Krista Van Laan compares knowing the architect of your home to knowing the artist of a cherished painting. Living in a prairie home designed by the late San Jose architect Frank Delos Wolfe, Van Laan spent five years researching him before writing her book, Frank Delos Wolfe: California Prairie Architecture. At the Central Park Library on April 21,Van Laan spoke about Wolfe and his work.
Born in 1862 in Ohio, Wolfe moved to San Jose in 1888 where he later became an architect. He worked on about 1,000 projects, of which about 50 featured prairie designs. William Higgins, a Santa Clara-based architect, was Wolfe’s last architectural partner.
“My talk is about a 10 year period [from 1912 to 1922] in Wolfe’s life where he designed prairie style houses influenced by the great mid-western architect Frank Lloyd Wright,” says Van Laan, who wants to educate others about prairie style architecture so prevalent in San Jose and its surrounding cities.
During the program, Van Laan led attendees through an extensive slideshow featuring Wolfe’s prairie homes from cities such as Santa Clara, San Jose and Cupertino.
“These houses have flat roofs, stained glass windows, decorative tiles, horizontal lines and horizontal orientation,” Van Laan says. “Prairie style houses, because they’re so modern, can take furnishings from any decade and still look good. It’s the type of architecture people like if they like new houses and old houses. It combines simplicity but it also has ornate decorations. One of the nicest things about the prairie style is that it’s the earliest form of today’s open concept. The rooms are wide open and spacious and they flow into each other with many doorways. There are huge windows and many doors going to the outside. The open concept was a distinct rejection of the Victorian era when there were many enclosed rooms where the traffic didn’t flow.”
Because The Santa Clara County Historical and Genealogical Society hosted the program, Van Laan also talked about her research techniques and the original homeowners, whom she referred to as the early movers and shakers of Santa Clara County.
The first person to research Wolfe after his death and publicize his work was the late George Espinola, who lived in Santa Clara.
“George Espinola was an architect who had originally studied the works of Frank Lloyd Wright and he was the one greatly responsible for bringing the work of Frank Wolfe to local attention,” Van Laan says. “I’m continuing the work of George Espinola.”
Van Laan attended Pratt Institute in New York. While currently working in the high tech industry, she is also a part-time architectural historian.