EFFECTIVE 14 Nov. 2012 PRIVATE MESSAGING HAS BEEN RE-ENABLED. IF YOU RECEIVE A SUSPICIOUS DO NOT CLICK ON ANY LINKS AND PLEASE REPORT TO THE ADMINISTRATOR FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION.
This is the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy's Message Board. Wright enthusiasts can post questions and comments, and other people visiting the site can respond.
You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening, *-oriented or any other material that may violate any applicable laws. Doing so may lead to you being immediately and permanently banned (and your service provider being informed). The IP address of all posts is recorded to aid in enforcing these conditions. You agree that the webmaster, administrator and moderators of this forum have the right to remove, edit, move or close any topic at any time they see fit.
I found an interesting letter from Stanley Rosenbaum to an inquiring professor in Indiana who in the early 40's was researching several owners' thoughts regarding their newly commissioned Usonian Houses by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Stanley Rosenbaum was an English professor and he used that language skill in responding with a lengthy letter which described a long nightmare in the construction of his Usonian house, as well as disastrous results in function and cost. He makes a convincing case that Wright should be avoided at all costs, except...
At the end of the letter he concludes by lauding the life-changing aesthetic experience. Obviously, form overruled function because in 1949 he hired Wright to return and double the size of the house with an addition.
Here's a link to this "must read" letter:
https://blogs.libraries.indiana.edu/iub ... letter.pdf
SDR, on page 7 of the letter Rosenbaum writes: "The architectural photographer Kidder Smith came down and took a few photos shortly after we moved in." That's the answer to the question of who took the iconic photo we love.
Also in the letter is the story of the wonderfully cantilevered roof which apparently kept collapsing and how the contractors wanted to insert steel but the apprentice wouldn't let them. In Edgar Tafel's book "Apprentice to Genius" he tells the story that he & Wes Peters snuck some steel beams into the cantilevered roof on the Schwartz house. Tafel's story goes that FLW & Olga & Tafel were together in a drive-by of the site where FLW discovered the added steel and fired Tafel on the spot for betrayal (the story holds that Olga calmed FLW to reconsider). Tafel writes that he told Wright he was trying to save him from another embarrassment like the problem that "happened in the South". If I was a betting man I'd wager he was referring to the Rosenbaum house.
I am floored -- in more ways than one. What a find ! Do you know when this letter first appeared in public ?
It is dated either 1943 or 1945, so the house was still very young. I find so many points of interest that it will take a while to address them all. Some of Mr Rosenbaum's statements -- one can't call them reminiscences, given the date of the letter -- seem difficult to square with known facts. As for the rest, questions are answered, some of which I have been asking for years.
No mention is made of Aaron Green's role in the inception of the commission. Storrer tells us that Burton Goodrich was the (apparently) hapless apprentice assigned to the house. It is interesting to hear that the idea of having an apprentice on-site as construction co-ordinator was, in this case, the client's idea, sold to Taliesin only after considerable prodding, as this practice was already established as the norm for Usonian construction -- wasn't it ?
Rosenbaum does not mention (did not know ?) that Goodrich had prepared the drawings for the house; this is established by Curtis Besinger (Apprentice to Genius, p 31, "Fall 1939"). We learn from Besinger that, after arriving in Florence in the fall of 1940 to begin construction on the house, Goodrich returned to Taliesin West "during the winter" to consult with Wright (p 74). (Goodrich departed from Taliesin in 1941, though he is shown in a picnic photo taken in the summer of 1942.)
We come to the first real surprise: Wright specified fir for the house, and was "delighted" when cypress was substituted for reasons of cost (?). Next comes the statement that the house was "situated on the lowest portion of the lot" -- which is surprising when one looks at photos, with the house just down from the road and the rest of the site apparently sloping away to the distant view. Perhaps the house sits in a dip ?
The news that steel had been intended all along for the living-room ceiling is amusing; one wonders if, like the statement from someone at Taliesin that no other Usonians had experienced difficulties in construction, a certain amount of judicious PR BS wasn't involved there. No mention is made of the carport roof, a likely candidate for structural issues. One is reminded of the difficulty Edgar Tafel avoided at Schwartz by the surreptitious addition of steel, and the advice he and Wes gave to an unnamed apprentice who "went south -- soon after this -- to supervise a similar house" (Apprentice to Genius, p 191). "The apprentice was chicken; he followed the original plans. When the props came down, so did the roof. The client called Mr Wright, whose response was 'Send the boy back to Taliesin.'"
More in the next post.
