Adventures in the Villa


Lake Michigan

2019-04-23 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Traveling from Huntsville to Florence to Tuscumbia, AL, and Frank Lloyd Wright…

We pulled out of the RV park at the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville and drove to Florence, AL.  We are here to see the Rosenbaum House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (FLlW)…

First, another bridge; I think this is the one millionth time we have crossed the Tennessee River…img_8002img_8005

We arrived in Florence and parked the Villa in the office complex across the street from the house, where the Visitor Center is…


We walked across the street for our tour to begin…


The cantilevered carport roof…


They have the same “sprite” in their front yard that I have in mine…

Rosenbaum House:


Terhorst House:


These Sprites are 1/2 size reproductions of similar Sprites (hundreds of them) originally designed and built for the FLlW-designed Midway Gardens complex in Chicago.  Midway Gardens was a restaurant, beer-hall and event venue complex; the business failed after prohibition was voted in, and the complex was demolished; all the ruble, including hundreds of Sprites, was bulldozed into Lake Michigan as land-fill…

We were greeted by our tour guide, and we heard the history of the house…


The owner of this house across the street gifted this lot to his son, along with some of the money to build the house.


The son and his wife had three sons at the time, and this was the perfect place to raise a family; the lot (at that time) had a fine view of the Tennessee River, but the trees have now grown up to obscure it…

Frank Lloyd Wright was hired for $1,100 to design the house. It was 1,500 sq. ft., and it included three bedrooms and two bathrooms, Living Room, Dining area with built-in table for five, Study, and a tiny “Workroom” – what we would call a kitchen, if we could conceive of such a tiny space being a kitchen.

The house is a classic “Usonian”, a concept named by FLlW to designate the houses that were simple in design, and suited to middle class Americans.

Usonian houses were characterized by their lack of attics and basements, radiant heat in the exposed concrete floors, and simple wood detailing that can be beautiful yet economical due to the ability to be made by machine.  The houses all had tiny “Workrooms”…

The house was built and the family moved in.  They soon found the house a bit cramped, especially when a fourth child arrived.  So they hired FLlW to design an 1,100 s.f. addition, containing a guest room and bath, a new, much larger “Workroom”, a Laundry-Service room, and a large Playroom-Dormitory for the four boys.  Somehow they still managed to get along with the Dining Room table for five…

FLlW designed many pieces of furniture that are still in the house – simple, beautiful, and elegant, using simple materials like plywood.  As usual, the chairs were impractical and uncomfortable, but they are beautiful, and that’s all that matters.  (A chair similar to these from another house recently sold at auction for $35,000!)

The house was sold to the City of Florence in the late 1990s for $75,000; the City spent several years and over $600,000 restoring the house, which was opened to the public in 2002.

The walls of the house, inside and out, are board and batten, using cypress wood from Louisiana swamps, and pine battens.  (We saw cypress trees growing out of the water on our swamp tour…)  Cypress is extremely resistant to wood rot and termites – it is an excellent building material!  Unfortunately, the walls also contain battens of pine; when the house was sold to the City it was found to be infested with termites.  When the termites had destroyed the pine they settled into all the books… But the cypress wood is still intact!


The board and batten walls; on the interior side all shelving, tables, and doors have horizontal lines that match the battens…


The second cantilevered carport…


This tiny balcony in the center of the photo below is off the Master Bedroom…


The Living Room and Study have these beautiful French doors opening onto the terrace…  You can see through the house to the narrow clerestory windows on the opposite side of the room…


We thoroughly enjoyed touring this house.  It is beautifully restored and maintained, and we were able to see all the rooms, with all the furniture, as if the family were still living there.  Furniture not designed by FLlW is mostly designed by Rae and Charles Eames…

After our tour we walked into downtown Florence and walked the four blocks of Court St.  Upon the recommendations of the Rosenbaum staff we had a lovely lunch at Odette…


After lunch we walked back to the Rosenbaum house where we had left the Villa.  We drove to Tuscumbia, about five miles away, and parked at Heritage Acres RV Park.

