Woven: A Survey of Salisbury House Textiles

A diverse collection of textiles were among the many fine furnishings and decorative arts acquired by Carl and Edith Weeks for Salisbury House. The collection spans an incredible breadth of space and time, from 1920s Navajo weavings to 16th century French tapestries.

Several pieces are currently on view that suggest the scope of our collection. These textiles, pictured below, are on display for the first time in many years.

Two textiles on display come from our unique collection of Navajo sandpainting rugs. Craftsmen typically incorporated into these weavings ceremonial designs  from the traditional Navajo sandpainting ritual. These pieces were produced for the tourist market in the late 19th century and into the first decades of the 20th century. Carl acquired the majority of his Navajo rugs from the Two Gray Hills Trading Post in New Mexico.

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Navajo sandpainting rug, mid-1920s. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

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Navajo sandpainting rug, mid-1920s. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

In addition to several pieces from the Navajo tradition, the Salisbury House collection contains many Persian textiles. This Kerman pictorial rug was created in south central Iran, and includes some very interesting iconography.

 

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Kerman pictorial rug, c. 1880. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

The Khamseh confederation rug pictured below dates to the mid-19th century. This “Khamseh confederation” was a loose grouping of tribes from southern Persia, and became heralded for their skills in rug-making.

 

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Khamseh Confederation rug, c. 1850. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Also from the mid-19th century, but from a different geographical location, is this Bokhara piece from Turkestan. These types of rugs, still produced today, are some of the most popular among collectors.

 

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Bokhara rug, c. 1850. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Tabriz, a city in eastern Azerbaijan, remains well-known for its rug production. This particular Tabriz pictorial rug dates to the first quarter of the 19th century and depicts a pastoral scene.

 

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Tabriz pictorial rug, c. 1825. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Our survey of Salisbury House textiles concludes with a piece from 1650s France. This verdure tapestry portrays several figures, including an individual on a horse, in a wooded setting. The popularity of French verdure tapestries eventually waned with the advent of wallpaper, which provided a lower-cost alternative for wall coverings.

 

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French verdure tapestry, c. 1650. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

These textiles are currently on view at Salisbury House. Visit us at salisburyhouse.org for tour times and information.

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Getting Stoned at Salisbury House

If you think that the title of this post is in reference to biblical punishments or the drug culture of the 1970s, you’d be wrong. I am talking about a little known area of Salisbury House called “Friendship Hall.”

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Friendship Hall

Between 1923 and 1928 when Carl Weeks was building Salisbury House, he was also engaged in one of his favorite hobbies: rock collecting. Whenever Carl was traveling, he would bring home a rock from the area he had visited.

During this time he got an idea. Why not start a Rock Club? Since he had over 45,000 retailers selling his Armand Cosmetics products, he could ask them to join his Rock Club. Thus, Carl suggested that they each send him a rock from their part of the world. This was the start of the “American Rock Club.”

Carl also had a monthly newsletter for his cosmetics business called “The Armand Broadside.” This paper went out to all of his retailers, promoting his business. He decided to utilize this existing network for his rock collection as well. It was a perfect plan.

Was Carl successful? Like most things in his life, he knew that the only way to find out was to try it. Within a year, his collection had grown to over 250 rocks. Some of the rocks sent were accompanied by a letter explaining where it had come from.

Now, Carl had a problem. How should he display such a large collection? Being in possession of a creative mind, he got another idea. Why not incorporate the collection into the walls of the house he was building?

In a little known area of Salisbury House, there was a hallway being planned. It would connect the main house to the garage. This was the ideal place for the rocks. Carl had his workmen inlay the collection into the walls of this hall. He called it “Friendship Hall,” after those who had answered his call for rocks.

Years later, after the family left the house in the 1950s, no one could identify any of the rocks. A plot map was never made. This is where I come in.

My name is David Ross and I hold a degree as a “Certified Gemologist -AGS.” I have always been fascinated by rocks and gemstones. As a tour guide at Salisbury House, I saw the rocks and learned that the stories of the stones had all but disappeared. I thought, I can help with that. Little did I know that the adventure I was about to take would lead me to discover wonderful things.

