The Meyer May House, photo taken in 1987.
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May, Meyer, House
450Madison Avenue SE, Grand Rapids - Kent County
Other Names Meyer May House-Local
Property Type brick house
Historic Use DOMESTIC/single dwelling
Current Use DOMESTIC/single dwelling
Style Prairie School
Architect/Builder Frank Lloyd Wright
Narrative Description The Meyer May House is a two-story, T-plan, Prairie style residence built in 1909. The shallowly hipped roof, originally covered with red tiles, terminates in broad overhangs emphasizing the horizontality and hovering quality of the house as a shelter. The tan brick is laid with raked horizontal joints and flush vertical joints to emphasize the horizontal lines. Limestone is used as trim, including a limestone base, low banding, garden wall caps, and cap level banding, and banding at the second floor window sill level, all again emphasizing the low horizontal character of the house. Copper used in the soffit and fascia trim and elaborate window trim is left to obtain the natural green patina. Leaded and colored glass accented casement windows and doors open out to terraces and gardens with garden walls and planters all incorporated into the design to intermingle the interior and exterior. The interior plan flows freely with an open quality. Wood trim emphasizes the plasticity of space leading from room to room while unifying various elements. Wright hired George M. Niedecken of the Milwaukee firm of Niedecken-Walbridge Company to supervise and execute the interior decorating details. Niedecken was a talented decorative painter and executed the mural in the May House dining room. The Steelcase Corporation has undertaken the complete restoration of the May House.
Statement of Significance The Meyer May House in Grand Rapids has architectural significance as the work of nationally-distinguished architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867?-1959), and as Wright's first large commission in Michigan and one of only two residential structures (other than resort cottages) in Michigan from Wright Prairie style period. It has historical significance for its association with prominent merchant Meyer May of Grand Rapids, an independent innovative Grand Rapids merchant who commissioned Wright to plan his magnificent house in Grand Rapids for himself and his wife, Sophie Amberg May. Meyer May (1873-1936) and his wife Sophie Amberg, married in 1900, were both from enterprising Jewish merchant families. May's father, Abraham May, founded the Giant Clothing Store that later became A. May and Sons. After two years at the University of Michigan, Meyer joined his father's business in 1892, quickly assumed executive status, and became president of Abraham May and Sons at his father's death in 1906. The Meyer May House retains importance as a Frank Lloyd Wright commission adn as one of his earliest in the State of Michigan. The house is one of the most completely restored of Wright's revolutionary Prairie style residences in the country.
Marker Name May House
Marker Text MAY HOUSE This house was built in 1908-1909 for local clothier Meyer S. May and his wife, Sophie Amberg. Frank Lloyd Wright designed the house in the Prairie style. It was his first major commission in Michigan. May was the son of Abraham May, founder of A. May and Sons clothing store. In 1906, Meyer became president of the store, which was the first in the nation to display clothes on Batts hangers. Meyer May lived here until his death in 1936. The house was used as a private residence until 1985. In 1986, Steelcase Incorporated began the complete restoration of the house, its interior and grounds.
Period of Significance 1901-1930
Significant Date(s) 1908-1909
Registry Type(s) 08/26/1987 Marker erected
10/23/1986 State Register listed
Site ID# P4402