Rock Crest

         Rock Glen

While Wright was designing the City National Bank, he heard of plans about future developments in Mason City. Local banker James Blythe and developer/contractor Joshua Melson hoped to work with Wright on these projects.

But in September 1909, the Mason City plans came to a sudden stop when news of Wright's scandalous departure reached the city. Blythe and Melson were left without an architect to complete their grand development.

Two years later, Joshua Melson contacted Marion Mahony Griffin to see if she would be interested in picking up the pieces. Marion, in turn, recommended her husband Walter Burley Griffin. Within a week Walter visited Mason City, and at the end of the visit a contract was signed giving him complete approval over the development of the property. He talked the developers into building on a site they had previously overlooked because it had been used as a garbage dump. Griffin envisioned that the parcel along Willow Creek would be a beautiful natural setting for a group of houses.

The development would be called Rock Crest/Rock Glen. Rock Crest consisted of Melson's 22 acres on the stone bluff south side of Willow Creek and Rock Glen occupied the northern low-lying portion of 18 acres owned by Blythe.

Griffin's vision was to create a development that would conserve the natural area. He sited all the houses along the perimeter to create the greatest amount of open land along the creek. True to his philosophies on democracy, he insisted the land along the creek was a "commons area" to be enjoyed by all the homeowners. Griffin planned all the houses to face the glen and forbade any out-buildings to be built within the commons area. Griffin's plans for each home incorporated this natural backdrop. Today Rock Crest/Rock Glen remains the largest collection of Prairie Style homes surrounding a natural setting.

The first house built on the Rock Glen side was for Harry Page. Using Japanese influences, Griffin fit the building exactly to its site by extending it three floors on the creek side but only two on the street side.

Along the State Street bridge, he proposed three houses be built in proportion to the sloping site. Each highlighted his interest in cubic forms and the middle house contained a roof garden. A site was also chosen on the lower creek side (north of the Page House) for the residence of investor James Blythe, who lived in it while his house was being built. This house was then sold to Blythe's law partner Arthur Rule.

The James Blythe House was built next to the Page House (on the south). It is the most spacious of Griffin's houses in Mason City with a 33-foot living room allowing beautiful views of the glen and creek. Built of hollow tile and reinforced concrete, the exterior of the house is a symmetrical arrangement of blocks. But inside Griffin used the same elements as in most of his Prairie style homes, a flowing floor plan and a floating ceiling. The most striking feature inside is the fireplace. Designed by Marion Mahony, it is without a mantle and is decorated with interwoven Italian tile.

In a site opposite of Blythe's (across Willow Creek), Joshua Melson finally realized his dream of a house along the creek. Wright's previous design for Melson was for a beautiful linear home (similar to the one he designed for Isabel Roberts in River Forest, IL) that allowed a view of the creek. But Griffin created a home that provided more than good views. Griffin's design envisioned a home that was a physical extension of the bluff, providing an unobstructed view of the creek and the glen beyond.

Melson and Marion Mahony became such good friends that she nicknamed him "Don Melancholio" or old sad face. But Marion said that the house was such a success it wiped away the melancholy from Joshua Melson.

The Castle, as it was so dubbed, caused quite a stir among the residents of Mason City. Melson even joked that Griffin would have to pay his electric bill since he felt the need to keep the construction site illuminated all night long to entertain onlookers on the State Street Bridge. Marion claimed that Griffin himself was so overjoyed with the finished product he (physically) scaled the bluff side of the house in celebration. A task that certainly would have been quite an accomplishment for the 37 year old architect.

William Drummond designed a Prairie Style spec house for developer/contractor Melson few doors down from The Castle that has come to be  known as the Yelland House.

[adapted from an article on]




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