I received permission from the director of the museum to examine the rocks, identify them, and match them with their corresponding letters. This task, though I didn’t know at the time, would take over four months.

I felt like Sherlock Holmes. I let the rocks tell me their stories. By using the process of elimination, I was able to identify most of the rocks and match some of written correspondence in the Salisbury House archives to the stones. I took pictures of each section of the walls. Then I numbered the rocks, identified them, wrote a report and cross referenced the stones with the letters.

I found a piece of the Rock of Gibraltar, marble from the Temple of Jupiter in Athens, two stones from the Temple of the Sun in Mexico, a piece of copper ore, basalt or lava from Idaho, pipestone from Minnesota, an Iowa geode, water stones, and to my surprise, marble from the Parthenon in Greece.

The privilege of getting to examine the collection, for me, was the thrill of a lifetime. I hope when you visit Salisbury House you will experience the thrill of discovery too. I hope you get to see this wonderful collection for yourself. Get stoned at Salisbury House.

Rock from Gibraltar

Rock from Gibraltar

 

Temple of Jupiter

Temple of Jupiter

 

Temple of the Sun

Temple of the Sun

 

Pipestone

Pipestone from Minnesota

 

Geode from Iowa

Geode from Iowa

 

Water Stones

Water Stones

Preservation Notes from Under the Oaks

Textile preservation is underway at Salisbury House. The pair of Louis XVI style armchairs currently residing in Edith’s Dressing Room has certainly seen better days. The sunshine from the nearby window has not been kind to these two lovely ladies over the years. With the new curtains being installed in this room by the end of December, it was time to stabilize the chairs’ upholstery and preserve what remains of it.

Pair of Louis XVI style chairs.

Pair of Louis XVI chairs from Edith’s Dressing Room. The one on the left has had its upholstery stabilized.

The upholstery of the chair on the left has already been stabilized and originally looked very similar to the one on the right, though more faded. We began with a gentle, low suction vacuum, carefully avoiding all areas of loose threads. Next, polyester organza in a soft buttercup color was inserted under areas of loss on the front of the seat and the top of the back. Using a curved needle and 100% cotton thread, loose edges of the original textile surrounding the loss area were stitched to this sheer underlay. Loose warp threads were straightened as much as possible and secured to the organza to prevent them from moving and retangling. A fine nylon net was then laid over the top and secured around the edges, essentially sandwiching the loss areas and stabilizing the rest of the textile. One more gentle vacuum and the preservation of this Louis XVI style chair was complete.

Close up of underlay
Stitching the historic fabric to the polyester organza underlay.

Two wonderful things about this textile stabilization is its complete reversibility and use of inert materials. If, for whatever reason, we needed to remove these repairs, it would be easy (if not time consuming) to do so and return the chair to the same state it was in prior to the stabilization process. Additionally, polyester organza and nylon are neutral materials that will not harm historic fabric, are inexpensive, and come in a variety of colors, which was perfect for this project. Though cotton thread is not chemically neutral, when paired with acidic silk it will fail before the silk will, provided that we continue to protect these pieces from light damage. After all, we would much rather our repairs fail than the historic fabric!

Before After

Left: Before stabilization and vacuuming. Right: After stabilization and vacuuming.


*Many thanks to Camille Myers Breeze (museumtextiles.com) and the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies (campbellcenter.org) for their professionalism and excellence in preservation education and for providing me with the tools and knowledge to begin the journey of preserving the treasures of Salisbury House.

Grant Wood Comes to Book Club

It began at book club.

The Salisbury House Young Professionals routinely hosts this event  every couple of months. Literature collected by Carl and Edith Weeks, still housed in the magnificent library today, provide inspiration for the books chosen for discussion.  Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street (1920) was the pick for January 2014.  The selection was particularly apt, as the Weekses purchased several Lewis works over the years, including the 1937 Limited Editions Club publication of Main Street illustrated by Grant Wood.

Following a rousing discussion of both Lewis’ and Wood’s work in Main Street, your correspondent wondered: how else did Wood’s life and work intersect with the story of the Weeks family?

