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The Roycroft Campus Architecture
A tour of the buildings on the Roycroft Campus gives a clear indication of just how much the British Arts and Crafts movement influenced Elbert Hubbard. The first print shop was built in 1897 to resemble the Gothic styled St. Oswald's Church located in England. For the next several years, Hubbard added more buildings to the campus. Whether he gave them arched windows or a washed gray exterior, they all had unmistakable castle-like Gothic accents.
This all changed in 1905 one year after a meeting between Hubbard and Frank Lloyd Wright. Details of the meeting itself are sparse. It is unknown if they met in passing or because Wright had been commissioned to design a building for Hubbard’s old employer, The Larkin Soap Company. In a book written by Wright’s son John Lloyd Wright, the crux of their ego-filled conversation is outlined.
Much has been made of this largely undocumented meeting and most sources assert that Hubbard had a tremendous influence on Wright. Wright began dressing differently after meeting Hubbard and many believe that Wright’s negative view of crowded cities and skyscrapers was a result of Hubbard’s influence.
The Roycroft Inn entrance exhibits a real Prairie School like look (period photo)
But what of Wright’s influence on Hubbard? The peristyle porch added to the Roycroft print shop in 1905 definitely mimics Wright’s architectural style. Is it possible that, just like he did after his trip to England, Hubbard was taking style cues from visionaries whose creativity he himself longed to possess and strove to emulate?
Hubbard’s death in 1915 coincided with the death of the Arts and Crafts Movement in America. It’s not surprising that the movement that finally made Hubbard into the man he always wanted to be, died along with him. If Hubbard had lived could the architectural style have continued to evolve under his opportunistic guidance? Or, would Hubbard have remained true to what he viewed as American Arts and Crafts roots and honored the principles of the style that defined him?
In the very least, Wright’s influence on Hubbard before his death gave us the campus we enjoy today rather than a traditional English, Gothic group of buildings. Thanks to Wright’s unknowing intervention, we are able to enjoy the truly unique integration of Gothic and American styles that is almost the best reflection of the real Elbert Hubbard.