|Lawrence Perkins was founding partner of the Chicago architectural firm, Perkins and Will. He was the son of Dwight H. Perkins, who along with Robert Spencer and Frank Lloyd Wright helped develop the Prairie School. Lawrence Perkins knew Marion Griffin personally and has many fond memories of her and the entire Mahony family. This was one of the last interviews with Lawrence Perkins, who died in 1997.|
QUESTION: Let's begin by talking about your father.
LARRY PERKINS: Dad was, above all, he was himself but he was a friend and admirer of everything that was good and great about Louis Sullivan. He was also at one stage a good friend of Frank Wright who was in Dad's office in his very early career. His later partners, Fellows and Hamilton, were supremely skillful conventional draftsmen, conventional designers. Mr. Fellows could drip gothic ornament all over his fingers, as fast as you could breathe. But, he and Hamilton had nothing but contempt for what we now call the Chicago school. But Dad was one of the simple direct members and he was certainly the strongest personality of that group. He was a polar individual in what became much, much later known as the Chicago school
QUESTION: What about Frank Lloyd Wright?
LARRY PERKINS: I was with Mr. Frank Lloyd one day, and he, of course, I identified myself with my father and he said, "Your father was a very simple man. Your mother is a very clever woman but your father was a very simple man." His words were exactly accurate but not the way he meant it. Dad was indeed utterly simple. Wright was Wright. In my opinion, a great many people are considered saints with a less record than his. He didn't make a complicated mess of things he just went at it. His real monument in his own eyes was the forest preserve system which started with lunch with a bunch of people, and again this is my dad's vocabulary, the group that used to eat together once every whenever at the city club called themselves the "Committee on the Universe." Well, they took themselves that seriously.
QUESTION: How did your Dad get along with Wright?
LARRY PERKINS: He was talking to my wife one day and he said, "Don't tell Larry, but I loved that man (Wright) when he only had one wife. But Dad was one of the many people that tried to fish Frank Wright out of trouble. And found that that was not a possible achievement for anybody. Frank Wright managed to make a mess of any personal relationship he ever had. Everything I know about Mr. Wright I know from my mother and father. Of course, I have met him several times, had lunch with him. But respect for his art? He quoted my dad. Said his buildings have the same rotten spot in them that his character does.
QUESTION: What do you mean by rotten spots?
LARRY PERKINS: I don't think, at least in those years, he ever did a good building. Notice the word building as distinguished from architecture as a composition. The Robie House cost more to fix than it did to build it, which is characteristic. Another thing that tells you more about Frank Wright than it does about Dad, a block from where we lived here on Lincoln Street in Evanston, stands the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Evanston. Mr. Wright's own comment on that house was, "It isn't very good, but it's good enough for Evanston." Dad twitched his whiskers a little in amusement at that.
LARRY PERKINS: My mother was teaching at the Art Institute which was when it was still on the other side of Michigan Avenue before it was built across the street. Mother came over to have lunch with Dad, Dad was out someplace, and Mother went to lunch with Frank Wright as naturally as my wife would have with Phil Will. Routine. But I have no trouble seeing the scene. Mr. Wright was being himself and was definitely laying it out about he had this message for the world and the world and the world wasn't ready and how he was misunderstood and so forth. My mother was very, very deft and she loved to let the air out of balloons. She stood all of this pomposity as long as she could and finally said, "Frank, this is very difficult for me to accept because I think you're the most easily understood man I ever knew." Frank Wright was afraid of her for forty years after that and rightly.
QUESTION: How would you describe his artistry?
LARRY PERKINS: He could rip off glorious geometric ornaments. His artistry of the prairie is something that should be revered. I think having been brought up seeing the family involved in cleaning up one mess after another that Mr. Wright got himself into, whoever he injured or cheated or whatever, he never did pay a bill for example. But after all that, my present feeling for whatever its worth, the man himself, charitably he was picturesque, uncharitably he was.he had great confidence like a crook. The fact that he was a contemptible wimp of a person in many ways no longer matters. Everybody that was injured by him is now long gone. Even I am just barely ... just a finger contact with the living man. The legend of what people believe Frank Lloyd Wright was is a great and noble thing. And what every thirty-year-old and younger person interested in architecture thinks he was has made a lot of people stand up straighter.