Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonia

Seaside residents hope that Al Hansen’s work will be recognized, as the work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright is in the New York neighborhood known as Usonia.

On a startlingly beautiful Wednesday evening in the waning days of August, a dozen or so people gathered on the beachfront patio of a private home in the Cove to hold the second meeting of the Al Hansen Admiration Society. Those gathered own and live in homes built by Albert Grunwald Hansen, a man of Dutch ancestry who began his career in Portland in 1920 where he worked alongside his father and his brothers for 10 years in in a firm called “Hansen & Sons.” Hansen was not a trained architect, but he was the designer of 25 or so residences built in Portland, Seaside and Gearhart erected between 1937 and 1975.

What is known is that in 1938 Hansen plotted an area along Sunset Drive that became known as Hansen’s Cove. Slightly north, the area now called “W” Street was at one time called George L. Baker Way. Baker, so-named for the former mayor of Portland, who developed the Tides, which once included tennis courts and a riding area.

Hansen designed and built homes are scattered around the southern portion of Seaside. There are Hansen homes on Beach Drive, S. Columbia, Avenue T, S. Downing, S. Edgewood, and Ocean Vista. There are three known Hansen homes in Gearhart; one on North Ocean, one on Marion, and one in the Palisades. There is a Hansen-built home in Arch Cape.

Hansen-built homes have distinctive characteristics including hipped and gabled dormers, picture windows, Dutch doors, window shutters, and stenciled designs on exterior shutters. Clearly influenced by the arts and crafts movement, Hansen utilized local materials. He liked stone and wood. He liked wood kitchen counters and used linoleum for his kitchen floors and bathrooms. He liked the masculine appearance of exposed wood beams.

Hansen and his wife Betty moved to Seaside in 1937. In 1938 he built a home for himself, his wife, and eventually his mother-in-law, who moved in with him and for whom he built an attached apartment.

The current owners of Al and Betty’s house, both artists, offered me a private tour. Besides an update to the kitchen appliances, the house looks and feels pretty much the way it must have looked and felt in the 1940s. The view of the Cove and Tillamook Head pretty much knocks your socks off. The floor plan meanders and the ceilings are low, giving the rooms a cozy feel. The liberal use of wood paneling and a preponderance of built-ins strongly reminded me of the Usonia community located in the town of Mount Pleasant, New York, I wrote about years ago.

The history of Usonia is that in 1945, a 100-acre rural tract was purchased by a cooperative of young couples from New York City who enlisted the architect Frank Lloyd Wright to help them decide where each house should be placed. Wright designed three homes himself and approved architectural plans for 44 more to be designed by a team of architects and an engineer who were all Wright apprentices.

In 2012 Usonia was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

So far, the goals of the Al Hansen Admiration Society are modest in scope. Their first task is to identify as many Hansen homes as possible and contact the current owners. The second goal is to offer owners of Hansen homes an opportunity to buy a plaque to be affixed to the front of their home identifying it as a Hansen residence.

If you think you live in or own an Al Hansen home or would like more information, contact Robin Montero at monteroarts@gmail.com.

Who knows? There may be a plaque in your future.

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