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Remains of Ocatillo
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DRN



Joined: 10 Jul 2006
Posts: 3714
Location: Cherry Hill, NJ

PostPosted: Thu Feb 21, 2008 11:25 am    Post subject: Remains of Ocatillo Reply with quote

Over the years, the question of what remains of the Ocatillo Camp comes up for discussion every now and then with no real resolution. Let's try to carry this ball further.

I searched for it in 1996 only to spend about an hour and a half walking and driving in a relentlessly (or so I thought) paved suburb in the mid-day blazing heat. I focused my search in the area described in Storrer's map book west of South 32nd Street in Chandler, north of East Pecos Road and south of East Chandler Blvd. By viewing period photos, and matching hills in the distance in the pics with undisturbed hills in the present day setting, I thought I had found the site to be in the vicinity of Vista Canyon Park, at the corner of East Mountain Vista Drive and South 30th Street. The area is completely built out with the exception of the park and steep slope areas generally to the west.

In a Wright Chat discussion in '05, a poster named sjsissjs noted that he or she had found an isolated patch of ground in the area west of S 32nd that was completely surrounded by houses except for a small section of fence along E Mountain Vista Drive. This poster also noted having walked the site pre-development and noted the presence of foundations, some stakes, and camp detritus. This was a place I must have overlooked in my search.

Curious of this, I "Google Mapped" the area in '05 to see if the satellite photo might show anything. The resolution at the time was not good enough to see the area much better than the "city" scale. I checked Google Maps again recently, following seeing SDR's posting of the Ocatillo site plan in the "Unbuilt Homes" thread (many thanks)...the Google maps photo has been updated and one can now zoom in to the maximum setting on this area.

Wright's site plan as posted by SDR is oriented with North/South to the sides of the page and East/West to the top and bottom of the page. If one views the satellite photo at 90 degrees (same orientation as Wrights plan), the apparent slopes seem to match the center portion of the camp per the site plan. I just can't see from the satellite photo though, if there are any remains. I would expect the masonry of the fireplaces or the concrete drawing vault to remain in some form.

Possibly some of my fellow Wright enthusiasts might be able to figure out how to post the Google Maps pic on this forum so we can all see it....It can be found by searching Google maps for the corner of East Mountain Vista Drive and South 30th Street in Phoenix AZ 85048. The possible site is a Coke bottle shaped undeveloped patch just east of the intersection, sandwiched between S. 30th Place and S. 31st Street.

While you are at it, try Google Mapping 3713 E. Equestrian Trail Phoenix AZ 85044. There you will find TAA's nearby House of the Future from 1979.
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Deke



Joined: 27 Jul 2006
Posts: 692
Location: Los Angeles

PostPosted: Thu Feb 21, 2008 1:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'd be surprised if anything is left of Ocatillo given the wild development of the area. I recall reading somewhere the encampment was dismantled when the Taliesin crowd was away (perhaps by the local indians).

Deke
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 17347
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Thu Feb 21, 2008 1:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wright writes, either in 1932 or in 1943, in the Autobiography (pp 311-12):

I believe we pay too slight attention to making slight buildings beautiful, or beautiful buildings slight. Lightness and strength may now be synonymous.
Usually we spend so much too much to make buildings "last," as we say. Unqualified to build, we are still busy making caves for cave-dweller survivals.
So, "Ocatillo" -- our little desert camp -- you are "ephemera." Nevertheless you will drop a seed or two yourself in course of time. [in re: Taliesin West ? -- ed]

Meantime, my draughtsmen -- at this moment Heinrich Klumb, Donald, Vladimir and Cy and brave George Kastner, he was still ill, Frank Sullivan, Will Weston and I: we made most of the camp ourselves. We put it together with nails, screws, rubber belting for hinges; rigged up the flaps with ship cord, all designed as carefully, probably more carefully than any permanent building. Not as carefully as a ship nor as well executed, of course, but done as well as we knew how with such technique and endurance as we had to give. Good enough. All to pass away in a year -- or two ?
As a matter of fact it did in less time than that. The Indians carted it all away during the winter after we had turned our backs upon it and characteristic disaster befell the U.S.A. No, not prohibition. I mean the fall of 1929 when Architecture and architects ceased to function throughout the U.S.A.

