Dec 6th, 2011 | By | Category: Senior Travel

The Dana-Thomas House

Seniors, as a tour guide at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, I knew that there was a famous home in Springfield, Illinois that he had built for a lady called Dana Thomas.  In 1902, Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to undertake the design and construction of a massive renovation of the Lawrence family home in Springfield. The home was to be more than a mere residence — it was to be a showcase. Upon its completion in 1904, the new edifice completely engulfed the original home. It immediately became a symbol of artistic and architectural excellence.

It now stands as the finest example of the creativity and uniqueness characteristic of the Prairie School of Architecture. Today the Dana Thomas House is rightfully regarded as a local treasure and a gorgeous house museum. Following its acquisition of the House, the Illinois State Historic Preservation Agency undertook a major restoration project. The results yielded a beautifully preserved example of Mr. Wright’s genius.

Seniors Enjoy the History of the House

The Dana-Thomas House (DTH) was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1902 for Susan Lawrence Dana, a forward-thinking socialite living in Springfield, Illinois. The home, called a hidden gem in Springfield, the 72nd building designed by Wright, contains the largest collection of site-specific, original Wright art glass and furniture. Wright’s first blank check commission, the home has 35 rooms in the 12,000 square feet of living space which includes 3 main levels and 16 varying levels in all. Beyond the essence of an architectural masterpiece of international significance, the house is a brilliant showcase of craftsmanship in glass doors, windows and light fixtures, terra cotta sculpture and an exquisite mural.

In 1902, Susan Lawrence Dana (1862–1946) was an independent woman and heiress to a substantial fortune, including silver mines in the Rocky Mountains. Widowed in 1900, Dana enjoyed complete control over her household and fortune. Eager to express her personality and to become the leading hostess in Springfield, Dana decided to completely remodel her family’s Italianate mansion located in the state capital’s fashionable “Aristocracy Hill” neighborhood.

Susan Lawrence Dana’s search for an architect to match her aspirations ended when she was introduced to Frank Lloyd Wright, the rising leader of a new movement in architecture. Susan Lawrence Dana’s 1902 commission to Wright to plan the “remodeling” of the Lawrence’s mansion was the largest commission that Wright had enjoyed up to that time. The architect, who recognized a kindred spirit in Mrs. Dana, expanded the boundaries of his commission to design and build what was, in effect, an entirely new house and this has made all the difference, especially in sheer size.

The Dana-Thomas House or Susan Lawrence Dana House or Dana House became a showcase of architect Frank Lloyd Wright‘s Prairie Style.  It reflected Susan Lawrence Dana’s flamboyant personality and Dana’s and Wright’s mutual love of Japanese prints and drawings. The house was designed for display and entertainment.

Charles C. Thomas, a successful medical publisher, was the second owner and custodian of the Dana-Thomas House in 1944-1981. He and his wife are credited with maintaining the house’s original furnishings and design, and with selling the home and its furnishings as a unit to the state of Illinois in 1981 for $1.0 million.  The house became an historic site under the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and a restoration effort in 1987-1990 refitted the house to its appearance in 1910.

The Dana-Thomas House is believed to contain one of the most intact Frank Lloyd Wright architectural interiors in the United States. One of the most striking features is the elaborate use of ornamental art glass throughout. The house contains 250 examples of art glass doors and windows, and more than 100 art glass light fixtures.  The famed Butterfly Lamp Chandelier is the most elaborate of all of the lamps that Frank Lloyd Wright designed. The complexity of this lamp is illustrated by the $31,500 price tag for a full scale reproduction.

Visitors are greeted at the main entrance by an intricate butterfly arch over the exterior door and again over the interior door on the other side of the vestibule.  An arched doorway admits guests into a series of expanding spaces, the vestibule and reception hall. The house contains more than 100 pieces of original Wright furniture.  Designed for entertaining, the home’s gallery and dining room can seat forty, and both have two-story barrel-vaulted ceilings.  It has been said that FLW played every key on the piano when it came to interior design.  He wrote, “The interior space itself is the reality of the building” and it certainly is in the DTH. Today, a preservation group keeps the house restored and up to date.

Each year the Dana-Thomas House celebrates the holiday season in the grand manner of Susan Lawrence Dana. Visitors will experience the house much like special guests of Frank Lloyd Wright’s extravagant client and friend. The house is exquisitely decorated and live music is performed on select afternoons. Evening tours, allowing visitors to enjoy the house and art glass under twilight and night time lighting, are available on Friday and again on Luminaria Sunday when 1000 candles in paper sacks line the ledges and walkways around the house.  The Dana-Thomas House hosts special events, including “Christmas at the Dana-Thomas House,” a three-week holiday celebration during which the house is fully decorated, and special weekend and evening tours are offered. Many programs are supported by the Dana-Thomas House Foundation. I am confident that you will enjoy the visit to the DTH.  jeb

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