This is a very basic, all gravel place, with no trees – good for satellite TV reception.  Full hook-ups including cable are all very good.  We wanted to refill one of our propane tanks, but when I went to take it off the Villa I found that it had been locked using a cable and a padlock.  Could I find the combination to the lock?  After tearing apart the trailer and the truck I finally found it, 1 1/2 hours later.

Well-deserved Happy Hours ensued, and an enjoyable time was had by all…

2018-10-13 – Arizona – Day 56 – Taliesin West and the Biltmore… And Rain!

It was slightly raining this morning when we left Sun City to drive to Taliesin West.  We arrived in plenty of time for our tour.  We were able to take a few pictures, but soon it was raining quite hard.


Taliesin is today a fully accredited School of Architecture, and it is not affiliated with any university.  It has between 20 and 30 students at any one time, and they can earn a Masters Degree.  The students live and work and study at each of the two campuses for 6 months each year, Summer in Wisconsin, Winter in Arizona…

We started the tour, but quickly retreated to the “Dance Pavilion”.  This was a performance space, and it is about the last building built at Taliesin West by Frank Lloyd Wright.


What you need to know is that for FLlW, Taliesin West was his “desert camp”, and he enjoyed “camping” here in maximum communion with nature.  The first few years they put together temporary structures with scrap lumber and canvas.  They left it all when they returned to Wisconsin in the Spring, but when they returned in the fall they found that it had all been stolen and carted away by the locals…

So they began to build more permanent buildings, but they were still built to be open to nature.  The roofs were sheets of canvas, walls and doors were open, maybe partially covered with canvas flaps.  They had no electricity (except from generators) until the early 1950s.

So the dance pavilion was originally an open air pavilion.  Only in later years was it enclosed by glass.  The canvas roofs still remain today, and everyone enjoys the softly filtered light that they provide…

We walked in the rain to the FLlW’s “Office”.  This was not a work room, but was a conference room and presentation room… On the way we could see the canvas roofs.  Originally they were just sheets of canvas.  But they deteriorated quickly under the desert sun, so a panelized system was created to make for easy replacements of individual sections.  Today the canvas is covered by translucent acrylic, and the canvas still needs to be replaced about every five years…


Inside, the canvas is supported by steel beams and internal gutters to channel away (most of) the water that seeps through…


All of the solid walls at Taliesin West are concrete, formed with rocks gleaned from the desert by the Taliesin students.  This has proven to be an economical system that has stood the test of time.  This being Arizona, there is no rebar in these concrete walls…


The entrance to the Office is through this odd-shaped door.  The door is barely six feet tall, and the ceiling is not much higher.  FLlW’s secretary sat in this entry space, in a “cave” constructed of this large rock concrete.  This entry exhibits FLlW’s famous “compress and release” concept as you move through the low-ceilinged space into the larger space beyond…


It is a very nice space… Of course, because it was raining, I had to position my chair so that I would not be dripped on…




The table you see covered with a tarp to protect it from the rain is VERY low, as are the chairs.  FLlW designed it this way so that when clients looked at the drawings placed on the table they could see them very well as an overview, but if they wanted to examine them more closely they would have to stoop, and it would be very uncomfortable.  He didn’t want his clients looking too closely at the drawings…


Our next stop was the drafting room.  This room is generally off limits when the students are present, but the students are still in Wisconsin, and they won’t arrive for a few weeks yet… We walked in the rain and passed the concrete walls of the drawing vault.  Paper drawings must always be protected from fire and other elements.  (Today we use computers to draw and make presentations, so they are much safer, if backed-up properly…)


The drafting room has the same style of canvas roof.  The glass ares were originally open, with canvas flaps…


It is a marvelous space!

We then moved to the “Kiva”.  This is the original “man cave”, where FLlW would show movies for his students and guests.  Originally this was a windowless storage room.  When they would leave in the spring they would put anything of value that they were not taking with them in here for security… Later they added the projection room and they experimented with lighting…


Floor lights…


Cove lighting, with “cut-out” shapes to form shadows.  Are these triangles representative of teepees?  Or mountain peaks?


