MASON CITY | When Peggy and Roger Bang of Mason City were newlyweds, they would often walk past an unusual house called "The Castle."

Peggy Bang wanted to know more about the house, never dreaming they would one day buy it and restore it.

January 2014 marked the 20th year the couple bought the home at 56 River Heights Drive designed by acclaimed architect Walter Burley Griffin in 1912 for Joshua and Minnie Melson.

Peggy Bang is the author of a new book titled "The Melson House Revealed: An Owner's Perspective."

She said the Melson house has been mentioned in many other architectural books, but "this is the first time it has had its own book."

She said it is a different kind of architectural history because it combines academic information with personal stories about living in and restoring the home.

The whole experience has been "kind of a love story," she said.

The book contains lots of photographs of the exterior and interior of the home, located in Mason City's historic Rock Crest/Rock Glen neighborhood.

The house is considered an example of organic architecture.

Stones to build the three-story home were quarried on site. It's difficult to tell where the natural limestone cliff on the property ends and the house begins, Bang noted. 

The house was nicknamed "The Castle" because of the wedge-shaped voussoir keystones marking its roof line.

Bang, a retired art educator who enjoys photography, took the cover photo for the book. It's a view of the side of the home that faces Willow Creek. Because of all the trees, this side of the house is difficult for passers-by to see unless they are right by the creek, she said.

Both Peggy and Roger Bang, who is in the insurance business and served for 16 years as a city councilman and four years as mayor of Mason City, got involved in local historic preservation efforts before buying the Melson House.

In 1990 Peggy Bang became co-chairwoman of the Restoration Committee of the Stockman House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as the first Prairie School home in Mason City.

Griffin was one of the architects in Wright's Chicago office as was his wife, Marion Mahoney Griffin. The couple both worked on the Rock Crest/Rock Glen development and the Melson house. Mahoney's rendering of the Melson house is reproduced in "The Melson House Revealed."

Peggy became fascinated with Mahoney, the first woman to hold an architect's license in Illinois. She remembered that the Melson house was for sale and she and Roger decided to buy it.

Her book details the challenges of restoring the home. She also describes what it is like to live there, noting that when she woke up after her first night in the house, she looked out the windows and all she could see were treetops.

"I felt like I was living in a tree house!" she wrote.

She said one of the things she has enjoyed most about living in the Melson house is sharing it with others, including architectural students, scholars and photographers.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas toured the house in 1996 while he was in Mason City to speak at a bar association meeting.

The Bangs have also hosted Pedro Guerrero, who spent 20 years photographing Wright and his architecture.

"The Melson House Revealed" is available for purchase at the Charles H. MacNider Art Museum gift shop. It will soon be available at the Historic Park Inn Hotel gift shop and at the Robert E. McCoy Architectural Interpretive Center.

Two copies of the book have been donated to the Mason City Public Library, one for the archives and one for the library's general collection. 

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