Tag Archive | Frank Lloyd Wright

Circus Trip 2018: Polymath Park

Day 40, Friday, August 24, 2018

Acme, Pennsylvania

When I toured Fallingwater, I had the option to add on a second tour of Frank Lloyd Wright homes nearby; Polymath Park.  I hadn’t heard of it, but why not?

Later in life, Wright was having a hard time making the rent, so to speak.  His homes had always been elaborate, time-consuming and costly, plus he was strict with his demands for how his clients could decorate their finished homes, so as a result he never really had all that many commissions.  He decided to design a series of “Usonian” homes; pre-fabricated kit built homes that could give people the prestige of owning a Frank Lloyd Wright home, without the cost of commissioning a project.  And Wright would get a much needed influx of cash.

It is also important to know that Frank Lloyd Wright took on architecture students, teaching them in his image, and ensuring that there were an increasing number of Frank Lloyd Wright “style” homes out in the world.  Polymath Park is the new name for what was originally a retreat for two wealthy Pittsburgh Jewish families, Balter and Baum.  Apprarently, even in the 1960s, the gentleman’s clubs and hunting and fishing camps of the area were not welcoming to Jews, so Balter and Baum decided to create their own.  They commissioned Peter Berndtsen, one of Wright’s more successful students, to build them each a home in the woods of the Laurel Highlands near Fallingwater.

In the early 2000s, the current owners purchased the Balter and Baum homes with the intention of saving them from redevelopment.  They decided they wanted to open them to the public.  This labor of love led to the purchase and move of two additional Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian homes.  One was moved from Illinois, and the other from Minnesota.  And then there were four.  The owners rent these homes out as overnight lodging, and run a restaurant out of their nearby home.  They also give tours, showing the homes, and giving a bit about the history of Frank Lloyd Wright, his students, and these unique pre-fab homes.

Each tour takes you to three of the homes; when I visited the fourth home had been purchased but not yet moved to the site.  You are treated to a blast from the past, with the characteristic Wright style design, but with more utility and cheaper materials.  It was interesting to be surrounded by so much mid-century modern!

Sadly though, as interesting as the history was, I wouldn’t recommend this tour. You only get to go inside one home, and it’s one that they rent out to overnight guests (apparently that’s part of the agreement to stay there – they do the tour right around you).  Awkward!  I felt that was a bit of a bait and switch, because they aren’t clear in their advertising that this is largely an exterior only tour.  You aren’t allowed to take photos inside the home you get to go inside either!  The other two homes were “exterior only” views – brief stops, without even a walk around the outside.  For me, it wasn’t worth it for the price of the tour.  There are enough Frank Lloyd Wright homes that I could look at the outside of for free.

You win some, you lose some!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Fallingwater

Day 39 & 40, Thursday & Friday, August 23 & 24, 2018

Rockwood & Mill Run, Pennsylvania

Thursday was a rest day.  It had been a little while since I had a day just spent at the campground, but there was another reason too.  My former employer was being sued, and I was being deposed as a witness in the lawsuit.  I have to admit that it was an odd experience, laying in my car bed with my laptop at the ready (part of the deposition was answering questions about exhibit documents), answering the attorney’s questions under oath.  It is not an unheard of experience in my career, but it was the first time I’ve ever been deposed while hanging out in a campground in Pennsylvania!  I’m just glad I didn’t have to fly home for the deposition!

The rest of the day, I relaxed, took some walks, and wrote.  The Hickory Hollow Campground in Rockwood was mostly set up for RVs, and I had the tent area all to myself!  Unfortunately, the Laurel Highlands area of Pennsylvania was quite cool during my visit, so I didn’t have an opportunity to check out the pool at the campground.

 

Friday I was back at it, and ready to see a highlight of the trip.  The architect Frank Lloyd Wright is fascinating to me.  I have enjoyed visiting the homes he has designed and seeing how he incorporates nature (and styles representing nature) into his designs.  So it is no surprise that I was excited to visit Fallingwater!

Fallingwater is considered to be Wright’s masterpiece.  It was built in 1935 for Liliane Kaufmann and her husband Edgar, owners of the Pittsburgh based Kaufmann’s department store.  The Pittsburgh wealthy had long been building homes in the Laurel Highlands area outside of Pittsburgh, and the Kaufmanns were no exception.  What is unique, however, is the home.  Fallingwater is built directly over a waterfall on Bear Run, and incorporates the waterfall and the stream into the design of the home.

It is incredible!  There are stairs from the living room of the home to access the water below.  There are 4 bedrooms and six bathrooms in the home.  Fallingwater has several sections that are cantilevered, meaning they are only supported at one end, including the living room and the outdoor balconies. The home is constructed with concrete and locally quarried Pottsville sandstone, and a series of cantilevered “trays” make up the home over the waterfall.  Wright called his style organic architecture, where stone floors continue inside and out, corner windows blur the lines between interior and exterior, and glass is used in abundance to bring the outdoors in.

