Adventures in the Villa



2021-08-14 – The Oregon Trail caravan … Day 17 – Traveling Fort Bridger, WY to Montpelier, ID

We spent just one night at Fort Bridger, and we move today to Montpelier, Idaho. This will be a three state day: Lunch in Wyoming, Dinner in Utah, and sleep in Idaho.

We began again with the ever-changing Wyoming landscape…

We are headed to the Fossil Butte National Monument.

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These bluffs are the shoreline of an ancient inland sea… The fossils we will be seeing are all sourced from here…

We proceeded to the Visitors Center

We were not the first to arrive…

Inside is a nice collection of fossils found nearby. There was also a good video showing how the fossils are found and extracted… Also, there was a man uncovering fossils as we watched…

We saw a crocodile…

A palm frond…

And a turtle…

We discovered that many rocks contain lots of Carbon…

In fact, note the Calcium Carbonate shown here; you will see mention of it later in this blog…

More views of the bluffs…

We headed out and shortly found a fuel stop and an opportunity for lunch…

More Wyoming landscape…

And then we entered Idaho!

We parked the Villa at the RV park, and headed over to the National Oregon/California Trail Center…

We had a guided tour of the exhibits depicting life on the trails, from getting prepared and buying provisions to actual travel down the trails…

There was an entire gallery of artworks prepared by a local husband and wife team…

We heard descriptions of the wagon, and contents (1,200 – 1,500 lbs. of food), and life on the trails…

We saw a typical supply store where anything you wanted could be purchased…

Then we heard some tall tails after we spent a few minutes inside a simulated wagon ride…

After the museum we headed south to Utah for dinner… We soon found ourselves on the shores of Bear Lake.

Bear Lake is a natural freshwater lake on the Idaho–Utah border. About 109 square miles in size, it is split about equally between the two states. The lake has been called the “Caribbean of the Rockies” for its unique turquoise-blue color, which is due to the refraction of calcium carbonate (limestone) deposits suspended in the lake. Limestone! I told you I would mention it again! Its water properties have led to the evolution of several unique species of fauna that occur only within the lake. Bear Lake is over 250,000 years old. It was formed by fault subsidence that continues today, slowly deepening the lake along the eastern side. In 1911 the majority of the flow of the Bear River was diverted into Bear Lake via Mud Lake and a canal from Stewart Dam, ending 11,000 years of separation between the lake and that river system.

Today the lake is a popular destination for tourists and sports enthusiasts, and the surrounding valley has gained a reputation for having high-quality raspberries.

Unfortunately, due to smoke from fires in Oregon, the air is very hazy, obscuring the mountains across the lake…

On our way to Bear lake we passed a marvelous Mormon Tabernacle in the town of Paris, ID.

We entered Utah…

We stopped for a little refreshment before dinner at Coopers, a restaurant at a golf course in Fish Haven, ID

At the appointer hour we arrived at the Bear Trapper, in Garden City, UT…

All the Airstreamers are here!

After dinner Lynda and I walked down to the shore of the lake.

Garden City is a vacation area tourist place, much like the coast of Maine, Cape Cod, and the Wisconsin Dells. Lots of ice cream and fast food places that are absolutely overrun with tourists out for a good time. The traffic was terrible…

Boaters are everywhere…

And late on a Saturday afternoon in August the line to bring your boat trailer in to take your boat out of the water was hours long…

We returned to the Villa in time to see the sun set into the smoke…

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…

2017-09-14 Westbound; New Refrigerator and Minnesota…

We were up at 5:00 am to get the Villa ready to be moved into the service bay here at Shorewood RV, just outside Minneapolis.  All went well, and by 6:15 the Villa was in the Service Bay and we were on the road to the town of Elk River, about 6 miles down the road…

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Elk River is a delightful town along the banks of the Mississippi River.  The town has been around a long time, but recent developments have nicely enhanced the town and the feel of the downtown business district.  As you see in the photo above, the historic buildings are on the left and a new apartment building is on the right.  The new building fits the scale of the street, contains retail spaces at the street level, and provide a very human scaled space.  The same thing is going on around the corner:

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We walked about the town, then had breakfast at the Olde Main Eatery.  It is what a small town diner should be:  friendly people, regulars sitting at their regular tables, with olde time photographs on the wall.  We enjoyed a nice breakfast and looked at maps to better understand the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore.  We hope to be there the day after tomorrow (Saturday).

