Up Front: Frank Lloyd Wrong
Before you think the title is a mistake and it should read Frank Lloyd Wright, you may change your mind at the end of this editorial. Most people know Frank Lloyd Wright was America’s most famous and greatest architect. He designed several famous buildings, the Guggenheim, the Imperial Hotel in Japan and the S.C. Johnson wax buildings are some his more famous commercial works; but it may be his residential designs that he is most known for. He designed hundreds of homes around the country and many of them are now registered landmarks. Fallingwater, a residence in Pennsylvania, may be his most famous residential work.
So, why would I call him Frank Lloyd Wrong? The more you know of him, the more you might agree: he was just so wrong. Wright did not think like other people and did not live like other people, but he certainly was a genius. The story of Fallingwater was an example of his gift and true genius.
The story goes that a wealthy Pennsylvania store owner commissioned Wright from Wisconsin to design him a truly unique home. Wright always needed the cash and quickly agreed. The owner would call the famous architect every few months to check on design progress and Wright assured him things were progressing nicely, when in fact he had done nothing. The owner called again, slightly frustrated he had not seen a thing from the Wright architectural firm. After Wright again assured him he was on track, the owner said, “That’s great to hear, because I am just leaving your local airport and should be there in less than hour.”
The now panicked Wright directed his draftsmen to stop all other work and gave them directions as he sketched out Fallingwater in less than 10 minutes. The crew quickly went to work and by the time the client arrived, a rough set of drawings was complete with floor plans and elevations. Not bad, considering that to this day Fallingwater is considered a work of genius.
Procrastination was not his only failing. He had a difficult time working with his employees and clients, constantly getting into arguments and often violent altercations. Wright also had problems with marriage; he was married three times and was known to have several affairs during his marriages.
Works of ArtA friend of mine came to visit me in Southern California. He knew very little about this part of the country and has no interest in the more typical tourist trappings. He is an AIA architect and a Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiast. I learned that there were several Frank Lloyd Wright projects in Southern California and a few open to public viewing. That was his kind of vacation, so off we went.
The Hollyhock House has public tours and as we started, the young guide asked if anyone was familiar with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright? As my friend raised his hand, she asked “What do you do for living sir”? After the reply of “architect,” she became visibly disappointed. She replied that she hated giving tours to architects, as she explained that they usually knew more than her. She started the tour by telling us that the owner of the home was Ms. Barnsdale and that her favorite flower was the Hollyhock. My architect friend chimed in with, “It was also Frank Lloyd Wright’s favorite flower.”
I heard her murmur “And so it begins.”
Across the valley was Ennis House. This house was built in 1924 and has been used in several movies. Ennis gained movie fame in 1959 for the backdrop in “House on Haunted Hill.” This was just the start, as Ennis House has been in dozens of movies since then, like Blade Runner, Karate Kid III, Black Rain, Rush Hour, The Rocketeer, Glimmer Man and many others. Ennis House has also been in countless photo shoots and television programs. While not open to the public any longer, my friend showed his particular genius and doggedness by getting us access after a short conversation with the caretaker. It was quite a treat to tour the interior of this famous home-the architecture was unmistakable, and I recognized it from movies scenes. The house was nothing less than amazing.
As I thought about Frank Lloyd Wright and his innovation, distinctive style and his amazing legacy, I realized that no matter how many wrong decisions he made, he ultimately was Wright. I further think we should watch for and respect genius-not every thinks like the average person. And while you may think they are wrong, maybe they are Wright?