“What happened to my closet?” asked Harry Hunsicker of Dallas, TX (Oberlin College, class of 1952) one Saturday in June 2014, as he and his half-sister Gretchen Weltzheimer Holden (OC 1963) of Portland, OR, walked through their former family home, the Weltzheimer/Johnson House. Harry and Gretchen were two of the four Weltzheimer children who moved into the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Usonian on April 1, 1949. Their observations and memories were of keen interest to volunteer docents Fred Unwin and Janice Patterson, Curator of Education Jason Trimmer, Oberlin College architect Pradnya Martz, and education assistants Sara Morgan and Victoria Velasco who trailed them through the rooms.
The house will be open this Sunday from 12pm until 5pm (and the first and third Sundays of the month from April through November), and we welcome visitors from all around the world. Student and community volunteer interpreters will be on hand to discuss the architecture and story of the house.
Interpreters of the W/J House are greatly advantaged to have the meticulously-researched guide that was published in 1995 as a bulletin of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, but found that the commentary by original occupants added significantly to the total story. Their visit and patient responses to the questions from the assembled group were recorded and documented as part of the museum’s efforts to preserve the social history of the house. Some interesting notes from that conversation:
· - “Yes, we did Minwax those spheres [along the roof edge],” said Gretchen. “When we didn’t seem to have enough to do, Mother would send us out to do more waxing.”
· - “I sat right there and studied,” Harry said, pointing to the built-in desk in the room he had occupied and explaining that he completed his degree at Oberlin while living at home and for a time at North Hall.
· - “I had bunk beds here,” Gretchen remembered. “I don’t know why I wanted them as they are miserable to sleep in.” Gretchen also recalled that half-sister Mary Ann wanted “a room that was cold” and she got her wish living in the last bedroom on the corridor.
· - “We never quite got the driveway finished,” Harry recalled, as he marveled at the still- expansive front lawn and the size of the perimeter trees, but lamented the loss of the woods behind the house.
· - Gretchen related that Harry and Mary Ann played a lot of croquet on the front lawn, but that she and her younger sister Kristin were too-often excluded as being “too little.”
· - “My father played the violin and mother played the piano,” Gretchen said, recalling her glorious sixth-grade graduation party staged by sister Mary Ann. She said the children all had music lessons and today she still attends concerts regularly.
· - “Mother was always reading,” Harry said, when asked if he knew how his mother discovered Wright’s architecture. “Those bookshelves in the hall were completely filled,” added Gretchen.
Harry had last visited the home when Ellen Johnson was living there and remembered her Claes Oldenburg art adorning the space. He was accompanied on his 2014 trip to Oberlin by his son Harry, also of Dallas. Friends of Gretchen from Akron and childhood friend Prue Richards of Oberlin toured the house with her. A third child, Mary Ann, was not able to make it to Oberlin. Unfortunately, the youngest Weltzheimer, Kristin, died in 2012. Margaret Boesche Weltzheimer died in Texas in 1966 and Charles Weltzheimer died in California in 2001.
More information on the Weltzheimer/Johnson House, including tour information and directions, can be found online here.