Yes, the Indians carried it all away. But, I have learned not to grieve long now that some work of mine has met its end; has had short life, as we say, even though it happens that a better one cannot take its place. I am consoled by the thought that today any building design may have far-reaching effect on the record, and because our machine -- publicity -- as easily gives it, as an idea of form, to the mind's eye of all the world. For an instance, "Ocatillo" with no help or suggestion from me was published in German and Dutch magazines two months after it was nearly finished. It has appeared in magazines all over the world. Thank the machine for that: for this universal ubiquity. Or curse it as the case may be.
_____________________________________________________________

Does he come close to saying, here, that it is the design, and not the building, that has importance ? I believe he does. This is the basis for my belief that the removal, restoration, repair or reproduction of a Wright building are equally "neutral" acts, ethically and in respect to Wright's wishes. . .

SDR
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karnut



Joined: 11 Mar 2005
Posts: 69

PostPosted: Thu Feb 21, 2008 3:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well said SDR.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 17347
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Thu Feb 21, 2008 6:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I find it hard to believe that those interested in Wright would dismiss his writings. It is perfectly true that they often wax poetic, and just as often fail to answer our questions about fact or intention. Wright said almost nothing about his process of design or about the aesthetic choices he made, except in the most general terms. (As an architect he is not unique in this regard !)

But he tells us so much despite these lackings. I did not set out to find the nugget about building (and design) longevity (and publicity) above, when I went to quote the short story of Ocatillo. But the writings are full of such gems. It takes a great deal of patience, because the Old Man was almost as prolific with words as he was with building designs; for someone like me, without any concordance or index to the work, it is hit-or-miss at best to find his words on any specific subject. But the search can be unexpectedly rewarding. . .

SDR
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EJ



Joined: 13 Jan 2005
Posts: 239

PostPosted: Thu Feb 21, 2008 8:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Slightly off topic on this thread, but does anyone have any more information on this House of the Future referenced above? Sounds interesting!
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"It all goes to show the danger of entrusting anything spiritual to the clergy" - FLLW, on the Chicago Theological Seminary's plans to tear down the Robie House in 1957
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sjsissjs



Joined: 15 Dec 2005
Posts: 3
Location: Crestline, California

PostPosted: Thu Feb 21, 2008 10:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

To DRN re sjsissjs, I am he.

I believe you have indeed located the Ocatillo Camp site; it does resemble a coke bottle, tilting ever slightly to the northwest. The image presented by Google Earth also shows what is left of the outline of the camp, little troughs of excavation and linear arrangements of rock ledges zigzagging around the site.

Don't expect to find much of anything of Ocatillo. Even when I visited the site before the development, there wasn't much. The foundations were really just ledges built up of loose rocks; the remains of the stakes were parts of what were actually floor and wall supports. I believe the rock foundations were actually pushed up against the walls to try to keep some of the native fauna out of the camp. There were no masonry structures to be seen, nor any trace of a drawing vault. Though these were delineated in the drawing made for the camp, I'm not altogether certain they were ever actually built. There did seem to be the last vestige of the incinerator pit at the north of the site. There were a number of small pieces of plaster that I took to be remnants of the block molds made for the San Marcos model. There was also a lot of other detritus that I assume came from later visitors looking for an out-of-the-way spot for any number of clandestine activities.

What was clear was the angled outline of the camp, made up of the rock ledges; one could clearly see how it was laid around the the double hillocks of the site, and how the geometry of the plan brilliantly distilled the lay of the land. Visiting it, spending hours there, actually, in the open desert with nary a house in sight, was one of the great thrills of my artistic life. No wonder Wright was so entranced by those few months he lived there. I'm convinced his experience there affected his work for the rest of his life.

The site seems to have been cleaned up substantially since I was able to walk it freely. Though you can't enter the site, at least I believe it is illegal to do so, it does seem to have been swept of all the little things littering the site.


