The Prairie Style
The Prairie School was the United States' only indigenous architectural style. Developed in the Midwest, it was a rebellion against the Victorian and neo-Classical architecture popular at the time. It was made famous through Frank Lloyd Wright in 1901 with his plan published in Ladies Home Journal titled "A Home in Prairie Town."
Prairie-style houses were ahead of their time and still seem modern; they featured horizontal lines, flat or hipped roofs with broad overhanging eaves, and horizontal rows of windows, often art glass in geometric patterns. The emphasis on the horizontal represented the wide prairie landscape.
Inside, the houses typically had a central chimney and an open floor plan, very different from Victorian homes with their many small and separate rooms. The Prairie School, like the Arts and Crafts movement it was related to, supported the creation of well-made, beautiful, and unified furniture and architecture. Wright did not simply design a house, he created an environment, with stained glass, fabrics, and other items, and he often built furniture into the house.
The Balch House in Oak Park, Illinois, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1911.
Frank Wolfe may have been initially attracted to the Prairie school because of his midwestern roots, but he had a deep interest in different architectural trends and freely mixed styles he liked, as his "California Prairies" showed. Although the Midwestern Prairie School diverged from the popular Classical Revival style of the times, Wolfe made liberal use of neoclassical details, especially in the decorative moldings that adorn the large Prairie residences. The Wolfe & Wolfe interiors are wide open compared to other homes of the period, and very much like the Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie homes of that period.
Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Robie House in 1908.
Windows in the Robie House. Frank Wolfe was inspired by Wright's use of art glass.
The best-known of Wolfe’s Prairie designs is the house built for Peter and Blanche Col in Hanchett Park. There are a few variations on this residence in the San Jose area, all built within a couple years of each other. The Caputo House and Burke House have very close floorplans. All three were built by Peter Jorgensen.
One of the things that makes the Col House and its counterparts so striking is their broad facades and the amount of land they occupy. These are one-story residences with a huge footprint; each is over 2500 square feet and with their frontage, they require more land than the typical house. Many of the large Wolfe houses were built outside the historic neighborhoods, and because of that, they weren't protected from developers who demolished them later. Naglee Park, Hanchett Park, and Palm Haven were planned neighborhoods with limited lot sizes, so double lots were the exception. Wolfe & Wolfe built a number of smaller Prairie homes that sat sideways on a lot within neighborhoods like Palm Haven and Naglee Park.