Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

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Lynn Hall: A Nexus of Design Perspectives

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Lynn Hall, located in McKean County on Route 6 just west of Port Allegany was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in December of 2006. Lynn Hall was designed and built as a restaurant/ ballroom and residence by local master builder Walter Hall and his architect son Raymond Viner (R.V.) Hall. Walter Hall was the head contractor and builder of one of the most iconic and well-known buildings in the United States—or anywhere—Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.

Lynn Hall 2Frank Lloyd Wright may be the most well-known American architect of any era. Wright’s name is associated with many seminal buildings around the world, but his legacy extends well beyond his association with iconic buildings. Wright’s design ethic influenced American residential architecture to a degree perhaps unmatched by any other individual.

The evolution of American residential design shows a direct lineage with Wright’s development of the Prairie School of architectural design. This lineage is perhaps best illustrated by the ubiquitous variations of ranch-style residential architecture which dominated much of the second half of the 20th century.  Prairie Architecture is generally characterized by horizontal lines; low, hipped roofs; overhanging eaves; open floor plans and minimal decorative elements, all of which can be noted with even a casual glance at much of post-war American residential architecture.

Both Walter and R.V. Hall acknowledged their admiration of Wright’s abilities long before work started on either Lynn Hall or Fallingwater.  As a correspondence-school architecture student, R.V. made clear his disdain for traditional architectural design and articulated his desire to follow new, more modern design concepts in his work. Indeed, R.V. wrote to Wright requesting information about Wright’s fellowship program and suggested readings. Walter and R.V. visited Taliesin (Wright’s Wisconsin design studio) in 1937.

Lynn Hall view from cottageFor much of his career, R.V. Hall operated his architectural practice from an office in Lynn Hall. This office allowed a great deal of natural light into the studio and has a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. R.V. became a well-respected architect in his own right, and designed many residential properties nearby but also around the country. R.V.’s designs clearly reflect a “modernist” design ethic with its roots in Prairie architecture.  R.V. cut his design teeth on Lynn Hall, a classic example of modernist architecture rooted in the Prairie School.

There are clear similarities—though not necessarily replication– in the design ethic of Lynn Hall and Wright’s—and Walter Hall’s—work at Fallingwater. Cantilevered concrete floors; interior, horizontally oriented stonework; open floor plans and a design scheme sensitive to the surrounding landscape define both Fallingwater and Lynn Hall.

Lynn Hall and Fallingwater also share the same general construction periods. Fallingwater was designed by Wright in 1935 and construction was completed in 1937. Lynn Hall was constructed between 1935 and 1938.

All across the country, post-war houses look the way they do because so many young architects–like R.V. Hall–worked in a design idiom espoused, promoted and in many ways created by Frank Lloyd Wright. This idiom left behind older, traditional home design in favor of a now-familiar more open, linear and less decorative residential design. Lynn Hall is one of those rare places where we can see this evolution take place—a missing link, if you will.  From the springboard of absorption of the broad perspective of Wright’s design ethic; Walter’s work on Fallingwater, through the design and construction of Lynn Hall to R.V.’s architectural practice, R.V. and Walter Hall’s work epitomized the evolution of the popularization of a significant architectural movement. We can better understand the evolution of the American residential landscape by understanding the context of R.V. and Walter Hall’s design and construction choices at Lynn Hall. By acknowledging and celebrating the vision and work of these two Pennsylvanians, we can come a long way in understanding why our cities and towns look the way they do.

The Lynn Hall National Register nomination was prepared by Clinton Piper, Museum Programs Assistant at Fallingwater National Historic Landmark, owned and operated by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Some of the information in this post comes from the Lynn Hall National Register nomination, available for download on CRGIS.

Lynn Hall was unoccupied for over twenty five years and was seriously threatened by many years of deferred maintenance. In the summer of 2013, new owners Gary and Sue Devore began work to stabilize and rehabilitate this very significant building. The Devores are exploring options for use of the site, and welcome volunteers and donations for this important project. You can see more photographs and learn how you can help on the Lynn Hall Restoration web site.

Author: Bill Callahan

Bill Callahan is the western Pennsylvania Community Preservation Coordinator for the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (PASHPO). The PASHPO is part of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and Bill is located at the Fort Pitt Museum in Pittsburgh. The PASHPO is responsible for implementing state and federal historic preservation programs throughout the Commonwealth. Bill has nearly 30 years’ experience working with federal, state and local historic preservation programs in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Nebraska and has also worked in the private sector, for several years managing two businesses in an historic downtown. Contact Bill at wcallahan@pa.gov and 412-565-3575, 601 Commonwealth Place, Point State Park, Building B, Pittsburgh PA 15222-1212.

One Comment

  1. We live in a house that someone told us that was designed by the Hall family. It has stonework and features that look similar to Lynn Hall and Falling Waters. We were wondering if this might be true.

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