Today we visit more architecture! And a bit of history. Three houses are on the agenda, but these are different than the two we saw yesterday; they are all within a park preserve not far from Fallingwater.
The site is called Polymath Park, and it is an 125-acre preserve dedicated to these significant houses. The site is surrounded by private forest in the Allegheny Mountains and features three architectural landmarks: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Donald C. Duncan House and two others by Peter Berndtson (1909–1972), who was one of the original Wright associates at Taliesin.
In 1962, Berndtson master planned the 125 acre property for 24 dwellings, each sited in a circular clearing in the forest. Only two houses, however, were actually built: the Balter House in 1964 and the 1965 Blum House. The development plan never progressed, and eventually the Blums and the Balters sold their houses. Many years later, Thomas and Heather Papinchak purchased the property, and began a dream project to restore and preserve these two houses, plus more.
Frank Lloyd Wright developed a systems-built concept to bring his unique design ideas to modest, production-style houses. These “Usonian” houses were available as pre-cut kits, to be shipped to your site and assembled by local labor. FLW himself would site your house if you sent him a topographical survey of your property. The buyers of these kits were not allowed to communicate with FLW directly.
One of these Usonian kit houses was built in 1957 in Lisle, Illinois, for Donald and Elizabeth Duncan, After the Duncans’ deaths the house fell into disrepair, and was constantly being damaged by the flooding of its site. The house was sold and deconstructed in 2004 and put into storage, waiting for a new site to be readied. When the deal for the new site fell through the fate of the Duncan house was in question.
However, when Thomas and Heather Papinchak heard about it, things started moving rapidly. The Duncan house was shipped to Polymath Park and reassembled in 2007. Today, the Duncan house, The Blum house, and the Balter house are all open for tours; in addition, a fourth FLW house is being moved to the site; foundations are currently under construction.
We began our day by driving in the rain to this remote location. However, unlike yesterday, the rain never let up. We met our tour guide in “Treetops”, the original house of Thomas and Heather Papinchak, adjacent to Polymath Park. Our tour guide drove our group in the little shuttle bus; first was the Duncan house., then Balter, then Blum; after our tour, as we drove back to Treetops for lunch, our guide told us a story:
At Fallingwater, the Kaufmans had a long-time cook. In fact, she is still alive today, at age 104. When the Kaufmans would put on a large party, additional help was needed. The cook asked her best friend to come assist, and this friend would also bring her small son, who would play around the kitchen and staff rooms of Fallingewater. At one such event, Frank Lloyd Wright was in attendance, and FLW playfully interacted with the small boy for a few minutes.
This small boy was our guide’s grandfather… He told us that he only heard this story after he had started giving tours at Polymath Park… And now you know the rest of the story…
But back to the houses: These were very modest, affordable, middle class, 1950s houses. But the design features, the settings, the details and the materials are artfully designed and integrated into simple and beautiful houses…
The Duncan House:
The Balter House:
The Blum House:
All in all a very fun day, learning about more than just FLW houses. We hope this neat little park will eventually be filled with these great houses.