Curious Cbus: Rush Creek Village's Architectural Legacy

May 27, 2020

Central Ohio is home to many historic neighborhoods with unique architectural identities. Most neighborhoods, such as German Village and Victorian Village, are heavily influenced by European architecture.

There is one neighborhood, however, that has a decidedly modern American influence. 

Sarah Anderson wrote into WOSU's Curious Cbus asking about this area: “I was hoping to learn more about Rush Creek Village. I heard a student of Frank Lloyd Wright designed the houses. Is this true?”

Rush Creek Village in Worthington showcases one of the largest and most successful neighborhoods built in the style of the country's most notable architect - but not by Wright himself.

Frank Lloyd Wright, born in 1867, enjoyed great success during an architectural career that spanned seven decades and earned him the title of “greatest American architect of all time” from the American Institute of Architecture.

Wright’s early work belongs to the Prairie School, an architectural style popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, of which Wright is the most famous proponent. His designs are rooted in the idea of “organic architecture," a style known for its use of horizontal lines, open floor plans, and natural material.

Wright believed that these principles created harmony between a structure and its landscape, as seen in works such as Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.

This photo of 5795 Foster Ave. was part of Rush Creek Village's application to the National Register of Historic Places.
Credit National Park Services / archives.gov

Wright's architectural and philosophical beliefs captivated Columbus native Martha Wakefield. Having studied art and philosophy at The Ohio State University, Wakefield was determined to meet the famous architect.

In 1946, Martha and her husband Richard, who built homes for Lustron Corporation, visited Wright at his winter residence, Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

As Wakefield would recall years later, Wright gave her some advice as she was preparing to leave: “Go home, buy a Jeep and build a house for yourself. Then build a house for your next-door neighbor.” And that's what they did.

Though Rush Creek Village was the brainchild of the Wakefields, architect Theodore van Fossen actually designed the village. As a young man, van Fossen helped build a Wright-designed home in Indiana, and went on to study Wright’s principles and incorporate them into his work as an architect.

Design for the exterior of the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Pepinsky in Rush Creek Village, designed by Theodore Van Fossen, July 1956.
Credit Harold Pepinsky Collection / Ohio History Connection

In 1956, with Martha Wakefield as the visionary, Richard Wakefield as the builder and van Fossen as the architect, the construction of the Wakefield House began. Getting to that groundbreaking–and to the dozens of others–was not an easy road however.

In the documentary The Architecture of Rush Creek Village, Martha Wakefield described the difficulty she had finding an undeveloped plot of land for her dream home. As the neighborhood developed, potenital home owners found many banks reluctant to issue loans for such unorthedox designs. Many in Worthington, including members of the city council, were skepitcal of the architecture and challenged the development's lack of sidewalks and other road features.

Despite these challenges, the Wakefields, van Fossen, and like-minded neighbors persisted. In total, Rush Creek Village contains 51 Wright-style homes today.

The neighborhood was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003, and the next year, The New York Times called the it “the country's most enduring and successful – and undiscovered – middle-class community built according to Wright's principles.”

Over the years, Rush Creek Village has been able to maintain its architectural unity through deed restrictions. The Worthington Historical Society says original owners couldn’t receive their deed until after their plans had been approved by van Fossen.

Now, any changes to the structures, exteriors, and major landscaping changes must be approved by the Plans Review Committee of the Rush Creek Village Board of Trustees.

For more information on Rush Creek, check out the 2000 documentary by Dorothy Hogan titled The Architecture of Rush Creek Village.

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