What we found is pretty cool.

First, the Limited Editions Club (LEC) version of Main Street is itself a treasure.  Even if one picked up the book without noticing the Wood references on the cover and frontispiece, his familiar style is immediately apparent in the illustrations.  Wood’s signature appears in the book as well.

Wood Collage.3

This edition of Main Street, published in 1937, appeared at a time when Wood was increasingly well-known in the national art scene.  His first one-man exhibitions took place two years earlier, in Chicago during February and March of 1935, followed by his Feragil Gallery show in New York.

Prior to the opening of the Chicago exhibit, however, Wood attended a January 1935 lecture in Iowa City by fellow regional artist Thomas Hart Benton (R. Tripp Evans’ Grant Wood: A Life details both the visit and the interaction between the two artists).  The two men then traveled to Des Moines where they jointly addressed the Des Moines Women’s Club.

Wood spoke first, followed by Benton.   A Des Moines Register reporter covering the lecture remarked upon both men’s appearance.  “The soft speech of Wood clashes obviously with the vigorous and rough, though exact, words of Benton,” wrote Register journalist Gordon Gammack.  “The latter, as he did Saturday, is the kind of person who can turn abruptly to a lady who has interrupted him and say ‘damn it…’ without being impolite.”

It must have been an entertaining evening.

The Register also included a photograph of Benton, Wood, and the man whose hospitality they had both enjoyed earlier that afternoon: Carl Weeks.  A photograph (grainy and unfocused, sadly) of the three men accompanied the article.  Benton was seated, with Wood and Weeks flanking his right and left.

Wood THB Carl article_cropped

It’s not clear whether or not Woods and Weeks had met before January 1935. Thomas Hart Benton and Carl Weeks, though, knew each other.  One of Carl’s grandsons, Cooper Weeks – who himself lived in the same neighborhood as the Bentons in Kansas City and knew them well – remembered hearing his grandfather talk about Benton, and vice versa.  Cooper recalled that  Benton credited Carl with one of the first big sales of his career, a $500 purchase of an early Benton work that remains in Cooper’s family today.

As for Grant Wood and Carl Weeks, we do know that they kept in touch for a time.  Not long after this Des Moines rendezvous, Wood traveled to Chicago for the opening of his first significant one-man exhibition at Lakeside Press Galleries.  Our records indicate that Carl visited him in the Windy City.   Indeed, their meeting occurred in the midst of a critical moment in Wood’s life: his courtship of and marriage to Sara Sherman Maxon.

An onionskin copy of correspondence from Weeks to Woods, pictured below, was dated March 11, 1935.  Nine days earlier, as Evans’ biography recounts, “Wood’s neighbors read with astonishment that he was to be married that night in a small ceremony in Minneapolis.  The fact that Cedar Rapids’ “bachelor artist” had a secret fiancee was nearly as dumbfounding as the circumstances of the wedding itself – a ceremony conducted with little warning, far from home, and with no friends or family in attendance.”

Weeks’ letter also reflects the surprise commonly elicited by news of the marriage (though he includes none of the misgivings typical among many of Woods’ close friends upon hearing of the nuptials).

Marriage letter

To have been a fly on the wall when Carl Weeks “butt[ed] in on something” between Grant Wood and Sara Sherman Maxon!

Wood and Weeks remained friendly in the months following his marriage to Sara.  Another letter from Carl to Grant in May of 1935 suggests that the two planned, at some point, to meet again.

Carl to Grant

“Taliesin” almost certainly referred to Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous property in Wisconsin. Did Weeks and Wood ever visit Wright’s estate together?  Unfortunately, the answer to that question continues to elude us.  Still, the confluence in the lives of Carl Weeks and Grant Wood, occurring as it did in the spring and summer of 1935, provides a  window into a deeply consequential time in Wood’s life.

The union between Grant Wood and Sara Sherman Maxon was not destined for “great happiness,” as Carl wished for them.  Their fraught marriage ended in 1939.  Indeed, Wood famously enlisted his housekeeper as proxy to deliver his desire for a divorce to Sara.

