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

From Overalls and Shovels to Fedoras and Cuban Cigars: The Gilded Age Inspiration for Salisbury House

There were three distinct aristocracies in Washington. One of these, (nick-named the Antiques,) consisted of cultivated, high-bred old families who looked back with pride upon an ancestry that had been always great in the nation’s councils and its wars from the birth of the republic downward. Into this select circle it was difficult to gain admission. No. 2 was the aristocracy of the middle ground . . . No. 3 lay beyond; of it we will say a word here. We will call it the Aristocracy of the Parvenus—as, indeed, the general public did. Official position, no matter how obtained, entitled a man to a place in it, and carried his family with him, no matter whence they sprang. Great wealth gave a man a still higher and nobler place in it than did official position. If this wealth had been acquired by conspicuous ingenuity, with just a pleasant little spice of illegality about it, all the better. This aristocracy was “fast,” and not averse to ostentation.

The aristocracy of the Antiques ignored the aristocracy of the Parvenus; the Parvenus laughed at the Antiques, (and secretly envied them.)

-From Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today

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Carl and Edith Weeks, c. 1930

Before Armand – before Salisbury House – few would have assumed Carl Weeks to be any more extraordinary than any other Midwestern businessman of his era. In fact, when roaming the halls of Salisbury House, one tends to forget his humble and, at times, impoverished origins. Born the fourth child of a hog farmer and his wife on a farm near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1876, Carl’s prospects were quite modest. When his father’s swine herd was wiped out by cholera around 1880, the Weekses were forced into selling their farm. They set off for Kansas in search of a new start. His father, however, still had trouble finding work and was often away from home. Carl helped out by picking up bison chips for use as fuel in their little sod house and once recalled how his mother had had to trade one of their bedsteads for a bag of flour. Eventually, his mother’s brothers, Lowell and Davis Chamberlain, brought them back to Iowa and settled them in Des Moines. Carl left public schooling at the age of 13 and it was only with his uncles’ financial assistance that he was able to attend Highland Park College of Pharmacy to obtain his pharmacist certification in 1892.

Little of Carl’s early life foreshadows the great success he would eventually achieve when he established what would become an international cosmetics empire in 1915. But he was born into an unusual era. One where American society had one foot planted deep in the agrarian soils of its hard-working, ancestral pioneers just as it was stepping into a quickly industrializing, burgeoning urban culture obsessed with leisure, pleasure and wealth. It was an era as rampant with corruption and materialism as it was entrepreneurial optimism where every man had the potential to become the next Carnegie or Rockefeller. This time period, known as the Gilded Age and sometimes referred to as the American Renaissance, spanned the years following the Civil War to the early 1900s with some historians extending it as far as the stock market crash of 1929. The term was lifted from Mark Twain’s 1873 satirical novel, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, that depicts the greed and corruption endemic in American politics and society in the late 1860s and early 1870s. This era, however, also laid the foundations of our modern, secular culture and shaped the minds of many Americans, including Carl Weeks.

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Cover of Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, 1873.

After the Civil War, industrialization and mechanization increased at a rapid rate in the United States. It centralized the economy in urban centers and concentrated wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer men. Immigrants and formerly-rural Americans descended upon the cities in search of new opportunities. Mass-produced goods, department stores and mail order catalogues brought the modern idea of shopping to the masses. The extension of the railroads connected the East and West coasts of the United States and new refrigerated boxcars allowed for fresh produce out of season, exotic fruits, Midwestern-raised beef, and beer to be transported to retailers all across the nation. Telephones and transatlantic cables knitted the world closer together through faster methods of communication. Amusement parks, dance halls, theaters, libraries and opera houses flourished, providing entertainment, education, and, at times, opportunities for vice to the burgeoning urban population.

Entrepreneurs were the driving force behind this explosion of modernity. A lucky few, however, through hard work, shrewd business decisions, and more than a little back-room subterfuge, succeeded in building business empires that reached far beyond their own little corners of the world. Many of these men, such as Andrew Carnegie, Jay Gould, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and John D. Rockefeller, arose from humble means to become industrial tycoons with massive fortunes. They were household names and served as role models for the businessmen of Carl’s generation. Several biographies of these infamous American entrepreneurs grace the shelves of the Library at Salisbury House and probably had a great impact on Carl as he made his way in the business world.

