The master's pet project

  • Updated: July 21, 2012 - 1:18 PM

A letter from a client's son inspired Frank Lloyd Wright's only known doghouse design.

There are many designer doghouses, but perhaps the only one with a cult following was, not surprisingly, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The doghouse was created in the 1950s at the request of Jim Berger, 12, who wrote to the architect to say that his black Labrador, Eddie, needed a home.

Wright wrote back that he was busy designing the Guggenheim Museum but would gladly oblige later -- which he did.

"I was Frank Lloyd Wright's youngest client, and I was also his poorest," said Berger, now 68 and a retired high school teacher in Orangevale, Calif.

The context was that Berger's father, Robert, had written to Wright years earlier to request blueprints for a house for his family. Wright seems to have had a soft spot for the Bergers: He sent plans, at nominal cost, and Robert Berger spent about 20 years building the house, his daughter, Suzanne Berger, recalled. The family lived in the house, in San Anselmo, Calif., for many years, she said, but it is now on the market.

In 1956 or thereabouts, when Jim Berger sent his query to Wright on behalf of Eddie, he was concerned because the dog "would sleep outside and I didn't like that a bit," Berger said by telephone, his three beagles howling in the background. "I wanted something where he would be comfortable."

But by the time the plans arrived, he was in the Army, so his father built the doghouse, which was about 3 feet high and looked like the prow of a ship.

"It was extremely difficult to build," Jim Berger said. (Eddie, alas, had died by then and been replaced by other dogs.)

Architecture fans came from far and wide to look at the Bergers' place -- particularly Eddie's house.

"My mom had a beautiful home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but people would come up to see the doghouse specifically, and that kind of angered her," he said.

Eventually, she got rid of it.

More recently, documentary filmmaker Michael Miner, who has made several movies about Wright, came to interview the Bergers. At his urging, Jim Berger and his brother, Eric, rebuilt the doghouse last fall using the original plans. The new doghouse is on display at screenings of Miner's latest movie, "Romanza: The California Structures Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright."

By now, though, Berger is a little tired of the tale of the 12-year-old boy and his dog.

"Could you put in a plug for the SPCA?" he asked. "My dogs have a Frank Lloyd Wright doghouse, but there's a lot of dogs out there that need loving 'forever' homes."

JENNIFER A. KINGSON, NEW YORK TIMES

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