A few years after Frank Lloyd Wright’s death in 1959, his principal draftsperson John Howe moved to Minneapolis, where he continued to champion Prairie School-style architecture.
“He had a significant career as an architect in Minnesota,” said Jane King Hession, who co-authored the book “John H. Howe, Architect: From Taliesin Apprentice to Master of Organic Design” with Tim Quigley.
“He learned his craft from Wright, particularly the significance of organic architecture inspired by the land and in which all parts relate to the whole,” she said. “So furniture tended to be designed by Wright and Howe. Everything was in sync with nature.”
And while he was sometimes in the shadow of Wright, Howe became a celebrated architect, partly because of the homes he built in the Rochester area. Quigley said that from 1967 to 1987, Howe designed about 200 projects, many on lakeside lots that tended to be tucked away.
Among houses that Howe designed were estates, including the Washington House, built in 1976 on a 5-acre hilltop on Mayowood Hills Drive and named after its original owners, Maaja and Dr. John Washington, who was once the head of Clinical Microbiology at the Mayo Clinic.
The Washington House is a nod to Prairie School-style architecture and features several of Howe’s trademarks: vaulted ceilings, an angled cantilever, a continuous band of windows and a horizontal design that connects the house to the land.
“He was really skilled as a draftsman, legendarily fast, and able to produce extraordinarily artistic perspective renderings of Wright’s projects. … Wright designed three houses that exist in Rochester. Howe did three or four,” Quigley said. “The Washington House is really a fine example of what Howe excelled at — making a modest house with simple materials that feel both intimate, yet grand.”
A lasting impression
The home has seen three owners since it was built. When current homeowner Ed Baum came across the Washington House more than 3 ½ years ago, he was immediately drawn to it.
“Driving up to the house, the thing that really catches your attention is the wraparound balcony that has a cantilevered section. It’s an engineering marvel, really,” he said.
Inside, Baum was smitten with details such as the mix of geometric shapes as well as the built-in furniture, ranging from desks to shelves. He also appreciated how, as in other Prairie School homes, it made use of natural materials.
“There’s a lot of wood inside the house, mainly mahogany, and a cedar deck,” Baum said. “You can see the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work in this John Howe house. It’s very unique. It’s very personal.”
Baum didn’t have to do much to the interior once he moved in. It had been looked after and functioned well. At one point in the house’s history, a detached garage was built and the previous garage was converted into an owners’ suite.
“The work I’ve done is mainly exterior work,” he said, which included paving the formerly asphalt driveway. He also took on landscaping projects, adding plants, boulders, exterior lighting and outdoor seating.
“This house is so amazing in how it affords you to connect with nature,” Baum said.
While Baum has enjoyed living in the house, it’s time for him to move on. He’s listed the four-bedroom, three-bathroom home of more than 3,700 square feet.
“It’s a reverse pandemic for me,” he said. “Most people are looking for an area where they can have more space and property and have quiet. I’m now looking for the opposite, where I want to enjoy more of a city environment.”
In the meantime, he’ll continue to enjoy living in a home that has allowed him to connect to nature — especially from his favorite room.
“The living room has high ceilings and it features this really amazing two-sided brick fireplace with concrete details. It’s the part of the house where the balcony is and it has these great views of the west so you can see the sunset,” he said. “It’s a great place to unwind at the end of the day and enjoy the beauty of the house.”
Listing agent Karen Rue said that the home’s architecture incorporates both Howe’s and Wright’s signature styles — as well as keeping the Midwest location in mind. She added that the location on a hilltop and a wooded lot can’t be beaten.
“He designed an architecture that was responsive to the Minnesota landscape and weather conditions, such as opening things up on the south side of the home [for natural light] and closing off the north [from the wind],” Rue said.
“It’s totally private. Once you’re out here, you become one with nature. It’s one of those houses that is timeless.”