Finally, the huge secret about her house is out. And Linda McQuillen is relieved.
McQuillen owns the house at 2107 West Lawn Ave. that last fall was revealed to have been designed by the world famous, Madison-raised architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The announcement, made by the organization Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin, was the result of decades of research by Wright scholar and author Mary Jane Hamilton and drew attention from media around the world.
McQuillen, a mathematician who bought the home with her family in 1989, learned about the architectural investigation in 2009 but had been sworn to secrecy.
“For six years, this has been kind of hanging over my head,” she said. “It was like trying to keep a big, huge secret for that long.”
The verification took so long because of the home’s mystery. McQuillen’s house turned out to be an example of Wright’s little-known American System-Built Houses. Meant to provide affordable housing with predesigned, factory-cut homes that were assembled on site, Wright’s ASBH project was cut short when America entered World War I and U.S. home construction stalled. Only 16 examples of American System-Built Houses are known to exist.
In the 1920s, the owners of McQuillen’s Near West Side home built a rear addition and enclosed the front porch – making the Wright-designed house look decidedly un-Wrightian, Hamilton said.
It would take years of architectural detective work to prove it was a Wright original. With the announcement Oct. 6, articles about the discovery published by the Wisconsin State Journal and Associated Press ricocheted around the world.
“The story broke that morning, and by that evening I’m going online and seeing it’s on the front page of the website of the Times of India,” said Sherri Shokler, spokeswoman for Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin. “I’m thinking — wow — somebody can be sitting in New Delhi and reading about this house.”
McQuillen fielded interviews from press in Canada and Great Britain, including one for a BBC morning radio show broadcast live from London that she did by phone at 1 a.m. Madison time.
‘It seems like there’s interest all over the world,” she said. “It’s amazing to me. Amazing.” Even McQuillen’s brother, who lives in Sun City outside Phoenix, Arizona, sent an e-mail saying “I picked up the (local Sun City) newspaper, and there you were’” in an AP story about the West Lawn house.
“He was just amazed by it,” said McQuillen, who said she had been asked to keep the Wright investigation secret even from her family members.
“I think the piece that has been the most wonderful is that I have gotten cards and phone calls from people I have not heard from or connected with for decades.”
Researcher Hamilton, who continues to gather information on the home, heard from a few individuals who had lived in or visited it, she said. Hamilton is asking the public for any photos of West Lawn that might show the house, especially in its early days, for a history she hopes to publish for its centennial in 2017.
McQuillen’s neighbors “have been really, really generous with their comments” and appreciative of the years of work she has put into restoring her home, the homeowner said.
Now, “If anything, I feel more protective of it,” she said. “I feel like I really need to nurture it and care for it, and just really treasure it. I pay more attention to every little crack and crevice and want to make sure everything is in good shape. It’s more of a ‘caretaker’ attitude than I had before.”
“Almost every day, there’s at least one person who drives by, parks, gets out, and walks up and down the street in front of my house,” she said. “Oftentimes they’ll take a picture. But people have been very respectful. No one has come knocking on my door, or anything like that.”
McQuillen, along with Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin, is planning an open house with tours of the home sometime in 2016.
She is also hosting an open house for the American Cancer Society, where her niece works.
“This is the kind of thing I’d really like to do with my house — instead of just having general tours, do it for a purpose so there is some benefit,” she said. “I think having a nonprofit benefit from the house is a good use for the house — to use it as an opportunity to raise additional money for an organization I believe in.”