After breakfast we walked down to the Mississippi River; it was very quiet in the early morning light:

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The town has developed a nice waterfront park with an informal amphitheater for community events.  All in all, it is a very nice town!

We returned to Shorewood RV to find out thet there was a small snag in the parts that had been delivered, so it was going to take a little longer to complete the new refrigerator installation.. We spent the morning in their lounge, planning our stays for the next few days…

By 11:30 the refer was done and we were hitching up.  We were underway just before noon.  We are heading west, across most of Minnesota, but first we had to get out of Minneapolis.   We even encountered our first detour of our trip; we were led off the southbound freeway and re-routed back north again for five miles, then west and south again.  Hopefully, we won’t see this type of thing again any time soon.

Once we were out of the city we traveled easily along two lane roads through endless farmland.  While it was quite beautiful, it was not as lush as Wisconsin.  On the other hand, it is one week later and fall is clearly on its way.

These photos show what we saw all day:

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We did see a little Minnesota humor adjacent to one gas station:

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And then, out of the blue, the road was closed.  We had to head back east about 15 miles before we could go south and then west again.. These detours are maddening!  Why can’t they put up better signs and prior warnings?

There are also some small towns that we passed through.  Some are really tiny; this is Gibbon.  It is a little more substantial than many:

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And churches.  Lots of churches:

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Our mid-day break was to stop and see the town of Walnut Grove and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum:

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The Ingalls family lived in Walnut Grove in two increments of two years each.  In between, they moved to Iowa and managed a hotel for two years.  In contrast to the Little House on the Prairie TV Show, they had a miserable time here.  They lived in a dug-out, and their wheat crops were wiped out two years in a row by grasshoppers; they pretty much lost everything and moved to Iowa. Also, Mary had a stroke (not scarlet fever) that left her blind, and a newborn baby boy died.  After their years in Iowa they returned to Walnut Grove, and “Pa” opened a butcher shoppe, while Laura worked as a housekeeper in the local hotel.  But I digress…

The museum has very little memorabilia that is actually from the Ingalls family.  There are lots of historical references, photos, book excerpts, and antiques gathered from many sources that attempt to show what life was like on the prairie.  It was interesting in a modest way.  But, in general, a giant waste of time…

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They have a re-creation of a typical dugout, but it is made from reinforced concrete…

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They have a recreation of a typical school house from the 1880s; Laura taught school for two years, starting when she was 15 years old, but it was not here:

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To prove to you readers just how old I am, I actually did attend a two-room school, and we had desks exactly like this… (We never could figure out what those holes in the desk-tops were for…)

So we moved on; tomorrow we visit De Smet, the actual “Little Town on the Prairie”…

We drove to our RV park for the night, in Pinestone, MN.  We have full hook-ups (water, sewer, power), plus good internet access and satellite TV.  We had a quiet night, with Happy Hours and burritos for dinner.  Tomorrow we can shop to re-stock the refrigerator.

An an enjoyable time was had by all…
















2017-09-09 Westbound; Stranded, but escaped from, Thunder Bay, Day 9…

Today we return to Thunder Bay; we had a great time in Wisconsin, even though we were living in cheap motels and not the Villa; we were also driving a cheap rental car, not the Silverado, so no satellite radio, no navigation system, no wifi, and no 110v electrical outlet to charge our devices.  On the other hand, we could park in regular parking stalls like normal human beings…

We left early, stopped at Starbucks, headed northwest.  It was an uneventful drive. Eventually we passed through Duluth, into Minnesota. Finally we stopped for lunch at the Ledge Rock Grill:

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This is a nice full-service lodge, right on the shore of Lake Superior; after lunch I needed a little nap:

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We drove on; we stopped at Brighten Beach and once again walked along the shore:

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A few miles short of the border is the little town of Temperance; of course we had to stop at the liquor store:

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We crossed the border with no hassles, and returned to the Villa in Thunder Bay;

We unpacked and cleaned the Villa; then, because it is Saturday, we went looking for a Sports Bar to watch the USC-Stanfurd football game.

We failed.  Apparently Sports Bars in Canada only show hockey and curling.  No college football.  We returned to the Villa and powered up my iPad with Sling Box. We were able to watch the first quarter of the game before Verizon cut off my band width…

Never the less, Happy Hours ensued; an enjoyable time was had by all…

(PS:  Stanfurd lost.  Yay!)




