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ART GLASS

Workers install an art glass window at the Historic Park Inn Hotel on June 27, 2011. 

MASON CITY — Few would guess such a beautiful creation could weigh so much, could be so cumbersome — and bring with it more than a few headaches.

“I just stood there with my mouth open,” stained glass craftsman John Larsen of Clear Lake said with a chuckle.

He held his breath, he said, as he watched workmen install a 14-foot panel of art glass that he had restored on the north side of the Historic Park Inn Hotel. 

It took five employees of Mason City Glass to heft hundreds of pounds of window and place it in an area first created for it more than 100 years ago by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

As it turned out, it fit just fine.

It marked one more triumphant chapter in the hotel’s restoration.

Ann MacGregor, executive director of hotel owner Wright On the Park Inc., was so excited that she ignored her convalescence from foot surgery and made her way to Central Park to a location directly across from the north side of the Park Inn, where the window was being installed. She couldn’t wait, she said, to see its unveiling.

“It is wonderful,” she said afterward.

“It was a big day,” Larsen agreed. 

 

Installation of the panel notched one more completion in the series of 62 stained glass windows that Larsen will restore or re-create as part of the project. Panels have ranged from the small to the oversized and grace both interior and exterior walls. A large skylight in the hotel is another part of the restoration.

Larsen’s efforts with the glass — most of which appears in public areas of the hotel — began in 2006. 

To date, he has completed 34 and has 28 to finish. Another 72 windows were fashioned by Andersen Windows for the hotel guest rooms.

The work has been labor-intensive, filled with research and sometimes guesswork.

Fortunately, 1909 blueprints of the hotel were obtained from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, whose permission was also needed to re-create windows lost to the years. 

“I could restore but I could not reproduce the windows” without the foundation’s OK, Larsen said.

 

Blueprints included drawings of the windows, so Larsen knew how they looked. However, notations could be maddeningly brief.

One blueprint instruction for a panel simply said “gold leaf sandwiched between two pieces of glass.” It took some work to figure out how to obtain the proper thickness of glass to create the effect properly.

“We could have used iridescent glass against an amber glass,” but all involved agreed that adhering to the original concept was “the right way to do it,” Larsen said. 

Adherence to Wright’s vision was essential to the project, said interior designer Scott Borcherding of Bergland and Cram Architects. The gold-leafed panel is a good example, he said.

“People will be able to see something that has not been in place for years; it is really amazing,” Borcherding said.

 

Scandal hounded Wright, who in 1909 left the country with his mistress amid sensational headlines and condemnation — at the same time the Park Inn and adjoining City National Bank were being built.

Questions rose about what Wright intended — but also about whether something was built the way he intended since Wright did not see final results.

“You often found yourself thinking, ‘What would Frank Lloyd Wright have done?’ ” Borcherding said.

Determining proportions was also tricky when windows had to be re-created, Larsen said.

“There is a pattern that runs through all of the windows,” Larsen said, adding that the pattern becomes apparent as the windows come together. But getting the first of a group right is essential or the others would not be correct.

 

Obtaining the correct color of glass was a challenge, both agreed. 

Wright used natural colors of brown, amber, green and something just a shade off of natural, Larsen added.

One glass company — Kokomo Opalescent Glass Co. of Kokomo, Ind. — was in production at the time that Wright designed the Park Inn. Larsen found that KOG glass was often used by Wright. 

When Larsen was seeking sheet glass for the project, KOG rummaged through storerooms to bring out a 100-year-old machine to create the glass he needed.

Getting creations to fit back into the empty holes was not always easy. Instead of using lead, Wright used zinc on his glass creations; the widths  of zinc in some windows could vary between a quarter to half an inch, Larsen said. Refitting took more work.

 

Although Larsen has created and renovated stained glass for 35 years, he is the first to say he has learned much about Wright and the Park Inn — the only remaining hotel designed by Wright.

“I don’t know if a lot of people understand what they have here,” Larsen said. “There is nothing else like it anywhere in the world.”

Larsen and Borcherding agreed that the effort not only is a tribute to a wonderful vision but to the local workers and contractors who have “done just a wonderful job,” Larsen said.

It is a humbling experience, too, Larsen said.

“I get (the windows) as perfect as I think they can be,” he said. “That’s all you can do.”

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