This House in Oregon Has a Long, Strange History of Being Called a Frank Lloyd Wright
When Kelsey and Scott Bouska bought a postwar home in the West Hills area of Portland, Oregon, in 2016, they had no idea anyone had ever suggested that its architect was Frank Lloyd Wright. "We didn’t hear a word about that until after the transaction was done," Scott says.
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The Bouskas, who both work at Nike’s world headquarters in nearby Beaverton, instead were attracted to the natural setting. "It’s so serene," Kelsey says. "You feel like you’re in the wilderness." The house, shaped like a boomerang, is designed to maximize that feeling, with floor-to-ceiling glass in the living room and a master bedroom framed by windows on three sides. "It's like you’re living in a snow globe," she adds. Mahogany cabinetry and marble countertops, part of a recent remodel by the previous owner, also give the home an understated elegance.
The Frank Lloyd Wright claim, investigated by local historian Tanya Lyn March, seems to be an urban legend. Actor Margaretta Ramsey and her naval officer husband, Walter, had the house built in 1947 after he was transferred from New York City, where she had recently starred in a Broadway production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Later, she would go on to act in film and television.
According to a 1947 article in The Oregonian, says March, the Ramseys told friends that Frank Lloyd Wright had written the design on a napkin and that they had then hired a young local architect, Derald K. Harbert, to complete the blueprint. By 1954, when the house was put up for sale, newspaper ads named Wright as the architect, although one classified coyly added a question mark after his name.
The Ramseys told friends that Frank Lloyd Wright had written the design on a napkin and that they had then hired a young local architect to complete the blueprint.
But there is no written record of Wright designing this house. "We probably get an inquiry about a house every other week," says John H. Waters, preservation programs manager for Chicago’s Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. "The things people suggest are Wright houses vary from plausible to completely implausible."
The West Hills home features some details that are uncharacteristic for Wright, like vertical siding, but Waters notes that, given the way the design addresses the garden with walls of glass, it looks more like the great architect’s work than many such claimants. "I can see how someone would link Wright’s name with it," he says, adding, "It is not absolutely impossible that there’s undocumented work out there. It’s pretty unlikely, though, at this point, given Wright’s fame."
Waters is intrigued by a theory March suggested: that Wright’s son, architect Lloyd Wright, might have produced the basic boomerang design for which Harbert then created blueprints. "Maybe Margaretta Ramsey was hanging out with this Wright," March offers.
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The Bouskas, who moved into the house shortly before their wedding, aren’t concerned with proving the Wright provenance. Instead, they’ve focused on landscaping the half-acre property, which had become overgrown with thorns and invasive plants, filling the interior with artworks and midcentury furniture, and converting a bedroom into a nursery for their first child, due this month.
"It’s part of the charm of the house," Kelsey says of the Wright legend. "It makes it interesting when there’s a story behind it." But the design itself is what drew them in. "We walked in," Scott recalls about first seeing the house, "and said to ourselves, ‘We have to have this.’"
Tracing the known history of an enigmatic midcentury home.
1947 The Ramseys’ house is completed; Wright designs the First Unitarian Society of Madison meeting house in Shorewood Hills‚ Wisconsin.
1949 Wright wins the Gold Medal from The American Institute of Architects.
1954 The Ramseys sell the house‚ with realtor A.C. Spencer using Wright’s name in a classified ad in The Oregonian.
1964 Five years after his death‚ Wright’s only known Oregon building‚ the Gordon House in Silverton‚ is finished; Margaretta Ramsey moves to Beverly Hills after her husband’s death‚ resuming her career in acting.
1967 Ramsey appears in the movie Riot on Sunset Strip‚ one of four films she acted in.
1972 The house is called a "Wright" design by realtor Peter Campbell in an Oregonian classified ad for an open house.
1975 Ramsey appears in the series finale of Mannix on CBS.
2016 The Bouskas buy the house just after the previous owner completes a restoration.
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