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…










2017-09-06 Westbound; Stranded, but escaped from, Thunder Bay, Day 6…

We escaped this morning at about 5:30 am.  We headed south, towards the Minnesota border, just like we had planned for last Friday, except that we are in the rental car and we are not towing The Villa.  The border is about 35 miles from Thunder Bay; we passed easily through, although when we handed them our US passports they immediately asked why we were driving a car with Ontario license plates…

Soon we were in Minnesota, and we stopped for breakfast in Grand Marais:

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Judy’s was a perfect roadside diner, full of regulars hanging out before going to work. Probably waiting for it to get light, or to get above freezing temperatures…

They did have a painting on the wall that appears to be a friend of ours, from Pasadena, in a former life:

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You know who you are…

We continued our drive southwest, about 135 miles to Duluth. This is what locals call the “North Shore”, and it is packed, all along the way, with waterfront vacation homes, motels, lodges, and the like. It was dark most of our drive, but we could see that it is a beautiful place. Once we reached Duluth it was clear that these houses along the shore are in a fabulous setting.

From Duluth we turned southwest and we crossed over into Wisconsin.  By 4:30 pm or so we were in Spring Green, a tiny town in the Wyoming Valley, also called the Wisconsin River Valley.

Wisconsin is beautiful farm land as far as the eye can see…..

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We checked into the Round Barn Lodge.

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It turns out it really once was a barn…

The Round Barn was built in 1914 and was used as a dairy barn; in 1949 it was converted to a truck stop diner.  Sometime after that it was moved 125′ closer to the road to be more convenient to the customers.

In 1952, the diner was renovated into a full service restaurant and bar.  In 1974, a 27-room lodge was added, designed by James Pfefferkorn, a former Frank Lloyd Wright student and Taliesin Associate. The two-story lodge wraps around a beautiful wood-domed indoor pool, whirlpool and sauna.

The Round Barn Lodge claims that onetime local resident, Frank Lloyd Wright, said about the Round Barn Lodge, “They don’t build them like that anymore”.   Take that statement any way you like…

After sitting all day in the car we needed some exercise, so we walked through the nondescript neighborhood.  (Tomorrow we find out that “downtown” Spring Green is a lovely place – in fact, quite descript…).  We were able to walk over to Arthur’s, a traditional Wisconsin supper club.  (The Red Barn Lodge had given us free drink tickets, so it was a bit more difficult to walk back a few hours later…)

Dinner was nice, the walk home was refreshing, and an enjoyable time was had by all…












2017-09-07 Westbound; Stranded, but escaped from, Thunder Bay, Day 7…

We relaxed a bit this morning… We ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant, the Break of Day.  We readied ourselves for a day of the ridiculous and the sublime: we will see House on the Rock and Taliesin.  The House on the Rock is an absurd tourist attraction; Taliesin is the home and studio and school of Frank Lloyd Wright.

The House on the Rock’s “Infinity Room”, as seen from the road:

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The House on the Rock was the first on our schedule.  It was started in 1945 as a house built atop a 70′ x 200′ rock that was 60′ tall, set in the Wisconsin countryside.  The house was the idea of one man, Alex Jordan, who clearly had a mind of his own.  The house contains many extremely awkward spaces, with bad lighting, too low ceilings, and uneven floors and steps.  It is not so much a house as it is a series of spaces left over after he built stone walls, windows, and doors.  Later, Jordan added a Gate House and a Mill House.  Then he added a giant cantilevered “Infinity Room” for no apparent reason.  The Infinity Room spans about 60′ to the adjacent rock, then cantilevers another 140′, all about 250 feet above the forest floor below…   After that things got weird.  Today there is a HUGE metal box of a warehouse that contains acres and acres of crap, plus a few interesting antiques and music machines.  It is an absurd collection of collections that serve no purpose whatsoever.  Spending three hours here was a giant waste of time.

The Infinity Room:

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The “Glass Coffee table” at the end of the Infinity Room:

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The Infinity Room creaks and groans when two – three people walk out there; I would not want to be there with 200 people…

There were a few things that were of moderate interest…

A beautiful pipe organ console:

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A music machine:

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There are several (many?) music machines, some large, like this one, and some smaller. These are mechanical devises that play musical instruments much like a player piano. This one is a complete orchestra.  It is amazing to watch and listen to, but I have to ask, “Why?”