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The Rouge Room at the Armand Factory in Des Moines, Iowa, c. 1920.

Though these nouveau riche Americans of the Gilded Age had the world at their fingertips and, at times, groveling on its knees before them, there was one thing money could not buy: pedigree. For much of recorded human history, wealth was concentrated in land and passed down through strict and often complicated inheritance laws and customs formulated to keep everything within one family line. But the world had been turned upside down by the Industrial Revolution. With advances in manufacturing technology in the late 18th century, hand production methods of textiles and other goods fell by the wayside as factories sprung up in urban centers and produced goods more cheaply and efficiently than ever before. People, once tied to the land and rarely traveling more than 50 miles from their places of birth, descended upon the cities in search of work. The European aristocracy and the “old money” families of the United States, whose income traditionally depended upon the productivity of the people who lived on their lands, saw their economic power shrink as an ever greater share of the world’s wealth flowed into the hands of the savvy factory owners and businessmen of the middle class.

Two things the European aristocracy and American “old money” retained, however, was their social position and status as the arbiters of good taste. An air of self-consciousness pervaded the newly wealthy and powerful as they sought to emulate the nobility in a subconscious effort to prove both to themselves and their “social betters” that they were worthy of their newfound elite status. Instead of seeking new forms of architecture, they copied styles long used by the European aristocracy. At first, Classical styles were mimicked as wealthy Americans embraced the notion of the United States as heir to the cultural traditions of ancient Greece and Rome and the European Renaissance. Later, especially during the time of the Weekses’ rise in wealth, many embraced the picturesque nature of the rambling, built-through-the-centuries styling of the houses of the medieval and Tudor nobility of England. Salisbury House, however, is unique in that it incorporates both stylistic influences in its interior furnishings.

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Classical and Renaissance style detailing: grille above Welte-Mignon Organ in the Common Room

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Classical and Renaissance style detailing: chandelier detail in the Dining Room. Both the Common Room and Dining Room are overall Elizabethan or late Tudor style in the architectural details and most furnishings but also include Neoclassical touches such as these.

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Tudor style detailing of 16th century fireplace surround in the Great Hall featuring a Tudor rose flanked by quatrefoils.

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Tudor style, 16th century carved door detail in the hallway outside the master suites featuring linenfold, which was a common type of carving to decorate plain panels in Europe between the 14th and 16th centuries.

In a time where what you owned was an unspoken announcement of who you were as an individual, collecting art and antiques from around the world became an obsession for the nouveau riche who wanted nothing more than to appear sophisticated, worldly, educated and powerful. The Weekses were no different. Much like J.P. Morgan, who had spent a whopping $60 million on art and rare books in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the Rockefeller family who splurged on artwork from around the world, Carl and Edith sought after all of the trappings of the leisured class. Carl was an avid bibliophile and Edith’s bachelor’s degree in Art History provided her with a discerning eye for both fine art and period-specific furnishings.

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Late 18th century alabaster urns with Classical style detailing in the Great Hall.

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Elizabethan style carving on Carl’s c. 1600 bed.

The economic devastation in Europe after World War I led to easy pickings for the Weekses and other wealthy Americans who snatched up whatever Europeans wanted to sell, including antiques, art, and architectural detailing. Though they did not spend anywhere close to what Morgan had, Carl and Edith did spend nearly $3 million to build and furnish their house. In today’s money, that would equal about $40 million.

Patronage of artists skyrocketed in the United States during the Gilded Age as well, continuing a centuries-old European tradition where artists relied on wealthy patrons for work and financial support. Artists were sought after as companions as well as for their ability to beautify the homes of the wealthy and public spaces. Rather than pushing the social envelope as many artists do today, the artists of this era reinforced the new status quo and soothed the egos of wealthy Americans through their attention and commissioned works. Architectural historian Richard Guy Wilson once said of Gilded Age artists that their social function was to “provide a setting of leisured elegance bearing the patina of class and taste for people who were frequently one generation removed from overalls and shovel.”