Salisbury House’s Grant Wood-related objects have stories to tell, like so many of our museum’s treasures.  Our collections provide avenues for explorations of  Picasso, The Book of Mormon, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and many, many more.

Our next book club, which will be held in March, focuses on D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  Is there a connection, one may well wonder, between Salisbury House’s holdings and this master of twentieth-century letters?

Yes. D.H. Lawrence is coming to book club.

Best Wishes for Xmas, (signed) James Joyce

The early weeks of December often bring a welcome variety to one’s mailbox: Christmas cards.  These envelopes, a nice respite from the usual junk mail and bills, reflect a long-held tradition of exchanging postal pleasantries at Christmastime.  The Weeks family, who built Salisbury House in the 1920s, kept this custom as well.  Our collections here at the museum contain a few samples of the Weekses’ own Christmas cards, and other cards and holiday greetings penned by well-known artists and writers of the twentieth century.

The exchange of Christmas cards was a practice first established in the mid-1800s.  A British businessman, Sir Henry Cole, is typically credited with producing the first commercial holiday card in 1843.  One of the Cole originals sold at auction in 2001 for over £22,000.

800px-FirstchristmascardSir Henry Cole’s Christmas Card, c. 1843

By the turn of the twentieth century, this December ritual had taken hold in Europe and the United States.  Indeed, a young Carl Weeks had his own Christmas cards printed around this time.  The card pictured below is undated, but the fact that the text includes only Carl’s name – and not Edith, whom he married in 1907 – suggests the piece was printed sometime around 1900 (though, as we will see, Carl did not uniformly include Edith’s name on the family Christmas card even after their marriage).

Just Carl undated

After the completion of Salisbury House in 1928, the family home often illustrated the Weekses’ Christmas cards.

Color CEW undated

CEW BW Xmas late 1930s_1940s

The Weeks boys also appeared in the annual Christmas card from time to time.  A handwritten date on the back of the card pictured below indicates that it was sent “around 1938.”  This is curious, given the inscription: “Holiday Greetings from the Three Bachelors of Salisbury House.”

First of all, the only unmarried Weeks man around 1938 was Lafe (the youngest son, standing in the image below).  William was married in 1935.  Carl, of course, was married to Edith.  Perhaps “Three Bachelors” was meant as a joke…but one wonders if Edith or Margaret (William’s wife) found it particularly funny!

Bachelors Reverse says ca 1938

In addition to sending out holiday cards, the Weekses also received them from a variety of friends and acquaintances.  Joseph Stella, a prolific Italian-American artist of the twentieth century, maintained a long relationship with Carl and Edith.  Correspondence over the years between the Weekses and the Stellas often included a Christmas greeting.

 More broadly, though, Carl and Edith were important patrons of Stella’s work.  Stella inscribed a 1926 photograph of himself in the process of painting The Apotheosis of the Roseone of his major works, with thanks to the Weeks family for supporting his artistic endeavors.  The Rose now hangs in Salisbury House.

Stella combined

The Weekses and Stella remained in touch.  From Paris in 1931, Stella penned the following letter:

Stella 1931 note

Paris – Dec. 14 – 1931

Dear Mr. Weeks,

For Christmas I send to you and to Mrs. Weeks my best wishes.

Cordially,

Joseph Stella

Another holiday greeting, addressed to Carl at his office, came from the writer Maurine Whipple in 1942.   Extant correspondence between Whipple and Weeks was quite extensive, and suggested a unique relationship that was reflected in her 1942 Christmas card.

Whipple 1942

Salt Lake City

Dec. 17, ‘42

Dear Bro in the Gospel:

Just a word of cheer and Season’s Greeting before I go back to my corner of the Lord’s vineyard.  Indeed I am blessed to have a corner to go back to! Since the invasion of the gentiles into our City of Saints the weather has turned so foul that truly I think the Lord is pouring out His wrath.  At any rate, I have had four wisdom teeth out and am completely recovered from last fall’s accident and am now ready to work fifteen hours a day for the Arizona Strip, of which you are slated to receive the first autographed copy! (If I hear from you someday, that is.  I am worried – Satan is abroad!)

