San Rafael, CA – The smallest structure ever designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright — a doghouse — is now on permanent display at largest existing building he ever designed, the Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael.
On Wednesday, May 25, the County of Marin unveiled the new display of the doghouse in the building’s cafeteria (Suite 233). The doghouse was donated to the County in 2016 by former Marin resident Jim Berger.
The doghouse, donated to the County of Marin in 2016, is now on display in the Civic Center cafe.
Berger grew up in San Anselmo in a Wright-designed home that today is known as the Berger House. His parents, Robert and Gloria Berger, commissioned Wright to design the Usonian-style house in 1950-51. In 1956, then 12-year-old Jim Berger wrote to Wright asking for plans for a compatible doghouse for his Labrador retriever, Eddie. Wright provided plans for the four-square-foot doghouse the next year, written on the back of an envelope and at no charge. The triangular structure was designed in keeping with the main house and included signature Wright details, such as the low-pitched roof with exaggerated overhang. Wright even suggested that Jim use scrap pieces of Philippine mahogany and cedar left over from the home’s original construction.
Jim Berger, shown in 2016, with the doghouse he donated.
When Jim Berger joined the army in 1963, his father and brother Eric finally built the doghouse affectionately known as “Eddie’s House.” Eddie refused to use it, however, preferring to sleep in the warmth of the main house. In 1970, Gloria Berger sent the unused doghouse to the dump.
In 2010, Jim and Eric Berger rebuilt the doghouse from the original plans, for a documentary film about Wright. It had one flaw common to many of Wright’s buildings, however: the roof leaked.
In the new display, the curved plexiglass used to protect the doghouse is fabricated from one of the original Marin County Civic Center skylights. There are no skylights in the original 1958 Civic Center model, located on the first floor of the building. Wright had intended that the mall space be open to the sky, allowing for natural light and natural air-conditioning. Within five months of Wright’s death in 1959, the design for skylights to shelter the public mall areas had been developed by William Wesley Peters and incorporated into the design of the building.
For families: The Department of Cultural Services has developed “Design Your Own Animal House” family activity inspired by the Frank Lloyd Wright doghouse. The activity guide is available online or in person at the doghouse installation. Get inspired by a video about the doghouse.
Docent tours resume
After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Frank Lloyd Wright docent tours will resume starting Friday, June 3.
The 90-minute walking tours detail the complicated and scandalous history of the creation of the building from specially trained docents. Visitors get access to the Marin County Board of Supervisors Chamber and the adjacent private balcony, experience the building’s iconic blue roof at eye level, and learn about custom furniture designed Frank Lloyd Wright and built by inmates from San Quentin State Prison’s wood shop. The Civic Center, designed in 1957, is one of the last major works of Wright’s career and his only realized project for a government entity.
Docent-led tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. every Friday starting in the Civic Center Cafeteria (Suite 233). Tickets must be purchased in advance. Guests should be prepared to walk/stand for 90 minutes. The tour covers approximately one mile in total distance.