Frank Lloyd Wright house rediscovered in Shorewood

A Frank Lloyd Wright house has been rediscovered after being hidden in plain sight for years in Shorewood.

"It went from 'Your house can't possibly be a Frank Lloyd Wright house" to 'Your house is most definitely a Frank Lloyd Wright house,' Pat Wisialowski, who has owned the Shorewood home since 1993, said. "It was very exciting."

It was constructed in 1917 as an American System-Built House, part of Wright's effort to develop and market well-designed houses for any income level — his first effort to reach a broader audience.

There are currently 13 others standing in the Midwest, including six in Milwaukee and one in Oshkosh. The venture never really got off the ground with developer, the Richards Co., due to World War I-related economic and financial issues.

The two-bedroom house in Shorewood is a "Model A203," with the original art glass windows in place. A basement-level garage was added in 1976 and an open porch at the rear of the house was enclosed for added living space at an unknown date. 

Earlier owners knew it was a Wright home because it was advertised as such when it was sold previously. But by the time Wisialowski bought it, she was told it was designed by someone who used to work under Wright.

There it remained until a man drove by the house about five years ago and insisted to Wisialowski's husband Roger that it was a Wright house. That led to an investigation by another Wright scholar but he later died and the mystery continued.

It wasn't until a couple years ago that her husband mentioned the story while playing the game Sheepshead with Pat Lilek, who happens to be the mother of Mike Lilek, curator of the Wright-designed American System-Built Homes in Milwaukee. 

At first, Mike Lilek said he was skeptical.

"Only 433 Wright designs were executed and they are well-known and carefully researched, so I thought it couldn't be," he said. Then he visited the house and saw the Wright similarities. 

But he needed more. So he embarked on a research project.

Among other things, he discovered a lawsuit filed by Wright against the Richards Co., demanding royalties he wasn't paid.

The lawsuit said Wright was dissatisfied with the way the houses were being built and claimed he wasn't receiving the full accounting of homes being built, according to Lilek.

Lilek also found the original drawing for the house. He said no one ever connected the dots because the drawing was filed in the archive in an unusual folder — with no name or address. 

Lilek said Wright probably didn't even know about the house.

"I would say there is a probability there will be more,'' he said. 

For Wisialowski, at one point she said she and her husband would have been content just suspecting it was a Wright house. But she is glad they now definitely know.

"Part of it was like a vindication or validating because I've been here for 22 years. I always felt it was very special,'' she said.

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