Faithfully,

Sister Whipple

The year prior to this Christmas missive, Whipple’s The Giant Joshua, a novel about the Mormon religion, was published to widespread popular and critical acclaim.  This holiday letter from Whipple to Weeks took place at a time in which she was increasingly well-known on the national stage.

Additionally, the historical backdrop of the early 1940s is apparent within this exchange.  December 17, 1942:  the United States had been engaged in World War II for almost exactly one year.  The envelope that landed on Weeks’ desk advertised for war bonds and stamps:

Whipple 3 env

Yet another singular Christmas card arrived at Salisbury House in December 1948.  Mailed to the Weekses from Philip Duschnes, a prominent New York bookseller, the envelope included an astonishing supplement.  A leaf from a fifteenth-century manuscript, intricately illuminated on vellum, was enclosed in a paper mat.

Duschenes 1948

An inscription inside the card provided additional identifying information:

Dechenes xmas 2

Philip Duschnes became well-known during his career as a bookseller for offering high-quality pieces and also for the practice of selling single leaves from significant works.   Weeks, a devoted bibliophile, was clearly a good customer.

Duschnes often collaborated with Otto Ege, a dean at the Cleveland School of Art and lecturer at (Case) Western Reserve University in Cleveland.  One of their joint efforts, titled Original Leaves from Famous Books: Nine Centures, 1122 A.D. – 1923 A.D. remains in the Salisbury House collection today.  The collection, one of fifty made available for purchase, went on the market in 1949.  Leaves from the “famous books” were placed in a paper mat and included a brief description penned by Ege.

Leaves.1

This leaf came from a fourteenth-century manuscript of Aristotle’s Ethics, detailed below by Ege.

Original leaves 4 infor

As Ege notes, a secular writer likely penned this 1365 manuscript.  Compared to the leaf from the Book of Hours included in Duschnes’ Christmas card above, marked differences appear in the production of the manuscripts that suggest the secular versus the religious origins of each.

As amazing as the Duschnes, Whipple, and Stella pieces are, however, there is yet another object in the Salisbury House collections that takes the cool quotient up a notch.  The piece initially appears to be a fun, vintage-y Christmas postcard:

Joyce 1

 The back of the postcard reveals just how awesome this piece is:

Joyce 2

Your eyes do not deceive you.  Yes, this is a Christmas card signed by James Joyce and Nora [Barnacle] Joyce.

The massive geek-out does not stop there.  Attempts to date the postcard yielded a trove of information that takes this piece to epic levels of amazing.

We started with the stamp.  Although the postmark date remained illegible, we were able to track down some reliable-looking information about the stamp’s origins.  Issued in 1927 and dedicated to the French chemist Marcelin Berthelot, the commemorative stamp suggests that the postcard probably dates to the late 1920s.

There’s more.  The Christmas postcard is addressed to Mr. and Mrs. James Stephens.

James Stephens, like Joyce, was an Irish-born writer.  According to an article by Richard R. Finneran published in the James Joyce Quarterly, the two men did not immediately become friends.  Indeed, their relationship remained somewhat antagonistic until the 1920s.   Despite this early frostiness, Joyce and Stephens agreed around 1927-1929 that, should Joyce face insurmountable difficulties in completing Finnegan’s Wake, Stephens would finish the work for him.

This postcard, held here at Salisbury House, surely dates to this very time, during which Joyce and Stephens cemented their friendship and struck their agreement regarding Finnegan’s Wake.  

This postcard, held here in the Salisbury House collections, illuminates the story of one of the greatest literary creations of the twentieth century.

Merry Christmas.

Hemingway & Weeks

Carl Weeks was a man of action.  “If you dream it,” he once declared, “you can build it.”  Weeks achieved a considerable amount of success in his life: a magnate of the cosmetics industry, his business made him a millionaire by his mid-forties.   Salisbury House itself stands as a testament to the man’s financial success and purposeful vision.

