Lushly vegetated and attractively situated on the southeast shores of Lake Monona, the Frost Woods neighborhood has long been a sought-after place to live. Some of the first historic Indian mounds discovered in the Madison area were unearthed in Frost Woods, marking an old Ho-Chunk village. For current residents, the area’s twenty-two acres of woodland make it distinctive and attractive. The founders of the Frost Woods Homes Association recognized the area’s beauty and sought to protect its charm through large lots, deed restrictions, and an architectural review process. They encouraged the use of the International Style in order to create a neighborhood with “distinction of architectural design.” Thus, the neighborhood now contains the largest concentration of International Style houses in Wisconsin.
In the 1930s, Frost Woods became an enclave for the University of Wisconsin’s English department faculty. Author Wallace Stegner depicted it briefly in his semi-autobiographical novel about two academic couples, Crossing to Safety (1987). Probably the reason so many English faculty came to live in Frost Woods was that the area’s leading house designer, Hamilton Beatty, was the son of the department head. Beatty designed most of the houses in partnership with his wife Gwenydd or with Allen Strang. They brought a strong transatlantic influence to their work, the Beattys both having studied at the University of London, and Hamilton having worked in the Paris office of Le Corbusier. Beatty, Beatty, and Strang’s Frost Woods houses received wide publicity in such periodicals as Architectural Forum.
The earliest International Style house in Frost Woods was also the first in Wisconsin. The Wright and Edna Thomas House (1931; 5903 Winnequah Road) was designed by Beatty and Beatty in collaboration with the Thomases, both English professors. The house is a stuccoed box whose circular form of the lakeside porch is clearly influenced by Le Corbusier’s work of the same period.
In 1935 Hamilton Beatty formed a partnership with Allen Strang, specializing in the design of low-cost International Style houses. The most modest was the 1936 Edward and Irene Thomas House (809 Owen Road), which has a flat roof, wide horizontal bands of windows wrapping around the corners, and the near absence of ornament. Beatty and Strang created an economical floor plan through a compact room arrangement that minimized hallways and wall partitions. The kitchen and bathroom are diminutive but efficiently arranged around a central utility core, allowing more room for living and dining spaces.
Ten more International Style houses were erected in Frost Woods between 1935 and 1937, including the Robert and Lucille Pooley House (6003 Winnequah). Beatty and Strang oriented their buildings to the physical features of the site. Here, the major living spaces face Lake Monona. The sand-colored brick, selected to blend with neighboring residences, was a notable departure from the stuccoed pale cubes of European modernism. Beatty and Strang designed the Marcia Heath House (6106 Winnequah) for a site in Madison’s Nakoma subdivision, but when an injunction prevented Heath from constructing the seemingly radical design there, she built it in Frost Woods in 1936. The house has an unorthodox floor plan with a split-level entrance that separates the partially earth-sheltered, poured-concrete lower level (living space for Heath’s mother) from the wood-framed second story, where the primary living spaces were located. The cypress siding of the upper story and the horizontal emphasis of the overall design blend the building into its sloping, wooded surroundings. The interior walls are made of V-groove-jointed plywood sheets, a construction method that Beatty had pioneered in an experimental house he built for the Forest Products Laboratory in 1935. The Heath House design appeared in Architectural Record (May 1937) and Patrick Abercrombie’s The Book of the Modern House (1939).