The Evolution of Earl Young
Everything Earl Young
Earl Young has arguably become one of the most influential and beloved characters in the little town of Charlevoix, Michigan. One would have never known the significance of having the “Mushroom Houses” would become in the day. I can tell you that it makes an already cute and whimsical town, even that much more fantastic. The folks who reside here will be forever grateful to this wonderful architect, builder,designer and overall genius!
Earl Young was born in 1889 in Mancelona, Mi., located about 30 miles from Charlevoix. He and his family moved here when he was just 11 years old. His parents owned and operated an insurance agency in town and tried desperately to make their marriage work. They soon realized it was doomed and unfortunately….divorce was in their future. Earl had his way of getting through these tough times making him the man he would soon become.
Now, back then as we all know….Computers, iPads, iTunes, iPhones etc etc. were a thing of the future and divorce was nowhere near as common as today. In order to have a distraction from his dysfunctional family life, he needed escape. Earl found solace by walking the miles and miles of beautiful shoreline bordering Charlevoix and started the journey of becoming an avid nature lover. This can only compare to the great Earnest Hemingway himself, who also loved Northern Michigan’s beauty and wonder.
As Earl Young blossomed into adulthood….he decided to try out his second love of home design and attended the University of Michigan School of Architecture. Unfortunately, he only lasted a year. The curriculum centered around Victorian, and Neo-Classical Corinthian architecture which was something Earl Young wanted no part of, so….fed up and frustrated, he quit and moved back home. Happy to be back in Charlevoix, he and his high school sweetheart, Irene Harsha, married. Earl went on to get his real estate license and continue to help his mother run the family insurance business……something was missing though.
His creative juices were beginning to bubble over and his love of stones and boulders could no longer be contained. He decided then and there he would follow his dream and begin work on his first house completed in 1918. This is the only house Earl ever worked on that has blueprints in existence. The fact was….this was Earl’s first house and inexperience told him he needed help. He worked with an established architect and the blue prints are still framed and hung to this day in the main stairwell of the house. Earl soon realized though that he was a one man machine and a bit of a control freak and thus begun the makings of a somewhat egotistical, charismatic and innovative genius that stood no taller than 5’1″ tall. This is quite similar to another one of his heroes….Frank Lloyd Wright…..wouldn’t you agree? (Frank was 5’7″ tall but had the same personality, design traits…and especially the ego.)
Unfortunately being this was Earl’s first house….he wasn’t ever quite satisfied with the look and style of it. He lived here for many years though, but quickly made note of the design flaws and mistakes. He also decided working alone on the design was best, thus giving him total control. He soon began looking for a new and awesome property to build on.
He found it down on the southern shore of Lake Michigan and is now aptly named…”Boulder Park.” Here, Earl built, designed and influenced the entire area and holds 10 plus of his houses. He went back to his original building spot of his first house after extensive travels to Europe. This is now called the “Park Ave.” section where he built, designed and worked on 10 plus houses there too.
All in all he went on to build 28 houses and 3 commercial buildings. He passed away in 1975 leaving behind his wife and 4 children. His life and career while controversial and beloved at the time….became super sized after his death. This reiterates the theory that many artists become most successful after their passing…… he is in good company.
I believe Earl would be so proud to know how many people love and adore him and how much his love for nature and “outside the box” thinking have affected his admirers. He used to say that the Boulders “spoke” to him and had a way of thinking and looking at things that only a creative person can understand. As far as the building and engineering…he was self-taught and that’s something only a mathematical person can understand. I often say he had both sides of the brain in play while building his masterpieces.
I sometimes wonder what Earl Young would have designed if his career took place in present time with all the codes, restrictions and rules? The reason he was so brilliant was his ability to build without anyone to stop him. He definitely had his critics, but he also had more freedom to do as he pleased. This is is why each house holds such a unique characteristic and a rudamentary design. No one will ever be able to reconstruct what he has done and that makes it one of the most special places to see and something you won’t soon forget.
One thing to keep in mind….Earl Young never called his houses “Mushroom Houses”, “Gnome Homes”, “Smurf Houses” or “Hobbit Houses” as they are commonly referred. Those names were all coined by admirers and the fact that one in particular was designed to look like an actual mushroom. No….Earl would have wanted them to be called Earl Young houses. Until his name can stand on its own…they will always be known as the “Mushroom Houses of Charlevoix” and I do hope he is looking down and proud to have created such a unique trademark.
I will be blogging about each house’s history individually along with his significant family members, any influences he may have had as well as Charlevoix’s history as a whole…..please leave any responses on specifics you may want to know and I will see if I can help!! As always….thank you so much for your support!!