A man similarly defined by action and vigor entered Carl Weeks’ life in the 1920s.  First through the written word and then a personal relationship, the lives of Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway intersected.  Although the men were born a generation apart – Weeks in 1876 and Hemingway in 1899 – shared tastes in both literature and recreation eventually created a link between the two men.  Fragments of this fascinating story remain today in the collections of Salisbury House.

Carl and Ernest.3

Weeks had made his millions by the 1920s, but Hemingway was just beginning to exert what would become his considerable literary might.   Post-World War I Paris proved a salutary writing environment for Hemingway, and in 1926 he added two books to his growing oeuvre with the publication of The Sun Also Rises and The Torrents of Spring.

Something about young Hemingway’s prose appealed to Carl Weeks.  A first edition of The Torrents of Spring was added to Weeks’ already-extensive book collection.

Torrents_JPG

 When Carl Weeks purchased Torrents in 1926, he was at his financial and professional peak.  Hemingway’s star, on the other hand, was still on the rise.  Three years later, A Farewell to Arms (1929) catapulted him even further into the whirlwind of literary celebrity.  By now, Weeks’ grand home in Des Moines included a richly-appointed library which stored a trove of rare, limited and first-edition books by renowned authors, including, of course, Ernest Hemingway.

Library Original

Farewell_JPG

Weeks also purchased a first edition of Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon for his collection in 1932.

Death_JPG

During the first half of the 1930s, the interaction between Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway extended beyond that of enthusiastic bibliophile and prolific author.  The two men met.

The location and manner of the meeting between Weeks and Hemingway remains difficult to ascertain.  Still, a shared interest in two legendary Hemingway pastimes – drinking and fishing – emerged in correspondence between the two men.

An inscription from Hemingway to Weeks, penned inside the front cover of a first edition of The Green Hills of Africa (1935), suggests the pair had shared drinks and perhaps planned to do so again.

Green Hills_JPG

To Carl Weeks

Instead of a drink at Penas’

With very best wishes

Sincerely,

Ernest Hemingway

Where did Hemingway and Weeks meet each other and, apparently, drink together?  One possibility seems to be Havana, Cuba.  Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Havana was a well-known watering hole for American tourists and celebrities, including the Weeks and Hemingway, in the 1930s and 1940s.

A photograph of Edith Weeks (on right, with an unidentified woman) at Sloppy Joe’s in Havana could suggest the location where the paths of Carl and Ernest may have crossed.

Edith Havana

In 1936, Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway exchanged correspondence regarding Week’s planned fishing trip to Florida.  Hemingway’s response to Weeks, sent by postcard from Key West in May 1936 to Weeks’ business address, illustrates the mutual interests of the two men.

Postcard_JPG

Key West

May 31 

 Dear Mr. Weeks,

Should be good chance for marlin and big sails off ten fathom bar, then I’ll be at Miami after tuna so will probably miss you.  But two years ago we had excellent big sailfishing here in June.

Thanks  for the Punch parody.

Ernest Hemingway

Whether or not the two stayed in contact remains uncertain.  Weeks, at least, continued his interest in Hemingway’s work, and purchased a first edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls in 1940.

For Whom_JPG

For Whom the Bell Tolls represented the last of the Hemingway first editions in Weeks’ collection.

Hemingway went on to win the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature, and by the late 1950s both men neared the end of their lives.   Hemingway’s suicide in 1961 preceded Weeks’ death of natural causes in 1962.

Ultimately, the full extent of the relationship between Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway remains a matter for further research.  The fragmentary story that remains, though, suggests a fascinating confluence in the lives of both men.

Knocking Down History

The Salisbury House Foundation was founded in 1993 to preserve, interpret and share Salisbury House for the educational and cultural benefit of the public. Implicit in this mission is a role we have embraced since our inception as caretakers of the Weeks Family history: not just for Carl and Edith (who built the house in the 1920s), but for their forebears, their four sons and their later descendants. (Social media has proven an incredible asset in this latter regard, as we have connected with many Weeks grandchildren via our Facebook page). In 2012, we received a Historical Resource Development Grant from the State Historical Society of Iowa specifically to research and interpret Weeks family history, so we have spent much of the past year delving deep into local and remote archives to better tell the story of this remarkable family.

