ABA Banking Journal - August 2010 - (Page 52)
First person | van and jan korell
Rebuilding the Wright stuff
Nebraska banking couple restores one of famous architect’s “Prairie Houses” after years of neglect
In 1905, construction began on the outskirts of McCook, Neb., on a home for Harvey and Eliza Sutton. It was one of a handful of homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. By all accounts, Eliza Sutton loved the home, an example of Wright’s “Prairie House” style. While Harvey Sutton, a jeweler, wrote the checks, she served as de facto general contractor, working with the brilliant yet quirky architect and associates. Fast forward to 1992. The Sutton House, now near McCook’s downtown after decades of sprawl, has seen better days. In the 1930s there was a fire. During World War II, an Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Sutton House” looks lovely today, but took sweat equity urgency for housing in McCook, and plain old equity from Van and Jan Korell before regaining its looks. then home to McCook Army Air Field, saw its conversion to apartTaliesin West, a center of Wright’s ments. In the 1960s a doctor turned the Sutton Home’s open floor plan into philosophy, and, later, a Chicago a warren of consultation rooms. Wear and tear took its toll. expert on Wright restorations. And then came Van and Jan Korell. “Jan had been looking over the fence Initial work began in 1992, and at this house for 20 years,” says Van, chairman, president, and CEO at major reconstruction took place $254.1 million-assets AmFirst Financial Services. from 1999-2001—with the couple Wright’s style featured low-pitched roofs and overhanging eaves, with his living amid the mayhem and debris. signature cantilevers in a horizontal theme. On the inside, windows wrap the “I had a wonderful time,” says walls of the Prairie Home—“It brings the outside into the house,” says Jan— Jan, “even though I was in dust all and, in the original open floor plan, “the rooms flow right into each other.” the while. I loved it, though I can’t The home came onto the market, the Korells bought it, and then the say Van did. He tolerated it.” “fun” began. Jan, daughter of a builder, had her eyes open. And Van saw how Having a Wright home is as much much work—and cash—would be needed to restore Wright’s original vision, a legacy as a dwelling. Much time while updating the plumbing and electricity. The couple, especially Jan, took and money was spent furnishing on the job as a labor of love—but they also wanted to live there. the home with Prairie reproductions “It was in pretty poor condition and the floors were sagging dramatically,” and originals. The couple welcomes says Van. Jacks and hydraulic lifts were brought in to fix the floors. Builders selected visitors, including, at times, ripped out walls that didn’t go with Wright’s plan, or to allow upgrading. students from the local middle Other issues came as surprises. Wright’s architecture, while often visually school. Four of those students have stunning, has a reputation for not standing up to time, and for leaking roofs, gone on to become architects. Van notes. “We didn’t know we had a roof leak, until we had water coming What did it all cost? Groans Van: out of the light fixtures in the basement,” says Jan. “You don’t want to know.” Jan swung her own hammer. Yet the restoration took plenty of costly —Steve Cocheo, executive editor expertise. Besides builders, the couple brought in specialists: an expert from
52 | ABA BANKING JOURNAL | august 2010
photo courtesy of mccook (neb.) daily gazette
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