Like their Gilded Age predecessors, the Weekses too befriended artists and even commissioned Joseph Stella to create one work specifically for Salisbury House. This commissioned piece, Apotheosis of the Rose, still hangs in the Breakfast Room today.

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Apotheosis of the Rose by Joseph Stella, 1926. Oil on canvas.

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The Birth of Venus by Joseph Stella, 1925. Oil on canvas. Hangs in the Great Hall at Salisbury House.

Finally assembled at home in Iowa, the Weekses’ collections lent an air of aristocratic pedigree to their new home meant to look centuries old the day it was built. Like the entrepreneurs of the Gilded Age and the European nobility, Carl’s house and collections were a signal to the world that he had arrived and was a force to be reckoned with. A man born to a hog breeder and who had picked up bison chips on the Kansas prairie was now a social and business leader who was well-traveled, well-connected, and a man of noble bearing.

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Salisbury House in early spring.

The Gilded Age gave birth to Salisbury House. The ideals of the era – wealth, consumption, pleasure and leisure – reside throughout its history, collections and architecture. Carl Weeks was born into this era and persevered until he could finally emulate those whose names were on the tongues of every American entrepreneur – Carnegie, Morgan, Rockefeller. The result was Salisbury House: a grand mansion distinctly English in flavor and filled with treasures that reveal how Carl and others of his ilk wished to be seen – worldly, aristocratic, powerful. It represents one final expression of a bygone era in which America itself came of age.

 

A Virtual Tour, c. 1927

By 1927, Salisbury House neared completion. The Weeks family had moved in the previous year, although the house would not be fully finished until 1928. During this year’s interim, a photographer captured images of the new home’s interior. These photographs, particularly when paired with exterior construction images, make a fascinating early study of the property.

The Weeks family, as we do on our tours today, welcomed visitors to Salisbury House in the Great Hall.

Great Hall_3

The iconic painting,  The Brothers LaBouchere, still dominates the center of the hall, though much of the additional furnishings have been removed today to accommodate our various public events and rentals.

From the Great Hall, visitors typically made their way down the east hallway to the Common Room.

East hallway

Here in the east hallway hung a painting of special importance. The large-scale piece hanging on the right is Joseph Stella’s Tree of My Life, painted by the artist in 1919-1920. The Weeks family originally acquired three Stella works on a scale similar to Tree of My LifeThe Birth of Venus (1922) and The Apotheosis of the Rose (1926), which both can still be seen at Salisbury House today. Tree of My Life, however, was sold at auction at Christie’s in 1986 for $2.2 million.

Lush furnishings, including ornate drapery, also appeared in the Common Room in 1927. However, the custom-made Steinway grand piano, which was later a centerpiece of the room, had yet to arrive from New York.

Common room_3

Common room

Lucky guests were also able to visit the library, which remains an extraordinary experience today.

Library_2

Note the empty shelves behind the hanging tapestry in the middle background above. By the time the Weeks family left Salisbury House in 1954, the library collection had expanded even beyond the library shelves. Eventually, locked cabinet doors were added to the bookshelves adjacent to the fireplace below.

Library_3

Guests invited to stay for the evening would have likely spent time in the Dining Room as well…

Dining Room

…followed by their morning coffee in the Breakfast Room. A portion of Stella’s Apotheosis of the Rose is visible on the right, where it still hangs.

Breakfast Room

To view the second floor of Salisbury House, guests in 1927 would have used the main staircase located just off of the Great Hall.

Main staircase hall

Not long after this photograph was taken, the Weekses added an elaborate runner to the stairs that included their family crest. A sixteenth-century suit of armor eventually replaced the chair pictured here as well.

Upon arriving at the top of the staircase, Carl and Edith would have retired to their bedrooms in the east wing of the house. Edith’s sumptuous bedroom suite, including a dressing room with adjacent bath, reflected her preference for French decor.

Edith dressing room

Edith’s bedroom was equally lovely.