Of Carl and Edith’s four sons, only their third — Evert Deyet “Hud” Weeks — spent the majority of his life in Des Moines. Hud was born in 1912 and attended Hubbell Elementary and Roosevelt High School, where he was a state record breaking swimmer. He graduated from Wharton College at the University of Pennsylvania in 1934 and returned to Des Moines to help manage Carl’s business empire through the difficult days of the Depression. Hud served as a Naval Aviator in the South Pacific during World War II, then again returned to Des Moines and the family business, eventually becoming President of Weeks & Leo by 1954. Hud held this position until his retirement in 1986, at which point the business passed out the Weeks Family’s management and ownership.

nellieandhud

Nellie and Hud Weeks, 1938. (Photo courtesy Cooper Weeks).

Hud was an avid outdoorsman, pilot and speedboat racer. He married Ellen “Nellie” Cooper — the daughter of legendary speedboater Jack “Pop” Cooper and a record setting racer in her own right — in 1938, and the young couple moved into the gardener’s cottage at Salisbury House (now our Visitors Center and Gift Shop) by 1940. Around 1950, Carl and Edith Weeks subdivided their original Salisbury House property to produce a 2.5 acre lot at the western end, separated from the main house by a deep ravine, for Hud and his family (now including son Cooper and daughter Barbara) to build their own home, a task to which Hud applied his usual exuberance and creative elan.

The Hud Weeks home at 4111 Tonawanda Drive was a custom design that incorporated elements of two prefabricated Lustron Homes around a central atrium, with a large indoor swimming pool at its south end. Lustron Homes were viewed as an affordable and innovative solution to the post World War II housing crisis, and production of the distinctive porcelain enamel clad structures began in 1948 — then ended in 1950 when production problems and corruption scandals led to the dissolution of the company after about 2,700 homes had been manufactured and shipped. Only about 1,500 of them were still known to be standing by 2008.

Hud and Nellie lived in their double-wide Lustron Home on the knoll next to Salisbury House (visible from Hud’s boyhood bedroom) until 1988, when they sold 4111 Tonawanda Drive to the Muelhaupt family and retired to the Barbican Condominiums on Grand Avenue. The couple later relocated to Kansas City, Missouri, to be near their son, Cooper. Nellie passed away in 1995, and Hud followed her seven years later, the last of Carl and Edith’s surviving sons.

Fast forward to the present. Just before I became the Executive Director of the Salisbury House Foundation in April 2012, Chuck Muelhaupt — who had lived in Hud’s former home for 24 years at that point — passed away. Several months later, his widow put the house on the market.

Front view of 4111 Tonawanda Drive, showing the two Lustron Home elements (left and right) integrated into the custom home.

Front view of 4111 Tonawanda Drive, showing the two Lustron Home elements (left and right) integrated into the custom home.

In a perfect world of unlimited resources, Salisbury House Foundation would have snapped up 4111 Tonawanda Drive right away at that point, restoring Hud’s home and the land to our holdings, thereby improving our ability to preserve and tell the Weeks Family story. Of course, the reality is that we live in an imperfect world, and our financial position was (and remains) precarious to the point where we must strive mightily just to maintain the property we already own.

Despite a sympathetic donor making a very generous and gracious offer on our behalf, we simply did not have the financial wherewithal to acquire, refurbish, maintain and operate an additional house, garage, pool and 2.5 acres of land when time the opportunity presented itself to us. As Chief Executive of our corporation, I could not in good conscience recommend to our Board that we encumber ourselves with additional debt to acquire Hud’s home, as such a path could have quickly put Salisbury House itself at grave risk.

And, thus, the property was sold to a private developer in late 2012.

While we knew the developer planned to divide the 2.5 acre lot into two parcels, we were heartened when the plans he presented to the City’s Planning and Zoning Commission on January 3, 2013 noted that the existing single family dwelling would be retained, with only the pool house structure being demolished. The City approved the plans, and this gave us hope that we might, at some point in the future, still have the opportunity to acquire (most of) Hud’s home, and at least a part of his land.