Corner lighting…


We moved on to the Dining Room…


The Dining Room is entered from this Breezeway.  The Breezeway has always been here, but the ceiling was raised after FLlW’s death in 1959.  Apparently his son-in-law, Wesley Peters, who was an MIT-trained engineer, and who was FLlW’s right-hand-man for all things engineering, was 6′-5″ tall, and he hated that he always had to stoop when he was around FLlW.  He wanted a space to sit and enjoy the desert in front of a fireplace and remember FLlW.  So he had the ceiling raised to make this space…


The fireplace…


The views…


We entered the Dining Room to enjoy a break and a little refreshment…


The Dining Room wasn’t always here… It was originally on the opposite side of the house, overlooking the southern views across the desert.  But, in 1948, the local power company strung power poles across the edge of the property to facilitate the rapid post-war expansion of Scottsdale.  FLlW was so incensed at this, after exhausting all avenues of protest, including a letter to President Truman, that he redesigned the buildings and landscaping to reverse the orientation and avoid the views of power poles.  (Truman’s response to his letter:  “Do you really think I have nothing better to do than to worry about your view?”)  Today the power poles have been replaced by giant steel high-tension wire structures… They are quite ugly…)

So we enjoyed our refreshment… We had a VERY interesting talk by a woman who was born at Taliesin.  She lives here today, where she works in the archives department.  Her mother and father were some of the first students here in 1937.  They stayed on after their school days were over, having two children here.  They moved away briefly during WWII; they subsequently divorced, and her mother moved back and lived and worked here the rest of her life.  She passed away just last year, well into her nineties.  There are three other original students who came and never left who still live here…

We saw many photos of life at Taliesin in the old days, and many interesting stories.  Originally, the students pitched tents out in the desert (there were no dormitories…) or they built “Desert Shelters” in which to live.  No electricity, running water, or kitchens.  Students still live out in the desert today… If you come to see Taliesin West in the winter you can tour the student “homes”…

We thoroughly enjoyed her talk…

But it was time to move on… We left the Dining Room via the Breezeway and went to the entrance to Mr. and Mrs. Wright’s home…


As usual, the front door is hard to find, and is very small…


This is the Garden Room, or the entertaining space.  Parties, called, “Taliesin Nights”,  were held here most Saturday evenings.  Celebrities, friends, and students mixed, all in formal attire.  In the early days FLlW would send a large flat bed truck the four miles to Scottsdale to pick up the guests, so that they would not have to navigate the narrow, steep, dirt road…

The room has a canvas roof; glass was added in the late 1940s, and central heat and AC was added by Mrs Wright in the 1970s… It is a lovely room…


Water is added whenever it rains…






Adjacent to the Garden Room is the Wrights’ private sitting room.  Originally it was an open-air space, open to take in the nature of the desert…


But Mrs. Wright eventually tired of the exposure to the desert and asked that glass be installed.  FLlW objected for many years… Finally, FLlW consented, and ordered the apprentices to install the glass.  When they asked what they should do with the pots on the shelves, FLlW angrily answered, “Leave them exactly where they are”!  Thus:


The Wrights’ bedroom and Mrs. Wrights sitting room, face onto the desert, but the views have been constructed, using fencing and trees, to obscure the power poles… The “Moon Gate” allowed the Wrights’ children to access the adjacent courtyard and their rooms.  Mrs. Wright eventually built another bedroom suite for herself after FLlW’s death…


The Sprites seen here are two of the five remaining original Sprites (out of over 500) that were designed and built for the Midway Gardens project in Chicago in 1915.  The others were all bulldosed into Lake Michigan, along with the rest of  Midway Gardens, after prohibition doomed the project and the City wanted something else on the site…


This is the Master Bedroom…


The bathroom is sheathed in polished aluminum… as befitting an Airstream!


More lighting experiments in the bedroom:  recessed lighting and up-lighting…


We then moved to one of the guest cottages.  The rain is briefly letting up…



Walking back along the main house… This is about the only 2-story building… The upper floors contain apartments for staff and/or guests…


The dinner bell…


Our last building is the Cabaret…


This is an underground “supper club” where the students and staff would put on various types of entertainment… The acoustics are great!