Edith bedroom_1

Edith bedroom_2

Carl’s bathroom and bedroom – adjacent to, though not connected, to Edith’s rooms – displayed a much more masculine aesthetic.

Carl bathroom

 

Carl bedroom

The balcony, down the hallway from Carl’s and Edith’s suites, offered a fantastic view of the Great Hall.

Balcony hall

Great Hall_4

A small guest bedroom was accessed from the balcony hall.

Porch Room

Continuing westward down the hallway, the Queen Anne bedroom appeared on the left.

Queen Ann_2

Queen Ann_1

The four bedrooms for the Weeks boys – Charles, William, Hud, and Lafe – were on the west end of the second floor. Hud’s room, for reasons that are lost to us now, included two beds.

Hud's bedroom_1

Lafe’s room was the smallest of the boys’ bedrooms.

Lafe's Bedroom

Before our tour of Salisbury House c. 1927 draws to a close: a stop in the Indian Room. This space, located in the basement level of the house, was decorated with Carl’s extensive Native American collection. It was also, or so we are given to believe, used by the boys for some seriously raging parties.

Indian Room_use

Despite the fact that we are separated from these photographs by nearly a century, we are extraordinarily fortunate that much of the fine artworks and furnishings collected by the Weeks family remains intact today. Be sure to stop by and enjoy a tour c. 2015!

 

All About Edith

Our ability to reconstruct the past hinges on the existence and accessibility of primary sources. The Salisbury House archives contain a preponderance of Carlalia (Carl memorabilia), but we lack commensurate material about his better half: Edith Van Slyke Weeks. We’re trying to change this. Recent research has yielded new images and newspaper articles about Edith, and these sources help flesh out a portrait of a well-educated, well-traveled woman.

Edith was born to the Van Slykes of Dubuque, Iowa, in 1882. The family later moved to Des Moines, where Edith completed high school.

1885s Edith Van Slyke Weeks c. 1885Edith c. 1890

Young Edith graduated from North High School around the turn of the twentieth century. Pictured below is her report card from North High School from the late 1890s. Clearly, Edith possessed considerable academic abilities.

 

1899_Edith Van Slyke report card North High School

The importance of education was a central concern for the Van Slyke family. Indeed, Edith’s mother Eva, graduated from Iowa State University in 1874. Edith continued the tradition of well-educated Van Slyke women with her graduation from the University of Michigan in 1903.

1907 Sorosis

During her time in Ann Arbor, Edith joined the University of Michigan’s chapter of Sorosis, a women’s social and educational club.

In 1907, a blurb about Edith appeared in a Sorosis booklet printed to commemorate the club’s twentieth anniversary (left). Her name appears alongside the other alumnae of her year.

By this time (1907), Edith had met and married Carl Weeks. The couple, according to family anecdotes, first met around 1904 when Edith walked into the Des Moines pharmacy where Carl worked. Overcome with affection, Carl followed Edith to Europe around 1905.

Following Edith’s European sojourn, the pair courted through 1906 and walked down the aisle in February 1907.

1907 edith on wedding day_hi resEdith on her wedding day: February 27, 1907

Edith’s life after her marriage comes down to us in even more fragmented terms. Still, photographs from family albums and newspaper articles suggest a woman who cared deeply for her family, actively engaged in her local community, and generously supported the arts.

We imagine that Carl snapped the photograph below during the early years of their relationship. If Carl was the photographer, his shadow is visible towards the bottom of the frame. The photo’s location remains uncertain, but it’s clear that Carl and Edith often commemorated family events on film.

1909 Diddy 1909

 Like many families even today, the Weeks photo album took a decided turn towards Toddlerville after the kiddos started to arrive. Charles (1908), Bill (1910), Hud (1912), and Lafe (1918) were regularly photographed with their mother.

