Conservancy conference-Day Two

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Post by SDR »

Whether there are or not, it's nice to be reminded that there are other and older references to that expression than the unfortunate one of Jonestown.

Thank you for that. I guess poor Mr Hertzberg is going to have to start another thread to continue discussion of the FLWBC conference. . .


Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

I wonder if there is any source that could be referenced to find out how "Mr. Wright" addressed his clients and friends. I suppose he and Einstein called one another "Frank" and "Al," but did he call the Millers "Art and Marilyn"? The Todds "Mike and Liz"? I suspect not. Maybe Roland Reisley recalls how he was addressed?

As I said before, FLW was really a Victorian at heart, and I suspect, flyswatters notwithstanding, he behaved in a formal manner around his clients, which might explain their formality when addressing him.

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Post by SDR »

I have always heard that the apprentices and others, perhaps upon the example of Mrs Wright (?), addressed him as Mr Wright.

As to "Frank Lloyd Wright," presumably Wright himself set the example by the consistent use of his three-cylinder moniker. He was never simply Frank Wright. Perhaps this is why "Frank" seems a bit more than usually informal ?

I don't have a copy of the "Letters to Clients" but these might give examples of how Wright addressed his clients ?


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Post by pharding »

I agree that it is unimportant what you call him and he no longer cares how he is addressed. The most important thing for me is that he was the Father of Modern Architecture, developed great ideas, and designed great buildings. All of this has stood the test of time. As far as his personal shortcomings, for whatever reason, I have had a number of people in my life that I really admired that fell short on the personal conduct side so I am rather indifferent to all of that. In chronological order they were President Kennedy, that very friendly Catholic priest in elementary and high school Fr. Pacquet, Louis Kahn, and Frank Lloyd Wright among others. IMO the best strategy is to focus on the great ideas and great buildings, and celebrate that. It is not really important how one refers to Frank Lloyd Wright. It his ideas and buildings that matter to our culture and history.
Paul Harding FAIA Restoration Architect for FLW's 1901 E. Arthur Davenport House, 1941 Lloyd Lewis House, 1952 Glore House | | LinkedIn

Mark Hertzberg
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Post by Mark Hertzberg »

I regret some of the turns this discussion has taken, because I do not think enough attention was paid to the point of Kamin’s remarks, which are underscored by Lynda Waggoner’s statistics about how many of their visitors are NOT steeped in Wright lore. And, the audience received his remarks well.

As for the form of address, this is from my interview with John Geiger:

“Wright died in 1959, but his former apprentices still invariably refer to him as Mr. Wright, never as Frank, and rarely as Wright. I asked Geiger about that. “When I am talking about Mr. Wright in a personal sense, it is Mr. Wright; in a generic sense (like a Wright building) it is Wright. Mr. Wright was essentially Victorian, his relationship with the apprentices was a formal one. It was not Frank this or that, or buddy-buddy.

“You would never call a client by her first name until after a job is done. That is how he treated the apprentices, like a business relationship with a client. He kept a formal relationship with them as opposed to Mrs. Wright. I heard Mr. Wright tell Mrs. Wright to stay out of their personal lives [although Friedland and Zellman are emphatic that she did not].�

Mark Hertzberg
Mark Hertzberg

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Post by SDR »

Thanks for that helpful (and I should think, definitive) answer to the personal-address question.

Below I have extracted the quoted statements of the panel participants,
second session, from your Journal Times piece, omitting some finance-
oriented discussion:

John Harwood / Oberlin College / Weltzheimer/Johnson House (1948):
“The ability to expose the house as a residence, to be able to dwell there,
is a key to understanding (the house).�

Prof. Jack Quinan / expert on the Larkin Building and the Darwin D. Martin
-24% of Wright buildings are publicly accessible.
-The number of Wright house museums has doubled in 13 years.
-There has been a 15% decline in attendance at leading attractions
nationwide, including Fallingwater, Taliesin West, and the Home and Studio,
since 9/11.