Pool house at the south end of Hud and Nellie Weeks' former home.

Pool at the south end of Hud and Nellie Weeks’ home.

We watched over the ensuing weeks as a variety of contractors (including asbestos remediation crews) worked on Hud’s home, presumably preparing for the grading of the new lot and the demolition of the pool house. We saw nothing that caused us any alarm regarding our new neighbor and his intentions.

Yesterday morning, I had a doctor’s appointment, so I arrived at Salisbury House around 9:40, two and half hours later than my normal early bird tendencies get me here. Literally, as I opened my car door, I heard a tremendous smashing sound, and looked west . . . just in time to see a huge backhoe drive straight into Hud’s house with its arm swinging. The garage had already been knocked down at this point, and the Lustron and atrium portions of the house were flattened in less than 30 minutes, the prefabricated materials easily scattered by the power of the backhoe’s arm. Only the pool house remained.

Quick calls to the Des Moines Historical Society and to City offices revealed that the developer had filed a demolition permit that morning, and that the backhoe began its unfortunate work within minutes of the approval being received. Des Moines Historical Society volunteers arrived quickly, and were firmly asked to leave the property. We allowed them to document the demolition from our side of the ravine. At about 8:00 this morning, the backhoe went into action again, and we watched the pool house being flattened, leaving the top of the hill bare. By 8:20 AM, February 15, 2013, nothing remained standing from the home that Hud and Nellie Weeks had built next to Salisbury House.

Needless to say, we’re shocked and saddened by this turn of events. While the house had no formal standing as a historic property, and many Lustron buffs (often purists, like classic car collectors) would have dismissed it as a “modification,” rather than a true, collectible Lustron Home, it was an important part of the Salisbury House and Weeks Family stories, and it deserved a more noble end than it received. While we fully understand and accept that the developer fairly acquired an unprotected 60-year old residence on the open market after we were unable to do so, we were surprised at the rapidity with which his stated plans evolved, and the easy acquiescence he encountered from the City of Des Moines in the face of such changes.

While the end result may have been the same regardless of what Salisbury House Foundation, Des Moines Historical Society, Salisbury Oaks Neighborhood Association or any other aggrieved parties said or did — in private or in front of television cameras or reporters’ clipboards — our own historic mission would have been greatly served had we been at least given one last chance to photograph the property thoroughly before it was demolished. One hour of time, literally, would have made a difference in our ability to tell the full stories of Hud and Nellie Weeks and the Salisbury House property, and it’s tragic that we were not accorded that opportunity on behalf of our community, as an important piece of Des Moines’ history is now being hauled away in dumpsters, having not been property recorded for history’s sake.

In a nutshell, this is why historic preservation work is so important, and so deserving of your financial support. The Salisbury House Foundation was founded, explicitly, to counter present or future threats to the sanctity of the property and its collections, and to this day we work diligently to ensure that no other Weeks Family property ever leaves these grounds, or suffers from abuse, neglect, or lack of maintenance. Sadly, our mission did not include the acquisition and preservation of the land that Carl gifted to his third son, and the house that Hud built there, so when the limited time window opened for us to acquire it, we did not have the means to do so. Such are the challenges in the imperfect world of nonprofit public service.

But, still, even as we mourn the destruction of Hud and Nellie’s home, we feel that it is important to celebrate the lives that were lived there, happily, with great humor and warmth. We know from numerous sources that 4111 Tonawanda Drive was the site of many amazing parties, and many great family gatherings, and that Hud and Nellie and their children were important, beloved members of our community. And so we would love to hear from you if you have memories, photos or stories about Hud and Nellie’s time in their uniquely futurist home on the hill, so that we can record them for posterity’s sake, and share them with others who may also be mourning the destruction of this property.

You can either post your thoughts and memories in the comments below, or you can contact our Curator and Director of Education Leo Landis via e-mail here to share photos, stories, documents or anything else related to 4111 Tonawanda Drive or Salisbury House. Thank you for your ongoing support through this difficult development, and please take a look around your own neighborhood soon to assess whether there are historic preservation needs there requiring your attention and support!