Notice that the rows of seats are angled relative to the stage area.  Mr. Wright always sat a certain way in venues like this, so the seating was designed to accommodate his habits.  This was his way of dictating how you sit if you want a good view of the stage…


I couldn’t help peeking into the kitchen and service corridor…


As we left the Cabaret the rain stopped briefly, so we could take a few photos of the exteriors…


Ventilation holes in the vault…


The Office…


The Drafting Room…


The view of the power towers…




And then our three hour tour was over…

We left, sadly, in the rain…

We dropped in at The Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Resort… We immediately noticed the Sprites… Oh.  And it was raining with a capital RAIN!


Warren McArthur, Jr. and his brother Charles McArthur along with John McEntee Bowman, opened the Arizona Biltmore on February 23, 1929.

The Arizona Biltmore’s architect of record is Albert Chase McArthur (brother of the hotel owners), yet the design is often mistakenly attributed to Frank Lloyd Wright.  This is due to Wright’s on-site consulting for four months in 1928 relating to the “Textile Block” construction used in the hotel.  Albert McArthur had been a draftsman for Wright, and specifically asked Wright to assist with implementing the textile block system, which became a signature element of the hotel’s appearance.  The hotel has similarities to several Wright buildings, especially in the main lobby, owing to a strong imprint of the unit block design that Wright had utilized on four residential buildings in the Los Angeles area six years earlier.  McArthur is indisputably the architect as original linen drawings of the hotel in the Arizona State University Library archives attest, as does a 1929 feature article in Architectural Record magazine. The two architects are a study in contrast with the famous and outspoken Wright being self-taught and never licensed as an architect in Arizona. The more soft-spoken McArthur was Harvard trained in architecture, mathematics, engineering, and music. McArthur obtained an architect’s license in Arizona, number 338, in 1925, the year he arrived in Phoenix to begin his practice.

Reproductions of the geometric ‘sprite’ statues originally designed by sculptor Alfonso Iannelli for Wright’s 1915 Midway Gardens project in Chicago are placed around the property.  Also, the original hotel solarium was converted to a restaurant in 1973 and since the mid-1990s has been named ‘Wright’s’.  Three on site restaurants bear Wright’s name, Wright’s at the Biltmore, The Wright Bar, and Frank & Albert’s.

We were there to have lunch at Frank and Albert’s

We looked around and found many interesting details…


And then we enjoyed a very nice lunch…


Driving back to the Villa proved to be quite an adventure…


We did safely return to the Villa and spent the rest of the day and evening watching football…

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2017-09-08 Westbound; Stranded, but escaped from, Thunder Bay, Day 8…

Today we move to Racine, WI.  We left early again, in the dark, traveling down small, dark, country roads; the only light was the occasional milk truck stopping by a dairy to pick up its load…

We reached Racine in time for a quick Starbucks, then we were at the headquarters of the SC Johnson Company – the Johnson Wax people…

At the 1967 World’s Fair they constructed a pavilion they called the Golden Rondelle; after the fair they moved it to their Headquarters in Racine; it is used as the Visitor Center, and as a conference center and theater:

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Our tour is of the Research Tower and the Administration Building.  Unfortunately, interior photography is strictly forbidden… The Administration Building interiors are spectacular.  I was able to steal some images off the internet…

The Johnson Wax Headquarters, completed in 1939, was set in an industrial zone; Frank Lloyd Wright wanted to relocate the headquarters out to the countryside to give all the employees more contact with nature.  Johnson say, “No way.”  So Wright decided to create a sealed environment lit from above, as he had done with the Larkin Administration Building.  (See my earlier blog about the Martin House.)   The building features FLW’s interpretation of the streamlined Art Moderne style popular in the 1930s. In a break with FLW’s earlier Prairie School structures, the building features many curvilinear forms and subsequently required over 200 different curved “Cherokee red” bricks to create the sweeping curves of the interior and exterior.  The mortar between the bricks is raked  to accentuate the horizontality of the building (like he did at the Martin House).  The warm, reddish hue of the bricks was used in the polished concrete floor slab as well; the white stone trim and white “lily pad” columns create a subtle yet striking contrast.  All of the furniture, manufactured by Steelcase, was designed for the building by FLW and it mirrored many of the building’s unique design features – see photos and story below…