1910 Edith and...Charles & Edith, c. 1910

1910 Edith Charles BillEdith, Charles, & Bill, c. 1910

1913s Edith.boys.motorcycle

Bill, Charles, Hud, & Edith, c. 1913

1918 Edith Lafe 39th StEdith & Lafe, c. 1918

By the time Edith and Carl started making plans to build Salisbury House in the early 1920s, four rambunctious boys were roughhousing about the Weeks family home.

weeks FAMILY 1921

The Weeks Family in 1921 – Clockwise from Edith: Lafe, Bill, Carl, Charles, & Hud

In addition to photographs of the immediate Weeks family, our archives also include an interesting image of Edith on vacation in Havana, Cuba in the late 1920s or early 1930s. She was pictured with an unidentified friend at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a famed watering hole for American expats, including Ernest Hemingway. We wonder, in fact, if the Weekses and Hemingway met in Cuba.

1930s Edith Weeks In Havana, Cuba

Salisbury House was completed by 1928. Edith, with her academic training in art history and love of the subject, likely played a central role in acquiring the family’s stunning collection of fine furnishings and artworks.

Edith’s personal interests also emerged in her community involvement. She belonged to a variety of organizations and women’s clubs in Des Moines. A 1928 Des Moines Register article included a photograph of her (second from left) alongside fellow committee-members of the city’s Fine Arts Association.

1928 Fine Arts Club

In 1931, Edith hosted a meeting of ladies involved in the Iowa Association of Women’s Clubs. Dozens of women gathered at Salisbury House for tea and other activities.

1931 Federation of Womens Clubs

Edith also lent her support to charitable organizations. Below, she was pictured (on right) with other prominent Des Moines women at a charity ball in 1931.

1931 The Register 11.26.31 Charity Ball

Edith was again pictured in the Des Moines Register in 1934 alongside a piece from the family’s art collection painted in the style of English artist George Romney. Here, the photograph was accompanied by an article about a meeting of the Des Moines Women’s Club, hosted by Edith at Salisbury House.

1934 Register With Romney

In addition to photographs and articles related to Edith’s community involvement, she was also pictured in the Register with family members. The photo below showed Edith with her mother on Mother’s Day 1935.

1935 with Mom

Although we have added some  Edith-related images and articles to our archives in recent months, we still lack significant sources related to the later years of her life. Details about her, particularly during the 1940s and up to her death in 1954, remain elusive.

The last image we have of Edith Weeks dates to the first half of the 1950s. She and Carl were seated in the Great Hall of Salisbury House. Edith has lost a significant amount of weight, which may have indicated a marked decline in her health.

1950s carl and edith 1950's

The photographs and articles included here expand our cache of primary sources about Edith Van Slyke Weeks. Still, we hope to learn more about this remarkable woman’s life.

Owning Salisbury House: A Long, Strange Trip

First, a quick assessment of your Salisbury House knowledge:

(1) Who occupied Salisbury House for the longest period of time?

Gardens spring

  • (a) Carl and Edith Weeks
  • (b) The Iowa teachers’ union
  • (c) Drake University College of Fine Arts
  • (d) Salisbury House Foundation

It may come as a surprise to learn that the teachers’ union – the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) – occupied Salisbury House from 1954 until 1998.  If you guessed (b), pat yourself on the back!

The ISEA was headquartered at the House for forty-four years. Carl and Edith lived here for twenty-eight years,during which time Drake University planned for two decades to turn the property into a fine arts college. The Salisbury House Foundation was formed in the 1990s, purchased the house, grounds, and collections in 1998, and continues to run the property today.

Our historic interpretation of Salisbury House now focuses primarily on the Weeks family. However,  Drake’s and ISEA’s control of the property represent significant chapters in this narrative as well. Documents in our archives trace the curious route of Salisbury House’s ownership, and also illustrate the unique challenges inhered in owning this singular property.

One factor plays an outsized role in this story: taxes. Even before Carl Weeks’ Salisbury House was completed in 1928, this knotty issue preoccupied its owner. Because  Salisbury House potentially posed a whopping tax liability for Carl, he applied his considerable inventiveness to circumventing the issue. A proposal dated November 1927 illustrated one plan he developed.

