From the moment I first turned the corner and saw the sprawling, reddish house up on the hillside, there was no doubt it could only have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Initial impressions led me to believe that it was a Prairie Style... but closer inspection -- and a tour -- showed that was definitely a ranch; it was instantly my favorite of all the Wright homes that I have thus far been able to tour and likely because it felt almost as if it had been designed for me. The attention to detail, as in all of Wright's structures, is phenomenal.
The "Honeycomb" House
The Hanna house on Stanford's campus is also known as the "Honeycomb House" -- this because its design was based on the hexagonal geometric figure (the honeycomb) produced by bees. It was Wright's first non-rectangular design and... it drove the construction crews absolutely nuts. Ninety-degree angles were one thing, but in 1937 -- the year the house was begun -- no one seemed to be able to wrap their heads around the one hundred twenty-degree angles upon which the whole structure (and everything inside -- including the furniture) is based. There isn't a ninety-degree anywhere in the house. But the beauty of the hexagonal geometry in a seemingly un-geometric structure is simple and breathtaking. The only real problem was in the roof. Apparently not originally installed correctly, it -- like many of Wright's roofs -- leaked profusely.
The house was designed for Paul R. Hanna and his wife Jean. Although born in Iowa, Hanna grew up in Minnesota, where he attended Hamline University; Hamline was also the place where he met and later proposed to and married Jean Shuman, the woman who shared his passions and his dreams. In 1935, after teaching a summer course in 1934, Paul would become an associate professor at Stanford University. Paul and Jean packed the three children and family dog into the car and headed west. Traveling to California, they had stopped at Taliesin (in Spring Green, WI) and fell in love with "the house on the hill" that Frank Lloyd Wright had designed and built there. Paul and Jean Hanna decided that they wanted Wright to build a similar house for them.
Designed to be built at an original price of $15,000, the Hanna house soon fell victim to Wright's typical cost overruns and the cost ballooned to first $24,000 and then to $37,000 (equivalent to an inflation-adjusted price of more than a half-million dollars). Unaware of the future success of their literature and way beyond their means, the Hannas decided to take out a loan (arranged through Paul Hanna's Publisher, Scott Foresman and company); they also delayed some of the original design features and incorporated them over the next twenty-five years, and after finances were less stretched.
Paul and Jean Hanna had their focus squarely on family and on their children; Wright designed the house to change according to the growth of the Hanna children. As one of many examples, a room that was originally designed as a children's playroom was later converted to a formal dining room once the family's needs changed.
Although the plans for the Honeycomb House called for it to be built on a flat piece of land, the plot leased by the Hannas in the far southwestern corner of Stanford was on a fairly substantial hill. The house, naturally, became one with it. Unfortunately, part of the property also contained a portion of the San Andreas Fault... Not a problem -- apparently -- as Wright boasted that his Imperial Hotel had survived an earthquake. Unfortunately, the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 wreaked havoc on the Hanna House; it was not as "earthquake-proof" as Wright had thought. At great cost, it has been restored and reopened to the public, although additional restoration -- complicated by the honeycomb design -- continues.
This is a definitely a true gem in the collection of preserved Wright homes. If you are planning a trip to the area, note that tours of the Hanna House are open to the public only four times a month with 3 tours per day. However, please keep in mind that the house is located in a very quiet residential neighborhood and located on private property. For more information, please visit hannahousetours.stanford.edu.
Related Articles, Media, Resources & Links
Browse these resources for more information about this FLW Building, it's history and information about the region.
- Frank Lloyd Wright's Hanna House The Client's Report, by Paul R. and Jean S. Hanna (1982)
- Paul Robert Hanna: A Life of Expanding Communites by Jared R. Stallones (2002)
- Paul Hanna at Stanford University (pdf)
- Building Spelling Power by Paul R. and Jean S. Hanna (1957)