By Daniel Zazove & Ramón Campos. December, 2022.
In 1937, Frank Lloyd Wright designed a four-car garage for “Stonehenge”, Parker’s country home, located on a bluff overlooking the Rock River. This design incorporated the grandeur of a Wright landscape, maintaining the claim of life communicated directly through nature and being shared with her.
Much of Wright’s works sought to achieve a harmony between man and nature. In Parker’s assignment, this coherence is observed not only in the lines and the delicate integration of the projected building in the orography of Stonehenge itself, as by the use of materials such as natural stones, woods and vegetal cover, but also in the construction details specifying a particular type of rivets, traditionally used in farm works, that fix the boards of the access doors or the natural stone blocks that would be quarried on site.
In 1936 Wright had contracted pneumonia and all projects were put on hold. In mid-May 1937 Wright, by that time restored to health, sent Parker a sketch of the project. In the first few days of July the final plans were drawn in collaboration with George Parker who was then seriously ill and who would die a few days later.
Unfortunately, after the death of George Parker the project was abandoned. However, the design was not in vain. The following year the Parker garage was incorporated as a component of the guest house of the famous Fallingwater home whose owners, the Kaufmanns, the Parkers had met on weekend stays in Taliesin when both couples were invited by the Wrights.
But let’s go back to the beginning:
George Parker, from his own experience in the design and marketing of fountain pens, and by acquaintance with his daughter-in-law, Mildred Gapen, -Kenneth’s wife-, who herself held a Bachelor of Arts degree and was a famous fashion author, and color theorist, who had a well-defined taste for color. For George, the predominantly drab red color of Wisconsin farmer’s barns located on the outskirts of Janesville appeared unpleasant to the eye. Thus, in the summer of 1929, determined to change this trend, George had the original idea financing part of the expenses of those barn owners who decided to paint theirs in a color other than red. Curious news echoed by the Times:
“George S. Parker, of Janesville, Wis., maker of fountain pen in six colors, offered all farmer in townships surrounding his home, 12½% of the cost of painting their barns, provided they would not use red. Said he: “The average farmer’s barn is an eyesore. The red paint is monotonous.”
A few months later, in an interview published in the press Wright, who previously had designated a large part of Taliesin in red tones, was in favor of red barns as opposed to the opinion publicly expressed by Parker. George, extroverted as he was, took advantage of the occasion to invite Wright to Stonehenge to know each other, and give chance to compare their opinions.
From this first meeting George would summarize:
“In Tokyo, is one of the world’s great hotels. The writer and his family had the pleasure of staying at this hotel for some time on one of their trips to Japan. We felt quite proud to know that the “Imperial” was built by a Wisconsin man -Mr. Frank Lloyd Wright.
Of course, Mr. Wright has had considerable undesirable newspaper publicity on account of his domestic infelicities.
I never met him until a few days ago when Mr. Wright accompanied by his last wife, who, by the way, is one of the most charming little women one could meet in many a long day, paid the writer a couple of hours visit in the writer’s office and at “Stonehenge”.
Mr. Wright has a personality possessed by but few -charming, intelligent, widely read and traveled, with a mind that operates like electricity.
Mrs. Parker and the writer are booked for a date to visit Mr. and Mrs. Wright at “Taliesin”, their home in Spring Green. »
In this curious way, a friendship was born that would last the rest of George’s life and would be cultivated and maintained by his son Kenneth.
These visits would continue over the years with informal dinners and peaceful evenings spent listening to piano music and conversation in small groups in which the Wright’s fellowships participated and their projects were occasionally discussed.
In 1935, for the first time in this type of activity, the Wright Fellowship was out on a field trip to Stonehenge invited by the Parkers.
On Parker’s death, Wright expressed his condolences with the publication of this heart-felt obituary:
«George Parker of Janesville was laid away in the Oak Hill cemetery yesterday. Such a man as he is sure of an impressive funeral in our country — but his was very simple except for the number of people gathered about him and the great masses of gorgeous flowers that piled up where he was. George Parker was an Episcopalian. But as the cars of the funeral procession passed by (Janesville’s) Mercy Hospital where they had cared for him while he was ill — lined up by the roadside there stood the black robed Mother Superior and her black robed assistants, flanked by long rows of white robed nurses, each side — the row of bowed heads seemed a block long as the mortal remains of the man they were honoring because they loved him —passed by. Because I loved him too, their affectionate gesture touched me as no funeral could. It was impossible to put a tag on him you see ….
By instinct he was a patron with strong likes and dislikes and salty tastes. He was a success in the best sense of that equivocal term in our country. What is America going to do without him and his kind? They are fast falling away from us — these grand fellows — developed in personality and correlation by their own resourcefulness — leaving their beloved sons and daughters, who have had no such luck, to carry on.
A generation will carry on but the basis for carrying on, and the scene, is changing with astonishing rapidity.
Will America bury that subsequent generation with similar feelings of admiration, respect and love? I believe America will.»
"Memories of Stonehenge", by Philip Hull (*)
A new collaboration Zazove-Campos.
George S. Parker and his wife, Martha, maintained a country home in a nicely wooded, rolling area of several acres on the north edge of Janesville. It was called Stonehenge after the famous English historical site which intrigued Mr. Parker.
The Parkers, who also had a large home in the city, used Stonehenge as a place to spend weekends and summer months, to get away from the office and to entertain guests.
It was a beautiful place replete with rare flowers, trees, sculptures, and artifacts George S. had collected during travels to distant places.