The gist of the document lies in Carl’s framing of Salisbury House as a “high grade investment for the Armand Company.” In this scenario, house was to be financed by Armand corporate funds instead of Weeks family money. Carl continued: “My verbal proposal to the Armand Company was that we would move in, attend to the upkeep of the house so far as servants, light, heat and power were concerned, and begin paying rent when the house was finally pronounced complete.” Rent, as suggested below, would run $25,000 per year.

Salisbury Rental Proposal-page-001

Salisbury Rental Proposal-page-002

Salisbury Rental Proposal-page-003

 Why would Carl pursue this plan in 1927? One explanation might lie in the reorganization of federal tax statutes in 1926.  Maybe the “rental agreement” in 1927 stemmed from an unfavorable tax situation that resulted from the revised tax laws. Perhaps Carl wanted to use payment of rent to offset his personal income tax as part of his own business. In other words, he would take his business income minus business expenses, including rent, to arrive at his taxable income. Alternatively, it seems possible that Carl wished to offset the tax on Armand corporate income – if the company could claim the the expenses involved in building Salisbury House, this could considerably reduce Armand’s taxable corporate income. Or, instead of an income tax issue, onerous property taxes might have prompted Carl to consider alternative tax arrangements.

We’re not sure if Carl was able to put this, or a similar plan, into action. Still, it’s clear that issues surrounding ownership of and tax liability for Salisbury House represented significant concerns. During the early 1930s, though, he executed a master stroke that eliminated his property’s heavy tax burden.

In November 1934, the news was announced: Carl deeded Salisbury House to Drake University in Des Moines. The university planned to eventually use the property as a fine arts college. The Weeks family would continue to live in the house for a minimum of five years and pay $100 monthly in rent to Drake. Ultimately, the terms of the lease remained in place for the next twenty years.

1934_House to Drake mason city gg-page-001

By deeding Salisbury House to Drake University, the property (theoretically) became exempt from taxes.  Taxes on the property went from $8,500 in 1933 to $0. The above article from November 21, 1934, pointedly noted the fact that Carl would continue to reside in Salisbury House without paying any tax on the property.

Newspaper reports in subsequent years also remarked upon the sweetheart deal. A 1942 article reported that Salisbury House claimed the title of highest appraised valuation in Des Moines. Terrace Hill, then home to the Hubbell family and now to the governor of Iowa, represented the highest assessed valuation in the city. Despite Salisbury House’s towering appraisal, the article observed, “Because Weeks deeded the property to Drake university [sic] in 1934 as the future site for the fine arts college, Salisbury House is tax exempt. The manufacturer and his family still occupy the home….paying rent to Drake.”

????

????

Still, questions surrounding Salisbury House’s tax liability – and Drake University’s subsequent responsibility for it after 1934 – did not go away. A pair of articles published in the Des Moines Tribune in 1937 indicates that Polk County nearly took the deed to Salisbury House due to delinquent taxes.

Tax sale combined

Tax sale article_3

Our archives do not contain further articles about this particular incident, and additional research thus far has yielded little. Still, because Drake University’s arrangement with the Weeks family remained in place for twenty years, the delinquent tax issue must have been ultimately laid to rest.

By the early 1950s, 1950 9 21 CR Bar Asso. May buy SH-page-001however, Drake administration recognized the impracticability of the Salisbury-House-as-fine-arts-college scheme. A buyer for Salisbury House was sought.

Reports in 1950 suggested that the American Bar Association considered moving its headquarters from Chicago to Salisbury House in Des Moines. While Drake “agreed to discuss it with them,” nothing substantive resulted.

Then, in late 1953, word was announced that a buyer had been found. The Iowa State Education Associate purchased Salisbury House, the collection, and the 11-acre property, for $200,000.  According to published reports, $100,000 of the proceeds went to Drake, while the remainder of the purchase price went to the Weeks family.

ISEA purchase

Almost immediately, ISEA also had to deal with the thorny issue of Salisbury House taxes. The central question in determining the tax status for the new occupants of Salisbury House hinged on “whether the ISEA is held to be an educational and charitable organization or a professional organization.”