Prof. David Longstreth / George Washington University:
“It costs less to operate out of Charnley than to rent comparable office

Lynda Waggoner / Fallingwater:
[We have] a high of 144,000 annual visitors, “which is almost too many.�
“If 900 people tour Fallingwater, that is 14 every six minutes.� Surveys
are important marketing tours at Fallingwater. Twenty-seven percent of
their visitors come because of Frank Lloyd Wright. “That is 40,000 a year,
a potential audience for all (Wright) sites.�

“How can we get more?�

Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune architecture critic:
[answering Quinan] “Another PBS special about Frank Lloyd Wright,
narrated by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.� “One way to engage the public
is to improve the experience of going through the houses. How do you
make architecture accessible, without dumbing it down? (Wright houses)
are designed to be interacted with.�

Wright’s clients felt the breeze and saw the sun, he said, “That is difficult
to do when buzzing through with 15 people. These new ways of
experiencing Wright...smaller groups, overnight stays...Until I stayed
in the Price Tower I always had a fantasy of experiencing a night with

He challenged Wright sites to humanize Wright, rather than idolize him.
“Create docent standards that forbid the use of these two words: ‘Mr.
Wright.’ I am sick of going to the Home and Studio and hearing of this
demigod. My God, he was a deadbeat, a womanizer, an SOB, but he’s
talked about like a god. Maybe it’s a strategy to get you to go to the gift
shop to buy these icons!

“(There is) tension between myth and reality. House tours are often
conducted by docents who give you about one minute outside the house,
and then you go right in. For many of your visitors, they are not in your
club, they have not drank your Cherokee red Kool-Aid! Not only don’t
they know anything about Wright, they may not know anything about new

He urged docents to also talk about “the interaction of the house on the
site, whether on a street, on a ravine, on a mountain site. It’s about
architecture. We don’t want to just look at these things as objects,
precious objects. All of this stuff will enrich the experience.�

[T Gunney ?] Harboe / restoration of Unity Temple:
“Many smaller (sites) depend on visitation for revenue, but will not
survive on (that).� “look at not only increasing visitation, but also
increasing the visitor experience:

-Word of mouth will help increase visitation.
-You can suffer from success [if the tours are too crowded]
-Every site is different. What makes sense for that site?
-Interaction with your community: use that resource

“Reverence for Wright is well intended,� “But if only 27% of the visitors
at Fallingwater go because of Wright, why are the others going? Wright
may be the hook, but what is there that is meaningful get them to come
back or go elsewhere?�

“Is the docent-led tour a relic of the past?�

visitors have only six minutes per room, “with 14 people right behind
you.� “I realize, Blair, what you say about canonizing Wright. If you
open up that can of worms you can go downhill. They [visitors] are
irretrievable. There are lots of places you can study Frank Lloyd Wright,
but you can only go to that house. Our goal is just to facilitate that

“There is a huge audience, like it or not, people with a great deal of
wealth, who want experiences other people can’t have. I am happy to let
them do that, to pay for 2,000 school children to visit.�

“The skill I look for most in a guide is goofy enthusiasm.�

“When I hear ‘Mr. Wright,’ I’m immediately suspect, but on the other
hand, every time I get back to Wright, I am bowled over by what he
accomplished; and also the clients. Most Wright clients, even if they
weren't rich and famous, are interesting. All of these places have great
stories, and they are particular stories."

“Wright and the contrast between myth and reality...I’m not saying you
should do People magazine as you do the tour, but it is worth riding the
wave. Who better than Wright to hook people in" “Stop thinking of
visitors, start thinking of members, not ‘them,’ but ‘us.’�

“It would be great if you could sit in the furniture in some of these houses.�

Joan Mercuri / Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust:
suggested that docents ask visitors, “What do you want... and not just
repeat what they know.�

A homeowner:
“They come with their stories of Wright, they want to see the leaky roof.�

“If you have a repertoire of ten different tours they can give, they have
to create a tour that fits them, even people who don’t know why they are
there. A really good guide has to be able to adjust to the group, and
read the group.�
Last edited by SDR on Sat Oct 27, 2007 3:20 pm, edited 4 times in total.