The entrance is within the structure, penetrating the building on one side with a covered carport on the other.  The carport is supported by short versions of the steel-reinforced lily-pad concrete columns that appear in the “Great Workroom”.  The low carport ceiling creates a compression of space that later expands when entering the main building where the lily-pad columns rise over two stories tall.  This rise in height as one enters the administration building creates a release of spatial compression making the space seem much larger than it is. Compression and release of space were concepts that Wright used in many of his designs, as I have noted in my earlier blogs.

Throughout the Great Workroom, a series of the thin, white lily-pad columns rise to spread out at the top, forming a ceiling, the spaces in between the circles are set with skylights made of Pyrex glass tubing (see below for more of the story of the glass tubes…) At the corners, where the walls usually meet the ceiling, the glass tubes continue up, over and connect to the skylights creating a clerestory effect and letting in a pleasant soft light. The Great Workroom is the largest expanse of space in the Johnson Wax Building, and it features no internal walls.  It was designed for the secretaries of the Johnson Wax company.  The Great Workroom is intended to celebrate the work of these important people and the work they do.  A mezzanine holds the offices of the administrators.  We did not get to see the mezzanine.

The Great Workroom:

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The desks:

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The desk with the three-legged chair:

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The construction of the Johnson Wax Administration building created controversies for the architect.  In the Great Workroom, the lily pad columns are 9 inches in diameter at the bottom and 18 feet in diameter at the top.  This difference in diameter between the bottom and top of the column did not sit well with building officials in Racine; they deemed the pillar’s dimensions too slender at the base to support the weight.  Building officials were also not impressed that FLW held no license as an Architect…  So they required that a test column be built and loaded with twelve tons of material. The test column, once it was built, was not only tough enough to support the requested weight but FLW insisted that it be loaded with five-fold the weight. It took sixty tons of materials before the “calyx,” the part of the column that meets the lily pad, cracked.  The crashing of the 60 tons of materials to the ground damaged a water main 30 feet underground. After this demonstration, a vindicated FLW was given his building permit. (But not a license…)

Additionally, it was very difficult to properly seal the glass tubing of the clerestories and roof, thus causing leaks.  This problem was not solved until the company replaced the top layers of tubes with skylights of angled sheets of fiberglass and specially molded sheets of Plexiglas with painted dark lines to resemble in a ‘trompe l’oeil‘ of the original joints when viewed from the ground.  The glass tubes are still performing well today as “windows”, both in the Administration Building and in the Research Tower.

Finally, FLW’s chair design for Johnson Wax originally had only three legs, supposedly to encourage better posture (because one would have to keep both feet on the ground at all times to sit in it).  However, the chair design proved too unstable, tipping very easily. Herbert Johnson, wanting to keep the secretaries from falling out of their chairs, purportedly asked FLW to sit in one of the three-legged chairs and, after FLW fell from the chair, the architect agreed to design new chairs for with four legs; these chairs, and the other office furniture designed by Wright, are still in use to this day.

We were able to sit in the chairs, both the three- and four-legged versions.  We could also see the eight different versions of the desks, including swinging (not sliding) drawers, and built-in trash cans.

The ceiling between the lily pad columns are amazing, illuminating the space beautifully. The glass tubes are also used as “windows”, diffusing the light and offering a wonderful texture.  The caulking between the tubes failed early on, and it took 20 years of experimenting before they finally found a water-tight solution:  silicon sealants.

The curved glass tube “windows”:

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Next on the tour is the Research Tower:

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The Research Tower was a later addition to the complex, completed in 1950, and provides a vertical counterpoint to the horizontal administration building.  It is one of only 2 existing high rise buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright.  Cantilevered from a deep foundation and a small central core, the tower’s floor slabs spread out like tree branches, providing for the segmentation of departments vertically.  Elevator and stairway channels run up the core of the building.  The single reinforced central core, termed by Wright as a tap root, was based on an idea proposed by Wright for the (unbuilt) St. Mark’s Tower in 1929.  Wright recycled the tap root foundation in the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma in 1952 (see my blog on the Price Tower).  Freed from peripheral supporting elements, the tower rises gracefully from a garden and three fountain pools that surround its base, while a spacious court on three sides provides ample parking for employees.