1953 ISEA tax

Ultimately, as later reported by the Des Moines Register, the ISEA successfully sued to obtain tax-exempt status of the portions of Salisbury House kept open to the public for educational tours (the Library, Great Hall, and Common Room.

The tax question, as far as ISEA was concerned, appeared settled. Still, as Salisbury House transitioned from the family home of Carl and Edith Weeks to the headquarters of the Iowa State Education Association, some ambiguity remained in terms of the ownership of furnishings, pieces from the Weekses’ considerable collections, and other objects. Soon after the ISEA purchase was completed, efforts began to sell off objects deemed extraneous to the organization’s operations.

A little more than a month after the announced sale of Salisbury House, Charles Martin – then the executive secretary of ISEA – circulated a letter “concerning the disposal of “for sale” items in Salisbury House. Cedar closets, ceramic tile, bathroom fixtures, kitchen and laundry facilities, “and any odd furniture not bound by the purchase contract” was available for purchase.

A number of bids were placed for Salisbury House items. The VA hospital in Des Moines offered $30 for a stainless steel sink and $15 for the Reliable gas stove. Another individual offered $2 for “the small round mahogany tables and for the small drop leaf tables,” in addition to a $5 bid for a pair of metal twin beds. A Des Moines man placed a $5 bid for a cedar closet. Bathroom fixtures were sold for $25.

For Sale letter_Jan 1955

Cedar Closet Bid

1955 Bathroom fixtures cedar closet bid

1955 Small bids

1955 Kitchen bids

All bids (for which records remain) appeared to have been quickly accepted – with one exception. For reasons that remain unclear, Carl was in the position of having to purchase some items he wished to retain from Salisbury House after the sale to ISEA. We don’t know why these pieces weren’t exempted from the purchase contract in the first place. Essentially, Carl had to buy back objects from the ISEA that he had himself previously purchased. Most of the offers made by Carl were found agreeable by the ISEA administration, but his bid in August 1955 for a rug, table, and sofa was rebuffed.

Mangle bid

Response to Carl mangle bid

List of items

Response to Carl list of items bid

Additional items were offered for purchase over the years. A public sale, for example, was held in the 1950s and anecdotal evidence suggests that similar events took place over the years.  ISEA also actively sought buyers for a number of antiques, and contacted both Tiffany’s in New York and Marshall Field in Chicago to inquire whether or not they might be interested in purchasing some Salisbury House objects.

1955 Public Sale

Marshall Field response

Tiffany

The most well-known ISEA sale came in the 1980s. Joseph Stella’s Tree of My Life brought $2.2 million at a Christie’s auction in December 1986. Later publications from the ISEA indicate the funds were invested in order to secure monies for restoration and related projects at Salisbury House.

Today, the Salisbury House Foundation, a private, nonprofit, 501(c)(3), owns and operates the property as an historic house museum. This status as a not-for-profit museum clarifies our role in terms of the custody and care of the house and grounds. Ultimately, though, the complicated history of Salisbury House ownership, taxes, and stewardship suggests the broader difficulties that are part and parcel of this extraordinary structure.

Special thanks to attorney Martha Sibbel for identifying possible tax-related issues regarding the ownership of Salisbury House.

Bricks, Mortar, & Men

Workmen broke ground on Salisbury House almost a century ago. Beginning in 1923, truckloads of brick, mortar, barrels, and beams navigated the steep rise of the hill atop Tonawanda Drive.  Over the next five years, the Weekses’ grand new home took shape. Local photographers captured in-progress images of Salisbury House at different stages of the project.  These shots were primarily taken at a distance, and typically showcased the building’s stately dimensions. However, closer inspection of these photographs reveals the ordinary, work-a-day experiences of life at a 1920s construction site.

The photograph below from December 1923 shows a view of the garage taken from the west. At first glance, the photograph suggests little more than mud, building detritus, and desolation.

12.8.23

A closer look reveals action and purpose. Men stride across the half-finished garage. On the left, a man in a hat and overcoat, closely followed by an associate, looks north. Behind them, two more men continue their labors.