There was even a Rockefeller moment:  In one of the maritime displays there is a note about this whaling ship, the Charles W. Morgan.  As you can see by reading the notes, the whaling industry was put out of business by John D. Rockefeller and the petroleum industry…

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By the time we left the House on the Rock my eyes hurt.  The green countryside of Wisconsin was very soothing.  We found the Wyoming Valley Cultural Center, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as a memorial to his mother:

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We eventually found “downtown” Spring Green and we found a lovely bookstore with its own cafe.  After lunch we walked through the town; note that I am standing in the middle of the street at about 1:00 pm:

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We walked around and found several buildings that had been designed by William Wesley Peters, a Taliesin associate and past student of FLW.  They were very interesting:

St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church:

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Originally a drive-through bank, this is now a private residence:

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BMO Bank Building:

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Originally a medical office, this is now a private residence:

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Another Taliesin Associate, James Charles Montooth, designed the Spring Green Community Library:

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After this fun walk it was time for the main event; we drove to the Taliesin Visitors Center:

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This building was originally designed by FLW as a restaurant and conference center. Today it is the visitor’s center, but it still includes the restaurant, plus the offices of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which owns the building and Taliesin itself.

Taliesin has quite a storied past.  FLW’s maternal grandparents and many aunts and uncles farmed in this valley near Spring Green; FLW spent most of the summers of his youth here, working along side his cousins on the various farms.  So it was only natural that he kept returning to this area throughout his life.

FLW had a successful and thriving practice in Oak Park, IL, having built over 50 buildings there.  But in 1909 he abandoned his wife and six children and fled with his mistress to Germany.  When he returned two years later he found he was not welcomed back to Oak Park, so he retreated to the family property near Spring Green.  Here FLW designed and built Taliesin I.  The design of the original building was consistent with the design principles of the Prairie School, emulating the flatness of the plains and the natural limestone outcroppings of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area.  The structure included his home, an agricultural wing containing stables, chicken coops, and a pig shelter, plus his architectural studio.

In 1914, while FLW was away, a disgruntled employee set fire to the living quarters and murdered FLW’s mistress, her two children, and three others.  FLW rebuilt the residential wing  and remodeled the other areas.

Taliesin II was used only sparingly by FLW as he worked on projects abroad.  He returned to the house in 1922 following completion of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.  A fire caused by electrical problems destroyed the living quarters again in April, 1925. Taliesin III was constructed by Wright by late 1925.  During the late 1920s and the 1930s FLW turned the agricultural wing into studios, a large drafting room, and dormitories, as he began the Taliesin School of Architecture.

Taliesin III was FLW’s home for the rest of his life, although he began to winter at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, upon its completion in 1937. Many of Wright’s acclaimed buildings were designed here, including Fallingwater“Jacobs I”  the Johnson Wax Headquarters, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.  Wright was also an avid collector of Asian art and used Taliesin as a storehouse and private museum.

So it is Taliesin III that we tour today.  A shuttle bus takes us from the visitor’s center. We follow roughly the path taken by horse-drawn carriages when the house was first built. We walk through the meadow, past the orchard and the vineyards and arrive at the courtyard surrounded by the residence, the studio, and the former agricultural wing.

As seen from the highway below:

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From the top of the hill, into which the house is nestled:

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The prominent hip-roofed wing seen above was originally the porte cochere in the days of horses and carriages… In Taliesin III the entry was moved to the opposite side of the house to accommodate automobiles, and the porte cochere was enclosed:

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The carports – formerly horse stalls:

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Courtyard and path to the agricultural wings, now used by the school:

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Part of the agricultural wing:

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Conference Room in the Studio:

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Architectural Studio:

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My favorite floor lamp:

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Automobile approach to the house today:

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Approach to the hidden front door:

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Dining Room, with the famous barrel chairs:

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Informal Living Room:

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X-back chair FLW designed for his son, David:

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The “Bird Walk”, added for FLW’s 3rd wife:

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Master Bedroom Suite:

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FLW’s study:

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FLW’s bed, in his study; like many creative geniuses, FLK only slept about 4 hours per night and often worked late and arose early and went back to work again:

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The waterfall at the approach to the house, below the hill; I was here in March about 10 years ago.  Of course, Taliesin was closed for the winter – everyone goes to Scottsdale to Taliesin West in the winter.  It was about 15 degrees, everything was covered with snow, and the lake and the waterfall were frozen solid.  But, back about 15′ from the edge of the waterfall, there was a guy sitting on a chair, on the ice, fishing…

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The property today appears to be in need of major repairs.  However, the design and detailing and thought that FLW put into these rooms and spaces is awe inspiring.  FLW never thought of Taliesin as a permanent structure, but a “sketch” for his ideas.  Keeping the house “pristine” is a monumental task, because it wasn’t built perfectly in the first place.  FLW would get an idea, say, to enclose a covered porch into a sun room, and he would call his students, tell them what he wanted, send a few sketches, and they would build it.  It was not built to museum standards, and will probably always suffer for it.