Wright wanted the design to be in harmony with nature, and he did not want to have unnecessary braces or structural support.  Wright also insisted that he design the furniture on most of the homes he designed, and Fallingwater contains the original furniture that came with the home.  The Kaufmanns were permitted to display some of their own knick-knacks and artwork; Wright liked to control every detail of the homes he designed.

Unfortunately, there were some disagreements between Wright and the contractors, and the owners of the house.  The Kaufmanns were concerned about whether Wright had enough experience working with concrete and structural engineers recommended much more structural bracing than Wright wanted; the owners had the additional bracing added in spite of Wright’s protests.  Even with this additional structural support added, a study done several years ago showed that the cantilevers were still in danger, and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has had to add additional support in recent years.

 

The tour was very interesting and gave a lot of information about the Kaufmanns and their prized home.  Unfortunately, you can’t take photos inside, and there were far too many people on the tour to sneak any, but I did wander the grounds and I made sure to get the iconic shot of the home and the Bear Run waterfall.  Fallingwater is certainly worth a visit if you have the chance!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Dana-Thomas House

Day 21, Sunday, August 5, 2018

In addition to being the land of Lincoln, Illinois has another famous man who made a name for himself in these parts 50 years after Lincoln died – Frank Lloyd Wright.  He lived in a suburb of Chicago, but his designs were far reaching, with homes in Pennsylvania, Arizona and probably every state in the nation.  Springfield has a Frank Lloyd Wright home that has been incredibly preserved; the Dana-Thomas House.

Mrs. Susan Lawrence Dana lived in an Italianate mansion that had been her parents’ home; she hired Frank Lloyd Wright to remodel the home between 1902 and 1904.  It is truly stunning, and a home that stays very true to Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style.  Mrs. Dana married, but her husband was a bit of a dud and she ended up divorcing him; she never had children, but she was quite a philanthropist and set up a school of sorts to teach black neighborhood children at a time when education for the poor residents nearby was not a priority.  These children had fond memories of Mrs. Dana and spending time in her home library, where they could read, check out books, or play with toys.

In her later years, Mrs. Dana’s finances suffered, and she became ill with dementia.  As a result, her home and belongings had to be sold to pay for her debts and her care.  At that point, the Mr. and Mrs. Charles Thomas bought the home as a complete lot and lived there until Mrs. Thomas’ death in 1975.  Their estate sold the home to the state of Illinois in 1981 for $1 million, which was considerably less than they could have gotten had they parceled out all the furnishings and sold the home separately.

The state of Illinois offers home tours for a $10 suggested donation for adults, only allowing small groups on the tours to prevent damage to the home and furnishings.  It is incredible.  No detail was missed, and the home has been remarkably preserved over the years.  When Mrs. Dana had the home remodeled, one room was left in the Italianate style as a tribute to her parents; it is a contrast to the prairie style of the rest of the home, and interesting to see this dark, heavily decorated room in the center of the home.

Interestingly, Mrs. Dana was allowed to choose her own knickknacks and artwork to decorate the home; often a requirement of working with Frank Lloyd Wright was that he was in charge of all of your home décor, and you didn’t get much.  That vase on the sideboard had to be selected by him, if you were permitted a vase at all.  It goes without saying that I would have not been allowed to commission his work, being the collector that I am.

I really enjoyed this tour, although the tour guide wasn’t the warmest or friendliest person in the world.  I often wonder why people like that take jobs guiding tourists around, if they are sure to be unhappy in the role.  I snuck in right before the tour started, so I watched the movie about the history of Mrs. Dana and the home afterwards; be sure to check that out.

No photos are permitted inside (this seems to be true for all the Frank Lloyd Wright homes that are open to the public), so I did buy a guidebook that has photographs of the interior.

After my tour, I headed down to try out a Springfield microbrewery, called Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery.  Obed &Isaac’s is located in a historic home that is located on the property of Obed Lewis, a contemporary of Abraham Lincoln – Lewis’ three children played with Lincoln’s children.  Unfortunately, the Lewis home had lost its historic charm over the years with numerous remodels, and the owners made the difficult decision to raze the home.

They then purchased the Isaac Lindsey home, another Lincoln era home in Springfield, and moved it to the site.  While they were drawing up plans, they realized that it was too small, so the Isaac Lindsey home was converted to a coffee house, and the Booth-Grunendike home was finally the one that was converted into the Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery and Eatery.  They really, really wanted to save a historic home!

At Obed & Isaac’s, I had the Strawberry Blonde seasonal ale, and their chicken and waffles.  They were excellent and it gave me the energy for more touristing!

Waterfall Wednesday: Fallingwater

It’s Waterfall Wednesday…  Apparently that’s a thing on social media.  So playing along, here is a photo of the waterfall that gave Fallingwater its name, from my trip last summer.  Fallingwater is perhaps the most iconic Frank Lloyd Wright home; you can visit it in southwest Pennsylvania.  Beautiful!