Ed Jarolin
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Post by Ed Jarolin »

Sounds like the panel discussion raised some very interesting points. Wish I could have been there.

It seems to me the basic issue is how to generate enough income to preserve these various Wright properties over the long haul. To me the importance of this mission lies mainly in the lessons they can teach to future generations. These lessons are not only those of the standard historical sort. They should go beyond that into the realm of what these designs can teach about living in the future. Living with nature in a harmonious fashion and the benefits that sort of living affords the individual as well as the community at large.

If the mission is simply that of preservation as a "stuffed and mounted" object it is relatively simple. When you bring the initiation of the masses into it is where it gets sticky. The "true believers" don't have to be educated, converted or proselytized. We will cheerfully plunk down our $300 a night to experience the magic.

How to expand the market is the core question. How to do it without dumbing down the message is the conundrum. Tie ins with school curicula would seem to be one way. Something a little more creative than a standard field trip with 60 bored kids trooping through. Perhaps a special event held at a particular house is a reward for superior acheivement by individuals or a whole class. A short lesson as to why the architecture is significant, what it has to offer and a special visit to hammer the point home.

I'm sure there are many ideas out there, many that have already been tried successfully or not so. I'm interested in hearing about them.

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Post by JimM »

Ed Jarolin wrote:It seems to me the basic issue is how to generate enough income to preserve these various Wright properties over the long haul. To me the importance of this mission lies mainly in the lessons they can teach to future generations. These lessons are not only those of the standard historical sort.
This is exactly the issue to me. I hate to say it, but Kamin's cynical comment about Brad and Angelina is the reality of American culture.

We can't save starving children, let alone expect to get "enough" people to see all the Wright buildings succeed as profit centers. It is a real conundrum how to save these structures for their historical value. Relying on public interest, to me, is probably a losing battle-especially when just as many (and often more) resources are poured into primarily money making projects like the unbuilts.

Fallingwater can't be compared to any other Wright site; for a long, long time it has become to many visitors simply a "must see" like Vegas or Europe, and not necessarily the enriching experience we would like to think. The internet alone has brought together the Wright world as we see it today, and certainly made Wright more known as a result. Still, I can't imagine why anyone would expect to get everyone who visits Fallingwater to want to see the others as a business model. There is just not the interest, beyond Wrightnuts.

In a better world, these treasures would be worthy of national significance, and their care funded by "the government" (that amorphous group also known as "we the people"). Unfortunately, that is something abhorrent in our free market obsessed world view.
Oh, I'm sorry, is that political?

Maintaining those marble follies in D.C. while Wright buildings decay is a national disgrace.

Ed Jarolin
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Post by Ed Jarolin »

Seems there are several alternative points of view that can be raised here if one chooses to venture into the political realm.

There's plenty of pork being passed out in Washington. Why shouldn't we get our share?
There's too much pork being passed out in Washington. Our wants/needs are more important than another "bridge to nowhere". Let's lobby for our cut.
The private sector can handle it. Let's sell sponsorship rights. The Tracy house brought to you by Microsoft. The "Airplane House" (Gilmore) presented by Boeing Corp.
The present course, more or less. The efforts of a relatively small group of fans and various private foundations, etc.

In my opinion, if Washington and the other levels of government got back to what they're supposed to do, constitutionally, there'd be more than enough private sector money available to support worthwhile cultural causes. The low state of the popular culture makes an easy target, but if more "highbrow" culture goes underappreciated perhaps at least some of the problem can be laid at the doorstep of the virtual monopoly of the goverment (public) schools. They're not underfunded, only underacheiving. Now, if any of this exposes my Libertarian/Constitutionalist political leanings, I'm quite happy to stand by those principles.
Last edited by Ed Jarolin on Sat Oct 27, 2007 10:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Reidy »

Steelcase has done this with May and a Japanese steel company with Yamamura. Johnson has been doing it all along. Smaller corporate donations have gone to Unity Temple and, I'd expect, a lot of other buildings.