12.8.23_men detail_super close

The far left side of the photograph also includes details of men at work. Look closely at the corner of the structure in the foreground:

12.8.23.more men_construction detritus

12.8.23.more men_construction detritus.close of men

Two years later, thanks to the efforts of these men, a substantial amount of progress had been made. By March 1925, the main footprint of Salisbury House was apparent. The garage – featured prominently in the images above –  is barely visible on the far left side of this photograph.

3.23.25.b_

Though the exterior walls have taken shape, a closer look at this image shows a house far from complete.

3.23.25.b_south door detail.

The east wing of the house extends only to the first floor.  Carl’s and Edith’s bedrooms remain but a twinkle in the architects’  eyes. There is no trace of the sixteenth-century, half-beam ceiling in the Great Hall.  Daylight and oak trees crown the room instead.

3.23.25.b_south door detail.2

A view of the north entrance tells a similar story.

3.23.25.a

The application of the famed flint-work on the Tudor wing of the house appears in progress on the left side of the frame.

3.23.25.a_men detail

The two men in this photograph illustrate the human realities of building Salisbury House. The man on the right was possibly an architect from Boyd & Moore, the local firm responsible for the design and build of the house (perhaps even Byron Bennett Boyd or Herbert J. Moore). As for the man on the left – perhaps a crew foreman? Their markedly different attire certainly suggests differences in occupation and/or class.

3.23.25.a_men detail.2

Progress marked the entire property in this spring of 1925.  Below, the northeast approach to Salisbury House neared completion.

Undated_driveway

Our homburg (or fedora?) -wearing gentleman from above appeared again:

Close up bosses

The three men in the foreground dwarf the workmen (at right in the full-sized photograph) who continued to toil away while the bosses posed for the camera.

Working men detail

Another wonderful detail appears in this photograph. The driveway slope dominates the image’s middle distance, with the majestic silhouette of Salisbury House beyond. Near the crest of the rise, a sign appeared at the base of a tree.

Flower sign

Flower sign_up close

WILD FLOWERS IN IOWA ARE GETTING SCARCE                                                                                                             ONLY THE UNINFORMED GATHER THEM

This sounds like Edith’s doing, as she was an enthusiastic gardener.  To modern-day sensibilities, the sign suggests a vague similarity to the current mania for pet-shaming signs. If this sign were hanging around the neck of one of the Weekses’ canine companions – perhaps after a dig through the Salisbury gardens – they would have had an instant meme on their hands.

Four months after these photos were taken, the progress of construction was documented again. A view from the southeast corner of the property indicated that the workers had been busy during the summer of 1925.

8.5.25.b.

Still, as yet there were no windows in much of the house, including the Common Room and Edith’s Suite.

8.5.25.b.closer

At this point, the Weekses were two years into a five-year, three-million-dollar project.  The pane-less windows, a cluster of barrels, and pile of dirt at photo’s right edge were visible reminders of the work still underway.

8.5.25.b_barrel detail

The view from the north in August 1925 also showed both the great distance already traveled by the Salisbury House builders, and the sizable amount of work left to finish.  Here, the cottage appeared mostly finished – with windows, even! – and a tar-papered roof was in evidence.

8.5.25.a

Still, the main section of the house remained windowless.

8.5.25.a_detail

Makeshift scaffolding and ladders also appeared. Although no workmen were featured in this particular photograph, evidence of their labor remained in the objects they left behind.

8.5.25.a_ladder wheelbarrow detail

A comparison of photos separated by almost a century  offers an amazing study in contrast.

South Collage_Really Use

Collage_North view

Collage_Driveway

Collage_south elevation

Collage_cottage_use

Five years after the first truckloads of bricks and mortar rumbled up Tonawanda Drive, Salisbury House was complete.  The total cost of building and furnishing the home – three million dollars in the 1920s – would be about forty million dollars today.

A local pastor read a blessing during the laying of the house’s cornerstone in 1925. Nelson Owen, the rector of St. Paul’s Church, urged the Almighty to “bring this home to a happy completion.” For Salisbury House – still standing, still magnificent – the preacher’s benediction rang true.

letter.small

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.