Lost Mississippi: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fuller House

Forty-three years ago today, Mississippi lost one of its handful of Frank Lloyd Wright designs, a house in Pass Christian known as the Fuller House. Located at 317 Sandy Hook Drive, the house, designed in 1951, was considered part of Wright’s Usonian phase. With Usonian houses, Wright tried to create smaller, more affordable homes that could be more easily sustained by the middle class (or in practice upper middle class). Using design features such as natural ventilation, passive heating, cheaper materials such as concrete, and a flow between interior and exterior, he hoped to overcome what he saw as boxy traditional houses that he felt had little beauty or functionality for modern families. Wright designed about 60 such houses beginning with the Jacobs House in Madison, Wisconsin in 1936. Another of his Usonian houses is in Jackson (although in the upscale neighborhood of Woodland Hills), known as Fountainhead and finished in 1954.

While Fountainhead is listed on the National Register, the Fuller House had a much shorter life, surviving only 18 years. Actually I had never seen a picture of it until Tulane’s Southeastern Architectural Archive blog “Architecture Research” posted one last November from their collections. They have generously allowed a reprint here so that MissPresers can see what was lost to Camille’s storm surge.

Welbie L. Fuller Residence, Pass Christian, MS. Photo from slide by Philip Roach, Jr., c.1951. Courtesy of Philip Roach, Jr. Office Records, Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division, Tulane University Libraries.

According to Keli Rylance, the director of the SAA, architect Philip Roach, who took this picture was good friends with the supervising apprentice on the Fuller House project, Leonard Spangenberg, Jr., and so was able to take this and other construction photos.

While in Washington DC recently I toured the Pope-Leighy House in Arlington, VA, another Wright Usonian house, designed in 1939. There I came across a book in the gift shop that I snapped up when I realized it had a whole entry for the Fuller House, Lost Wright: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Vanished Masterpieces by Carla Lind. Ms. Lind describes Wright’s attempt to build a hurricane-proof house:

Knowing that tidal waves could post problems, Wright took special precautions with the house. The building system used poured concrete and steel columns to anchor the solidly built structure. . . . The living areas were raised to the second and third levels, nestling the house within the longleaf yellow pines like a tree house. . . . Despite the preventive strategies, however, it succumbed to the giant tidal wave brought by Hurricance Camille four years later. The house was completely swept away, including even Wright’s original presentation drawing, which was hanging on the wall.

According to Lind, the Fullers lived in Michigan and this was their beach house, facing the Bay of St. Louis in the Henderson Point section of Pass Christian. The 2-bedroom, 2-bath house features a guest house on the same upper level and connected by a deck.

Lind’s book also has a photo from more of a frontal angle than the above. That image is also reproduced on a fascinating architectural model site, The Sims Resource, that shows not only the front or exterior of the house but also a three-dimensional model of the interior (slightly modified–see below). Created by modeler ErikMesa1179, this site gives a much better idea of how Wright designed the spaces to flow into one another. It also shows the attached guest house, which isn’t so clear in either the front or side view above. Check out image #2 in the slideshow for the photograph in Lind’s book.

ErikMesa1179 has this to say about how he created the Fuller House model, using only the limited archival materials available:

This was a very fun house to make although the source material was very limited. With the exception of the upper two floorplans and two exterior pictures from my Frank Lloyd Wright Companion book (it features all of his constructed buildings) I didn’t have alot to work on. I found a color picture on a website so I was able to try and match the colors. Otherwise it’s mostly a best guess. This looks like a great house for the beach and must’ve really been something. The seperate guest house isn’t a common Wright feature nor is elevating the entire house like this. With my version I’ve slightly enlarged all the rooms to make them sim-livable and I’ve added a small laundry room on the main floor.

(I don’t completely understand the Sim world, but apparently you can buy this “home” for your Sim family for a mere $87, 277 unfurnished or $135, 471 furnished. I would also recommend flood insurance.)

Camille’s storm surge (not technically a tidal wave), rising to 24 feet, completely overwhelmed the western end of Pass Christian. In this area, almost at sea level, no houses stood a chance. Katrina had the same effect on this neighborhood, so there are no houses there today that date before Katrina. When you look at the Google map of the address, 317 Sandy Hook Drive, it looks like the lot remains open, but whether it had a house again after Camille is unknown.

Another hurricane destroyed what might have been one of the only other Wright-designed houses in the state, when the Louis Sullivan House in Ocean Springs was washed away in Katrina’s storm surge on August 29, 2005. Today, the Sullivan House’s next-door neighbor the Charnley House— possibly a collaboration of Wright and Louis Sullivan, but also possibly a pure Sullivan–is still under renovation from the tremendous damage it sustained in that same cataclysm. Lind’s book, Lost Wright, has entries for both the Sullivan and Charnley cottages.

Categories: Demolition/Abandonment, Historic Preservation, Lost Mississippi, Pass Christian

8 replies

  1. Another FLW house on raised “columns”, threatened with demolition as early as tomorrow, is featured at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/03/arts/design/frank-lloyd-wright-house-in-phoenix-faces-bulldozers.html?hpw&_r=0 When I looked at that article I was reminded of this posting . The Arizona house’s endangerment is all the more poignant because FLW’s son owned it and lived in it until his death at age 102; FLW’s grandchildren (great grandchildren?) sold it with the understanding it would be preserved.


  2. Wow, amazing house, shocking story! Knocking on wood that it will squeak out of this intact.


  3. Poor planning and poor outcome.


    • Based on the records of the highest recorded tide, the house was sited to avoid it. Little did the know Camille would break the record.


  4. Never realized who owned this house when we visited Mardi Gras 1973! We were invited to stay there traveling from Memphis,TN with a bunch of girls working for the IRS in Memphis…Needless to say it was a joyful visit for us 2 guys and several Chic’s….


    • With Hurricane Laura looming tonight I decided to read up on the Fuller House again. I was surprised to see my Sims creation mentioned in this article. A beautiful house gone far too soon.



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