Soil preparation, planting rare plants and bulbs, fertilizing and maintenance was done by Company employees. Stonehenge became a much-used word in the lexicon of the factory shop floor.
While my personal involvement was not extensive others, especially the most recently hired male employees, were often selected for Stonehenge duty.
This is the way it worked:
George S. or his secretary, a lady named Main, would call one of the departmental foremen informing them that there was work to be done at Stonehenge requiring X number of men 20 who were to meet Mr. Parker there at a designated time. Who was selected was left to the foreman to decide to enable him to avoid using people needed in pen manufacturing operations.
Those selected, usually 3 to 6 people, would gather at the Division Street garage door and climb into an old, unreliable, company owned Dodge Brothers truck, driven by William Rodau, to be transported to Stonehenge.
Occasionally Mr. Parker would ask one or two of the men to ride with him in his “Crazy Wagon» as he called his car. This was usually a memorable ride because Mr. Parker would drive the mile and a half or so to Stonehenge in second gear. The car would overheat and act up. He drove a dark colored LaSalle (Cadillac) coupe with a three-speed floor mounted stick shift which he never managed to handle without much clashing and growling when shifting gears.
I made the ride only once. The third passenger was George Hudson from the Repair Department, owner of a small greenhouse retail operation in Milton Junction. George S. had learned that Mr. Hudson was experienced in flower growing and occasionally broke his own practice of allowing foremen to select the Stonehenge “volunteers» by asking specifically for Mr. Hudson.
Mr. Parker carried a whistle like those used by basketball referees. Standing at the entrance to the Stonehenge house he would tweet it signaling everyone to gather around him to receive the days instructions.
He frequently brought a box of cookies or apples which were placed on a table for use by the work group. On unusually heavy work, or hot or rainy days he would leave instructions for Bill Rodau, the truck driver, to take the entire group to the old Central restaurant operated by his friend, Jim Zanias, for something to eat.
A fun-loving man named Perry was usually placed in charge when Mr. Parker left for his office. He did some hard to believe things but managed to avoid serious reprimand. Things not witnessed by me were told and retold by the work force.
The first involved a rickety old truck which only Perry was allowed to drive. It had no license plates and was for use only on the Stonehenge premises.
Stonehenge property is bounded on the west side by Rock River, it is directly across from Riverside Park. There is a steep cliff of perhaps 60 feet in depth near the river edge. One day in jest, with several others watching. Perry tried to see how close to the edge of the precipice he could maneuver the truck. He got too close and the truck, which he had abandoned, wound up in a heap at the bottom of the cliff. It rested there for some time before being rescued by a barge on Rock River.
Another comical story also involved Mr. Perry. George S. had seen an advertisement for a one wheeled “drives like a horse” tractor and wanted to have one. Tractors of any type were a novelty in those days. There was no local dealer, so the machine was ordered from one in northern Illinois. After a long delay the thing arrived. It was still around in my time but inoperable. What a contraption!
It consisted of a single wheel about six feet in diameter and something like two and a half feet wide. Two small wheels were mounted on brackets on the front and rear to keep the engine in the center of the wheel upright and to assist in steering. A heavy canvas belt carrying steel cleated sections was wrapped around the entire outside of the wheel. The cleated, sectioned belt, much like military tank tracks today, driven by the single cylinder gasoline engine, became the driving and traction means.
For a climactic touch the gadget was steered using reins or lines identical to those used to this day in horse hitches. The operator, walking behind the machine, held two leather lines attached to the small front mounted, non-driven wheels. He pulled on the right line to go right and the left to go left. This gave the machine its “drives like a horse» name.
Here Mr. Perry enters the picture again. He was selected by Mr. Parker as the only person authorized to drive the tractor.
As the story goes Perry considered the tractor as nothing more than something to have fun with. It tipped over easily, had very little power and a minimum of attachments of value to those trying to maintain Stonehenge grounds and it was balky and difficult to keep running.
Stories were told over and over, when I first joined the Company, about the tractor ending up clanging and puffing away while lying on its side in a flower bed or leaning on valuable shrubbery with Perry struggling to get it under control.
It used what is called a hit or miss ignition system. In other words, the single cylinder would fire at the proper moment on occasion but not on others. This caused a bang-bang-whiff whiff groaning and clanging noise that attracted the attention of anyone in the vicinity. It was a smelly, raucous piece of early tractor technology.
Mr. Parker was involved in many civic and philanthropic activities which will be described at another time. But one fits better here. It deals with Camp Cheerio, a building he built on Rock River below the main Stonehenge house for use by the Girl Scouts. It was a beautiful location and building to accommodate gatherings of young people. My wife, an officer of the Girl Scouts, and I became quite familiar with Camp Cheerio. The building was in a rather remote place accessible easily from the river which led to several acts of vandalism. It was eventually destroyed by either fire or a storm.
When my family was growing up, we lived near Stonehenge which offered the best snow sledding in the area. Only problem was several Keep Out and No Trespassing signs at the main gate entrance. Unbeknown to me my children would ignore the signs and pull their sleds to the top of the driveway where it curves toward the house and then slide down to the main gate. This was a ride of a hundred yards or so ending at old highway 51, now Parker Drive. They still remember those good times with a sparkle in their eyes.
(*) Hull, Philip (2002). Unpublished. «Memories of Forty-Nine Years with the Parker Pen Co.» (p. 19-21). Edberg Public Library. Janesville, Wi.