The tower has twice as many floors as it appears; every other floor in the square tower is circular, and these are mezzanines that do not contact the exterior walls.  You can see it in this photo during construction, and you can see the mezzanine levels through the glass tube “windows”.

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The Research Tower is no longer in use because of the change in fire safety codes (it has only one 29-inch wide twisting staircase), although the company is committed to preserving the tower as a symbol of its history.  In 2013, an extensive 12-month restoration was completed.  The research labs shown on the tour have been set up to appear frozen in time, including beakers, scales, centrifuges, archival photographs and letters about the building.

The final building on the tour was the Fortaleza Hall:

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Fortaleza Hall’s construction marked the first major new construction at the company’s international headquarters since Frank Lloyd Wright first designed and developed the Administration Building and Great Workroom which opened in 1939 and the Research Tower which opened in 1950.  (The last new building to be brought to the campus was the Golden Rondelle in 1967.)

The new building offers visitors a chance to come together to learn more about the SC Johnson company and provides employees with a central place for company amenities.  The 60,000 square foot facility, which broke ground in September 2007, has two distinct sections: Fortaleza Hall, which provides historical context for the company and the advances that continue to take place through displays, memorabilia, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Library and Legacy Gallery; and a second part, The Commons, which offers employee services like dining, concierge services, company store, bank and fitness center in a comfortable environment.  Fortaleza Hall houses a full-size twin-engine S-38 amphibious plane suspended to simulate it in flight which can be viewed by all passers-by.

The building is a nice counterpoint to the FLW buildings. The brick matches the color of the grout in the bricks in the Research Tower and Administration Building.  The curves pay homage as well:

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Inside are galleries telling of the five generations of Johnson family Presidents, the history of many of the Johnson Wax products, and, of special interest to us, a gallery full of models of FLW buildings.

It was a great experience to see these icons of 20th century architecture.  An interesting side note:  The “Great Workroom” contains restrooms only for women; the upper levels contain restrooms primarily for men, with a few small token restrooms for women.  The Research Tower has restrooms only for men…

So we move on: Lunch!  We drove to downtown Racine and parked near the marina; we headed to the Reef Point Brew House.  But wait!  There is a Classic and Antique Boat Show going on!  We love old boats:

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We saw several boats displaying this symbol for Glen L.  Glen L was a Naval Architect and small boat designer who, for over 60 years, operated from a really cool mid-century modern building in Bellflower, CA, where we used to live.  In fact, it is located directly behind out favorite Airstream Service Center, C&G.

I spoke with a man who was sitting on his Glen L boat.  He spoke highly of his designs; the Glen L boat pictured above was Glen’s last design; Glen died a few months ago, and his wife and daughter currently run the business.

When I was a kid, I loved Glen L boats, and I poured through his catalogs of plans and kits for hours on end.  I still have some of those catalogs today.  This is the boat I always wanted to build and own:

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After lunch we checked out the views of Lake Michigan; we now have seen all five Great Lakes on this Odyssey!

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We continued on our journey; we drove a few miles north to see Wingspread:

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Wingspread was built in 1939 and was designed by, of course, Frank Lloyd Wright for Herbert Fisk Johnson Jr., then the president of S.C. Johnson.  It was considered by FLK to be one of his most elaborate house designs. If fact, it is the largest home designed by FLW.  The property is now a conference center operated by The Johnson Foundation.  Note that it was designed and built at the same time as Fallingwater.

