October 22, 2017
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Not Quite Wright

Student of Frank Lloyd Wright designed important Usonian home in Evansville
The Peters-Margedant house in Evansville has been nominated for the National Register of Historic Places.

In a neighborhood filled with “one bungalow after another,” the house at 1506 E. Indiana St. stands out. The Peters-Margedant House, designed by William Wesley Peters in the neighborhood behind The Pub, is “so different — a postage stamp, a little gem of a house, and not where you’d expect to find it,” according to Dennis Au, historic preservation officer for the City of Evansville. Yet it has an interesting history.

At 552 square feet, this house was designed by the lead protégé of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. More recently, however, the 1934 structure made the list of the Preservation Alliance of Evansville’s 2013 10 Most Endangered Properties. That’s a long way from where it started, when it may have been the first-ever home to incorporate Wright’s Usonian architectural style. Usonian homes were meant to be affordable, stripped-down structures with no attics, no basements, and little ornamentation, according to the website for The Organic Architect.

Peters was a Bosse High School, Evansville College, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate who studied under Wright before returning to Evansville, reportedly because of a dispute regarding Wright’s stepdaughter, whom Peters later married. Au says Peters designed the house for his father, Frederick Romer Peters, the first editor of the Evansville Press, and intended for the residence to be used by Peters’ cousin, James Margedant. Margedant lived in the house with his wife, Dee, for 11 years.

Au says much of the home’s architectural history makes it “nationally significant,” a statement supported by leading architectural historian Richard Guy Wilson. Wilson says the Peters-Margedant home was built about 1 ½ years before Wright’s first Usonian home, and that it offers an opportunity to focus on the ways in which Wright came up with his architectural ideas.

“Traditionally, scholars focus on Wright’s genius (he had a large ego) and the role of others in his office is diminished/ignored,” Wilson writes after seeing the home in person. He once met Peters, as well. “What is illuminated with Wes Peters’ design is how Wright’s ideas might at least partially be credited to others and how they developed.”

As Wright’s leading assistant from 1935 to Wright’s death in 1959, Peters may have stayed in the background. Yet, his story is impressive, too. Not only did he marry Wright’s stepdaughter, Svetlana, with whom he had two children; he later married Russian dictator Joseph Stalin’s daughter, also named Svetlana. Peters also is credited with designing the iconic Kaden Tower in Louisville, Ky.’s St. Matthews area; you might have dined at The Ruth’s Chris Steak House on its top floor. All of this is a unique footnote to the tiny home north of the Lloyd Expressway.

“The Peters-Margedant house is in a neighborhood with some challenges,” says Au. He adds, however, that he hopes an individual or group with an interest in its historical context will purchase the home, which is for sale by owner.

The home has been nominated for the National Register of Historic Places.

For more information on the Peters-Margedant house, contact Dennis Au, the historic preservation officer for the City of Evansville, at 812-436-7823 or dau@evansvillegov.org.

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