ready to build, the town got very worried about his finances, and so they fired him and kept his plans.” One of Wright’s drawings showed a three-story section in the building. “The town just chopped that right off, and compressed the middle part of the building. He never owned up to the Hotel Geneva.”

The Lake Geneva Inn is rarely written about. Wright’s last remaining hotel is the Park Inn (1910) in Mason City, Iowa, which is being restored. It takes the casual visitor to Lake Geneva time to find someone who can pinpoint the location of the Wright building. It is disheartening to stand in front of the Towers, see the faux Wright lettering, gaze across the street at the city’s lovely boat house, and realize there is nothing there to memorialize the Lake Geneva Inn.

John Lyle wrote:
I remember the Inn well, having driven past it many times although I was never inside of it. It looked impressive, much like a Wright prairie house of the day. The lines were pretty much un-altered. I was told by someone who stayed there in the 1940s that it was run down at the time. For those who want to do research, there was a feature article in the Sunday magazine of the Milwaukee Journal from 1967, in November I believe it was, on all the Wright buildings in Wisconsin. It has a photo of the Lake Geneva Inn and it mentions that the Inn was in danger of being torn down, and that Wright enthusiasts were hoping to save it. As a footnote, I had wanted to obtain one of the art glass windows, but as I was in high school living out of town at the time, I was not able to establish contact as far as actually obtaining a window. If I had, it would be worth a fortune today. I wonder what happened to the windows, one source said they were outside for the taking. 12/04/2005

Mark Hertzberg wrote:
This afternoon, I was given some photos taken of the hotel after it closed, prior to demolition. I have also scanned in some wonderful postcards of the hotel. A 1988 article in a regional magazine, which I will draw on for the next piece about Frank Lloyd Wright's Lake Geneva Hotel, affirms that many fixtures were apparently plundered. The Historic Preservation Institute of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning has some of the tulip windows. I will try to post the next article within a week.  The outcome may have been different had the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy existed in 1970. The Conservancy, which grew out of a Johnson Foundation conference at Wright's Wingspread in Racine, is dedicated to the preservation of his work.

Rob West wrote:
My father was the architect for the Geneva Towers. Ironically, he led a decade-long fight (including through the AIA) to save it, but as others have said, there was little interest and no financial backing. It's a terrible loss. I remember it well, having grown up in Lake Geneva in the 50's and 60's. I remember two things my father mentioned during the demolition: a semi-truck filled with artifacts was stolen from the site and the crime was never solved. Second, they apparently discovered an underground bootleg liquor operation, apparently dating from the twenties, including ceramic tile cisterns. No one knew anything about it.



Wright in Racine
12/07/2005: Hotel Geneva, A Question of Shame

Blog by Mark Hertzberg, Copyright 2005

Excerpts from Web Page.

In an earlier journal we talked about the Geneva Towers, which were built on the site of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hotel Geneva.

Today we offer historic views of Wright's hotel. The postcards are courtesy of Charlotte Peterson. The pre-demolition photos, from about 1968, are (c) Bob Hartmann.  The hotel was built on the site of the historic Whiting Hotel, which burned down around 1890.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s sprawling, Prairie-style, Hotel Geneva was the centerpiece of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, when it opened for business in 1912. The hotel was a sensation, but its luster was short-lived, from a business point of view. There were financial problems within two years. It deteriorated after a succession of owners and remodeling projects, and was demolished in 1970. There was no Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy yet, to spearhead fund-raising and support to save the building.

Wright had proposed building a hotel with 90 guest rooms, anchored at one end by a three-story residential suite, right, which was not built.

The building had several signature features, including the tulip-design casement windows, a spectacular glass skylight in the dining room, and the semicircular arch over the fireplace. Although a publicity postcard bragged “Every room with bath,” in fact, many of the guest rooms shared a bathroom with another guest room. Such accommodations were less acceptable to travelers in the hotel’s later years.

Many of the windows were saved by the School of Architecture and Urban Planning of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Four of the windows are on permanent display at the school.

One of the developers of the hotel was Arthur L. Richards, who worked with Wright on the American System-Built homes in Milwaukee. The Munkwitz Apartments in Milwaukee were demolished in 1974, but six of the Richards/ Wright homes still stand in the 2700 block of W. Burnham. (Two are owned by the ‘‘Wright in Wisconsin’’ group, which hopes to restore one of them, the Richards Small House, soon.)

Wright was prescient in his vision of how about important the automobile would be in American society. Indeed, a publicity postcard brags that the hotel has “Every accommodation for the automobilist.” The inn is cited in several sources as one of America’s first ‘‘motor hotels’’ or motels.
Postcards: courtesy of Charlotte Peterson

The hotel was replaced by the Geneva Towers, an undistinguished concrete condominium building.

There is no marker to commemorate the Wright hotel, though George Hennerley, executive vice president of the Chamber of Commerce, says, “I think at some point it’s something we might want do to.” As to why there is no marker, he speculates, “It might be a question of shame.” Shame, indeed.

Patrick J. Meehan wrote:
Yes, it is a shame. I have been working on a book on Frank Lloyd Wright's Lake Geneva Hotel for about 25 years which will give an account of its design, building, fall, and thereafter.

Rob West wrote:
Mr. Meehan,
I am sitting here with Derald West, AIA, who was Lake Geneva's architect for over 40 years. He fought for years to save Wright's hotel, through the AIA and University of Illinois. Unfortunately, it ultimately failed through lack of financial support. He just told me he has as-built drawings of the hotel, prepared at his expense, in the late 60's. He was even hired to prepare a design for its renovation and addition. It ultimately fell in. He mentioned that they found, when finally the building was being demolished, a sealed room, without doors, filled with whiskey and two 25' diameter vats filled with what appeared to be residue from a distillery operation. Anyway, should you be interested in speaking with him further, his email is

Meehan, Patrick J. Artifact identification: Lake Geneva Hotel. An unpublished report, 1992
Schaefer, Ted, No Rooms Available in Lake Geneva, Lake Geneva magazine, March/April, 1988.





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