Wingspread is located near the center of the Wind Point peninsula, a triangular protrusion into Lake Michigan north of the city of Racine.  The approximately 12 acres of landscaped grounds form an integral part of the architectural experience, having a landscaping plan also developed by FLW in emulation of a prairie setting.  The house is approached from the north by a long winding drive.  The house consists of a central hub, from which four long arms radiate.  Each of the wings house a different function: parents’ wing, children’s wing, service wing, and guest wing, with the public spaces in the center.  The hub appears as a domed structure, with clerestory windows on the sides, and a viewing platform (“Crow’s Nest”) at the top.

The tour was mostly self-directed; we were given a floor plan and we were free to wander at will.  (We were not allowed into the kitchen area or into the guest and servants’ wings…)

The approach to the entry:

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The entry:

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The central core contains lounging areas, office areas, and the dining area:

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See the dining table above: it was designed to slide back into the butler pantry, so that dishes could be cleared and new courses of food could be placed, then it would slide back out to where the people were sitting… They used it this way once.  Apparently it was was awkward for the dinner guests to be sitting there in their chairs without the dining table between them…

More living spaces:

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The Study:

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The spiral staircase to the “Crow’s Nest”:

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I was able to climb to the top:

Lynda took a picture from below:

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The Master Bedroom wing:

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More FLW barrel chairs:

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The mezzanine:

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The vertical fireplace (above) is a neat feature; apparently, when these 8′ logs burn, and the bottom ends burn away, the burning logs fall into the room.  It was used once…

Looking down at the staircase:

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The pergola and terrace:

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The wood on the exterior is cypress; it was left unfinished to age naturally.  It has. Maybe it is time to reconsider that decision…

The construction was overseen by a young John Lautner.  John Lautner subsequently moved to southern California and built many extraordinary houses there.  The house was the last of Wright’s Prairie School inspired designs.

There are several interesting stories about this house.  Sadly, Mrs. Johnson died unexpectedly during the early stages of construction.  Mr. Johnson, however, did carry forward and complete the house.  Mr. Johnson subsequently remarried and the new wife did not like the house.  She added floral draperies throughout the house, and removed the FLW-designed furniture and brought in her own overstuffed furniture. She removed the modern art and brought in her own traditional artworks.

OA few years later, Frank Lloyd Wright was an overnight guest.  Always an early riser, he removed all of the offending furniture, draperies, and artwork, and re-installed his own, which he found in the storage rooms of the house.  When Mrs. Johnson came down and saw what he had done, she ordered him to leave the house, which he did in a haughty manner.  He never returned.

The Johnsons built a new house on the property more to Mrs Johnson’s liking:

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The other story, which, while it may be apocryphal, just might not be true:  The skylights leaked.  From day one.  (This part is true…)  One evening, when the Johnsons were entertaining several influential people from the area, it started to rain.  The skylights leaked.  The water dripped directly onto Mr. Johnson’s bald head.  Obviously annoyed, he asked the maid to bring the telephone to the table.  He called FLW at Taliesin.  He said, “Mr. Wright, your skylights are leaking again, right on top of me where I sit at dinner. What do you propose I do?”  FLW is purported to have said, “Well, why don’t you move your chair?”

The Johnson family donated the property to The Johnson Foundation in 1959 as an international educational conference facility.

It is quite a house, but obviously it has its flaws.  It is certainly a glimpse of how the upper classes lived in those days, at least the upper classes who did not want to live in a gilded age mansion…

We headed back towards Madison, with one more FLW building to see:  The Unity Temple (officially known as the First Unitarian Meeting House.

We were unable to see inside; but the outside is pretty impressive:

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The First Unitarian Meeting House was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, one of its members and the son of two of its founders.  FLW was commissioned to design the Meeting House in 1946.  Construction began in 1949 and was completed in 1951.  The FLW design is characterized by its prow-like roof, covered with a blue-green standing seam copper, set with a combination of vertical and horizontal seams to emphasize the roof’s shape. 

The church building is recognized as one of the most innovative examples of church architecture.  In 1960, the American Institute of Architects designated it one of 17 buildings to be retained as an example of FLW’s contribution to American culture.  The Meeting House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, before the traditional 50-year minimum age for historic buildings. 

So we were sated, for the day.  We stay in a cheap motel tonight, and head back “home” to Thunder Bay tomorrow.  An enjoyable time was had by all…










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