Another surprise: the house is heated (still ?) with electricity, rather than the (unavailable) oil or the locally-common coal. Was there an electrically heated boiler, or were there wires in the floor (surely not) ?
Another headline is that the house was constructed as Wright had predicted, with masonry in place and roof constructed, propped while the walls were built. I've always predicted inconvenience if not disaster for that folly; it's interesting that Burt Goodrich was given his head to do it that way.
"Walls gave for six inches or so when you leaned on them and inconspicuous props had to be devised." Poor young Burt; you have to feel for him, with one Wrightian illusion after another giving way to reality. (Easy for us today to speak knowingly of Wright's Principles; it's on the ground that principles come to terms with themselves ?) Where and when were walls found wanting in stiffness ? Surely not ones supporting (finally) the roof ?
In Wright's world, Paradise is achieved one painful step at a time, over rocky ground and with risks we continue, even today, to learn of. The accomplishment only becomes more miraculous . . .
I had a conversation with the house's restoration architect Don Lambert who told me this story: in the 1949 addition, on the east side of the house, Wright had added a second cantilevered carport. Just inside he'd added a room they called the dormitory to accommodate the four sons. Along the exterior wall were built-in bunk beds. (I think I'm remembering this correctly) in the renovation they disassembled the bunk bed structure and the carport roof fell down. They figured out that "hold downs" counterbalancing the roof cantilever had been incorporated into the face of bunk bed frames.
The site is a consistent slope from the high point at the street in front down toward the river behind. Stanley's wrong that the house was placed at the low point. To create a flat spot for the floor slab, however, they cut into the slope in such a way that caused the upslope to direct water toward the front of the house without enough counter slope away from the house.
I imagine something like this:
A local farmer, on his way into town, drives up in a dusty pickup truck. "What is that thing?", he asks a man getting into a car.
"They say it's a house," the man replies with a hint of disbelief in his voice.
"The hell you say," the farmer says to no one in particular.
He spits out the window into the dirt road and slowly drives away.
Remembering that Harper Lee set To Kill a Mockingbird nearby sometime in the 30's, I wonder what Atticus Finch would've thought of this radically eccentric house.
In Storrer, the plan-as-modified shows a large "dormitory" space, south (i.e., inboard) of the "new workspace"; that would be a nice point for some hold-downs -- even if they were on the north wall -- wouldn't it . . .
So, what do we think is the heating system ? If it was said to be one of only two such systems in the world (who knows what to believe), would that be an in-floor wire or an electric boiler ?
The bunk beds are on the east wall backing up to the carport storage closet. I just looked at some photos and I think I remembered & recounted that story wrongly.
Now I'm thinking it was more like this: the original bunk bed design contained the concealed tensile bracing. After the sons grew up the Rosenbaums decided to remodel the room, removing the bunks to replace with bookshelves. that's when the roof fell. Rebuilding it, they modified the structure to omit those original components. In the recent restoration, they went back and recreated the bunks. I think that's more like it.
Incidentally, there was a great closet beside the bunks for the 4 sons. Contrary to Storrer's plan, instead of 4 swinging doors there are sliding doors with lots of built-in drawers and other compartments. Good places for Boo Radley to stash his stuff.
Yup, that full-length clerestory "lantern" completely changes the structural strategy, doesn't it. Another architect might have made trusses out of that pair of upper window bands -- complete with open-web decorative perfs -- but Mr Wright never mixed his structure with his decoration, did he. Structure is something you hide, like the scullery maid in the cellar. (And if you can scrimp on her wages, so much the better !)
I'm not sure he ever repeated the design of the Rosenbaum roof, either. Once burned, twice shy ?
It is a painful letter. That's a good description.
If the story ended there it would remain a bit of a tragedy.
A decade after building Fallingwater, Edgar Kauffman elected not to call Wright back to design his new house in Palm Springs (even though FLW was hip deep in desert architecture by then). In contrast, the Rosenbaums went back to Taliesin for more when they expanded in 1949, nearly doubling the size of the original house - a testament to how much they valued FLW design.
By the time Mimi Rosenbaum sold the house to the city of Florence it was in bad shape again. The restoration architect reported that stacks of books that lined the walls (having overfilled the shelves) had had their pages eaten away by termites. But the city invested in a good restoration and now everybody there seems proud of their landmark.
Since all's well that ends well (easy for us to say), I think the checkered story told in Stanley's letter makes the history much richer. It also paints a realistic picture that radically inventive design often requires a lot of trial & error in the process of trying to get it right.