After the tour we drove to the nearby Lloyd-Jones family chapel and cemetery. The chapel was not designed by FLW, but by his early employer,  Joseph Lyman Silsbee.  FLW was assigned to “supervise” the construction as part of his duties for Silsbee.

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There is a gravestone for FLW and his six children from his first marriage, although none of them is buried here…

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Lloyd Wright, actually Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr. became an architect and was a fine architect in his own “Wright”… (A little architectural humor…)  I met him at his house in 1972 in West Hollywood.  His son, Eric Wright, is also an architect in SoCal; he tends to specialize in historic structures and environmental issues…

John Wright invented Lincoln Logs.  ‘Nuff said…

David was the recipient of FLW’s design of the X-back chair, seen above…

Catherine was the mother of the actress Anne Baxter…

So after a long day we headed back to the Red Barn Lodge for a short rest, then we went into Spring Green again for dinner at Freddy Valentines.

It’s a good thing we opted NOT to go to The Shed: They have live music in their courtyard on Thursdays… but tonight it rained…

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We love to try local foods and wines; we’ve had Maine wine, Nova Scotia wine, Prince Edward Island wine, Niagara Falls wine, and Ontario wine.  But tonight we spotted a California Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley on the menu.  We were in heaven!

And an enjoyable time was had by all.












2017-09-05 Westbound; Stranded in Thunder Bay, Day 5…

Stranded, Day 5:

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Tuesday; Labor Day is over and the world resumes its normal activities.  The happy merry workers at Dominion Motors GMC return to work and we get to sit in their waiting room, drink their coffee, watch their TV, use their internet, and use their restrooms (washrooms here in Canada…).

There is no word on the truck.  They have run their diagnostics and sent the data to technical support in Detroit.  Maybe they will hear back today or tomorrow; for now it looks like a blown engine; the normal fix for this is a complete engine replacement.  We might be here for awhile…

So we did some sight-seeing and checked out the local artisans; first, we went to Thunder Oak Cheese Farm:

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The Thunder Oak Cheese Farm specializes in Gouda cheese, and all things Dutch:

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We tasted their cheeses and even cheese curds; Lynda wanted some Komijne Kaas, and they have it!  Also some dropjes…

Around mid-day we visited The Persian Man; “he” or “it” is located within Bennett’s Bakery.  Apparently Persians are a “Thunder Bay Specialty”.  But I’m all, “What’s a Persian?”

A Persian is an oval-shaped, cinnamon-bun-like sweet roll with a sweet, pink icing made of either raspberries or strawberries.  It is credited to have originated at Bennett’s Bakery in, and remains particular to, Thunder Bay.  It is sometimes confused with a Pershing or a Persian bun which are regional items in parts of the United States but are a completely different baked good made with doughnut batter as opposed to being a sweet roll.  So there!

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It happens that we are “camped” right around the corner from Bennett’s Bakery; also, Syd, an employee of the GMC dealer where we are camped, stopped by on Saturday and gave us a gift certificate to have Persians at The Persian Man at Bennett’s Bakery. Around the corner.

So we  walked around the corner to The Persian Man at Bennett’s Bakery, and had coffee and Persians.  It was interesting…

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Later in the afternoon we walked around the corner to Dawson Trail Craft Brewery. We tasted 4 very nice craft beers and chatted with the owner about what it’s like to be a craft brewery in Thunder Bay.  While it is a small town (108,000), there is only one other brewery, no distilleries, and there are no wineries or wine tasting rooms… So while this sort of craft/artisanal business hasn’t really caught on here on the north shore, it is an up and coming thing, and they are optimistic…

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Since we still haven’t heard anything about the truck’s prognosis, and since our time here is seemingly endless, we did two things:

  1. We planned to go to Wisconsin in our rental car to see the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings that had always been on our itinerary for this week…
  2. We went to dinner at our favorite Thunder Bay restaurant, Bistro One. The fact that we have a favorite restaurant tells us we have already been here way too long; we have a standing reservation for every Tuesday night…

2017-09-05 Bistro One

After dinner we turned in early; tomorrow is a 10 hour drive across the border and through Minnesota, into Wisconsin, down to the town of Spring Green.

And a not too awful time was had by all.













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