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Dresser design

The Lake Geneva Library, designed by the late James Dresser of Lake Delton.

Last week’s story related the Taliesin tragedy of 1914, including the miraculous escape of Herbert Fritz from the inferno. As this budding young architect matured, he selected a wife from the residents of nearby Wyoming Valley, south of Spring Green. Among their progeny was a pretty maiden named Barbara. She will share the honors with her husband, James Dresser, in today’s story.

Barbara Fritz remembers well a day in November 1940. A new generation of students now studied at Taliesin II. Though the students from the school were commonly seen in the area, one of the men seemed particularly handsome as he galloped his steed through the front gate of the Fritz family front yard that November day.

Maybe she’d seen him before, as she was a frequent visitor to Taliesin, but today was different. So different, so magic, that in three months she had become Mrs. James Dresser, wife of the budding young architect. Giving the bride away was Frank Lloyd Wright himself.

Time has taken its toll, and recently, after 64 harmonious years, James passed away in Lake Delton. I was lucky enough to obtain an interview with his wife Barbara recently, and learned of the significant life of James Dresser. It’s a success story she shared with the noted architect.

So often it is true that no one is a hero in their hometown. We were astonished to learn of Dresser’s success in Midwestern architecture, though he and his wife have lived among us in the Delton area for a few decades. This was not always so, for she reports that his work took them to cities such as Phoenix, Minneapolis, Green Bay, Madison, and even as far away as Tennessee, location of a $2 million Tommy Bartlett water show he designed.

A crowning achievement was the Minnesota Pavilion for the New York World’s Fair of 1964-65. The highly striking building was designed so that it could be re-assembled, and exists today as a ski lodge in Michigan. Dresser designed the innovative lakeside library in Lake Geneva, and its furniture, in 1955; Beloit’s Gonstead Clinic; round buildings such as the Hoffman Printing Company, and round homes. One especially large round house was featured in Look magazine in April 1951, showing a round kitchen, with an overhead shot of Barbara looking up to the camera in the center of the kitchen. Other shots show the couple reclining in a large round living room.

The Dressers were often featured with the home of the month in the Wisconsin Architect publication.

Barbara often operated a gift shop in some of their locations, and in later years ran the Robot Connection shop at the entrance to Robot World in Lake Delton, another Dresser project. In fact, Lake Delton abounds with Dresser’s designs, starting with Jimmy’s Del Bar, and most recently Field’s at the Wilderness.

Our two stories have covered the 99 years between the escape of Barbara’s father-to-be from the Taliesin murders in 1914 and her husband James Dresser’s death in 2011. Barbara Dresser now resides in Baraboo at Oak Park Place with her Sheltie collie Ditto, a dozen or more scrapbooks and many mementos from her interesting life.