Saturday, November 30, 2013


The Paul and Jean Hanna House, Stanford, CA, 1938 (J. Quinan)
I first became aware of Paul and Jean Hanna at a conference titled "An American Architecture," held in conjunction with an exhibition mounted by Brian Spencer at the Milwaukee Art Center in 1978. (Attendees included Lloyd Wright, Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., Bruce Goff, Herb Greene, Edgar Tafel, and a host of historians)  The Hannas spoke about building their Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Palo Alto in 1938. Little did I know that ten years later we would be working with the same publisher, Victoria Newhouse, and that we would wind up pursuing the Frank Lloyd Wright-Darwin D. Martin Papers that were auctioned in Los Angeles in 1983. 

The Hanna's interest in Wright did not subside following the completion of their House. They amassed a large library of books on and by Wright and left those, their house, and a substantial archive pertaining to the construction of his house to Stanford University. According to Victoria Newhouse the Hannas submitted a huge manuscript to her Architectural History Foundation that was whittled down to the excellent 148 page book Frank Lloyd Wright's Hanna House: The Clients' Report of 1981. 

Paul sought the Wright-Martin Papers for Stanford's archives when they came up for auction as I did on behalf of the Archives of the University at Buffalo. When the bidding exceeded $50,000 we both dropped out and the papers went to a dealer who eventually sold them to UB and Stanford jointly for $100,000. Paul  and I, Shonnie Finnegan, the UB archivist, and Lorelei Ketter met at the dealer's office in Chicago in 1984, xeroxed the papers and divided them so that UB obtained the original portion that included letters from 1902 to 1915 while Stanford got the original material that extended from 1916 to the 1940s. It worked out well because Paul was interested in having the papers that pertained to the period that he and Jean were building their house whereas we were interested in the portion that pertained to Darwin Martin's relationship with Wright during the design and construction of the Martin House and the Larkin Building.

Despite a transaction made memorable by many months of fund-raising and delicate negotiations via conference calls I never saw the Hanna House until last week when Julie Cain, Program Coordinator for Heritage Services at Stanford, gave me and Sandra a tour. Having taught courses on Wright's work for thirty-seven years and visited many of them I can attest that the house cannot be adequately appreciated from images alone. Compared to the other Usonian houses from 1937-38 the Hanna House is surprisingly spacious both in its lateral reach and a variety of ceiling heights and configurations that extend up to fifteen feet in the entrance hall and in the kitchen. 

This was Wright's first use of a hexagonal planning module (said to have been brought to his attention by apprentice Cornelia Brierly) and he used it in such a way that the overall plan of the house bends 120 degrees along the south elevation filling the living room and dining room with sunlight and providing broad hillcrest vistas.

South elevation. the flat portion of the window wall at the far right slides  to open the original childrens' playroom (now the dining room) to the exterior and its vistas (J. Quinan)

The north side of the house is given over to bedrooms, a "sanctum" or study, and the entrance hall that reaches high to bring in north light.
Entrance hall with opening to the living room at the left (Photo: Ezra Stoller)
Hanna House is a rare commission from Wright's Usonian period that was not supervised by one of his apprentices. Harold Turner, a local Palo Alto builder, went to Taliesin for a few weeks to learn from Wright. The result is an amazing piece of craftwork where entire windows walls respond to the rhythms of the hexagonal module. The house abounds in ingenious accommodations to the hexagon including a  sequence of tall planks  (below, left) angled to the edge of a hexagon that screen the "workspace" (kitchen) from the adjoining dining area. Each board is hinged to a matching plank that can be swung shut to close the kitchen off.
View from the living room toward the children's playroom that was subsequently converted into a dining room. The  hinged planks that screen the kitchen are to the left (Photo by Ezra Stoller)
A detail showing Harold Turner's crafting of Wright's horizontal board and batten wall (J. Quinan)
The Hanna's were not well off when they began this project and Wright drove them to exceed their means to the point of exasperation. Apparently he recognized qualities and sensibilities in them that eventually materialized in extraordinary achievement and recognition in the field of childhood education, and considerable wealth. The Hanna House certainly testifies to all that and more -- the confluence of enormous talents.

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