One reason we haven't seen more of this is that the locals don't welcome a tourist attraction in the neighborhood. Steelcase had the good sense to stake a claim when the area was still fairly shabby; short-term renters don't care about this, and the gentrifiers couldn't plausibly object when May was public before they arrived (some Oak Parkers done just that in recent years, but not plausibly). Another is that the spectacular places are already in good hands, institutional or private. The imperiled buildings tend not to be the first-rank works that generate enough publicity and goodwill to keep the stockholders happy about the expenditure.

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Post by pharding »

I have the highest repect for the volnteer docents and what the house museums accomplish. What I have found is that the level of knowledge and expertise of the docents is uneven. In addition to the obvious solution of better training and better scripts for the docents, another strategy would be to offer expert level tours or have private tour guides available. In Finland while touring Alvar Aalto buildings I did it both ways. The knowledge and expertise of the private tour guide that I booked in advance was well worth the extra money over the standard tours. This would also address the current one size fits all approach which typically creates a rather basic tour.

If one wants to create better tours, I suggest that a consortium of house museums band together and develop different scripts and try those out on focus groups with differing levels of FLW knowledge and expertise to generate knowldge that could be shared among the participants. Blair Kamin's comments about the content of the tours may or may not be appropriate, although I would tend to agree that insights into what makes a great building would be worth describing on a tour using the house museum as an example.

As to "Mr. Wright" I can see that both ways. However "Mr. Wright" is rooted in tradition unique to the history of Frank Lloyd Wright so it seems appropriate. I would never change it for the reasons that Blair Kamin outlined. If we went through history and evaluated great people or great architects based upon his criteria unfortunately many so called great ones would be eliminated. Frank Lloyd Wright is vulnerable to the superficial criticisms of Blair Kamin because he and his work was so well documented. One can look at him under a magnifying glass that is not possible with other great individuals of his time. In my opinion "Mr. Wright" is a minor detail when talking about improving the success of house museums.
Paul Harding FAIA Restoration Architect for FLW's 1901 E. Arthur Davenport House, 1941 Lloyd Lewis House, 1952 Glore House | | LinkedIn

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Post by SDR »

Mr Kamin and Professor Longstreth may be mistaking simple courtesy for "idolatry" (of which there is some, of course -- perhaps the real point ?). Any man will be addressed or referred to as "Mr" -- in print, it would be any and every time after his full name has been uttered once. This is (or was ?) standard practice at the New York Times and in the English-speaking world in general. Too much is being made of this issue, probably, just because it was raised by two gentlemen at the conference.

I was amused to read that Ms Waggoner said, “The skill I look for most in a guide is goofy enthusiasm.� So much for expertise and historical knowledge !


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Post by jlesshafft »

You can teach "expertise and historical knowledge" you can't teach "goofy enthusiasm." Maybe what she really meant was a fun, out-going people person rather than a shrinking introvert. Which would you rather have on a tour?

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

The "goofy enthusiasm" and a sound understanding of the architecture are both indispensible. A good tour is basically a storytelling opportunity, and the tour guide must be flexible enough to adjust the story to suit the situation, which can be difficult if the group is made up of a mix of characters. I found, as a result of giving tours through Barnsdall, Freeman, Schindler/Chase and Ennis for more years than I care to remember, that tour groups with common interests were the easiest to cater to, and the ones with "know-it-alls" were the most difficult. Brendan Gill was the worst know-it-all, who actually knew nothing. It is also good to add humor to keep the thing light and enjoyable. If the tourist goes away happy, you have done your job well.

No expense would be spared to keep the works of DaVinci, Rembrandt or Van Gogh in perfect condition. The same should be true of any work of architecture in public hands, but when restoration costs are in the tens of millions, that becomes difficult and political. And politics can undo all the best intentions in the world. That's why I favor keeping as many FLW buildings in private hands as possible.

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