Last edited by sjsissjs on Thu Feb 28, 2008 6:36 pm; edited 1 time in total
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EJ



Joined: 13 Jan 2005
Posts: 239

PostPosted: Thu Feb 21, 2008 11:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Awesome job guys!

I found the site on google maps using your directions. Fascinating stuff.

Use the directions supplied in the previous posts and you should be able to find it.
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"It all goes to show the danger of entrusting anything spiritual to the clergy" - FLLW, on the Chicago Theological Seminary's plans to tear down the Robie House in 1957
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DRN



Joined: 10 Jul 2006
Posts: 3714
Location: Cherry Hill, NJ

PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2008 11:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

sjsissjs: Thanks for replying. I too was struck with the terrain, the colors, and even the scents of the Sonoran Desert..it made me want to create. I sense it had a similar effect on Wright. Unfortunately insensitive development is obliterating it. If only the masses could learn to live with it rather than reform it to their paved and irrigated "vision of paradise".

I was most interested in finding the site and possible remains to get a sense of the scale of the camp and what the surroundings looked like. It sounds like you got closer than any of us to seeing that. I agree that Wright's experience at Ocatillo changed him. It seemed to me that the building of the camp tipped his balance further toward the abstract forms of his later career and reawakened his desire to build with wood. I believe the act of building something with his own hands was key. The place was important, but so was the act. I think that Ocatillo was the spiritual forerunner of TWest, but it was also the tectonic or material forerunner of the first Usonians.

EJ: For more on the House of the Future, see:

http://www.doney.net/aroundaz/celebrity/wright_franklloyd.htm

Scroll down to find the listing.

There is an interior shot of the house in Rattenbury's "A Living Architecture" book. The house was partially earth sheltered and was clad in copper, stucco on CMU, and Kalwall. I saw it in a mag when I was in junior high and thought it was cool. It was a showcase for solar energy and rudimentary computer management of electrical and HVAC. It had a "Jetsons meet FLLW" feel that was maybe a bit garish in places, but still overall a good design for its time and available technology.
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 17347
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Sat Feb 23, 2008 6:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Doug Kottom sends along the following description and photos, from a recent visit to the site:

"What remains is a narrow strip of land bordered on three sides by housing, and a huge mass of suburbia beyond. This little chunk of Sonora desert rises 10 to 20 feet above the flat grade the housing rests on, apparently giving no access but a view of desert sunrises and sunsets through the steel-fenced back yards, the homes across the tiny desert hill not visible. An amenity perhaps, feeling like living in the desert, even though it is far way. The northernmost edge borders a street, and from here we took a couple of shots. This piece of land appears very private, and probably not accessible by even the residents. Apparently, there will be no further development of it."




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DavidC



Joined: 02 Sep 2006
Posts: 6767
Location: Oak Ridge, TN

PostPosted: Sat Feb 23, 2008 6:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for this discussion and all of the postings.

My wife and I drove past there about 10 years ago in search of the Camp and we were somewhat baffled and dismayed to find a highly developed suburban tract surrounding what we thought was the place described by Storrer.

Given that Taliesin is an almost literal stone's-throw away, does anyone know if they or anyone else has ever done anything to archeologically research the site - and to possibly try and raise local awareness of it and/or save what might remain?


David
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Paul Ringstrom



Joined: 17 Sep 2005
Posts: 4098
Location: Mason City, IA

PostPosted: Sun Feb 24, 2008 10:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Another pertinent question who be "Who holds title to this piece of land?" If anyone on this board lives in Phoenix we would appreciate a little research at the county courthouse...
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SDR



Joined: 17 Jun 2006
Posts: 17347
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Sun Feb 24, 2008 12:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A plaque, maybe -- or a reconstruction even, maybe an outline in LEDs of one or more units -- something to spook the neighbors !

SDR
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sjsissjs



Joined: 15 Dec 2005
Posts: 3
Location: Crestline, California

PostPosted: Thu Feb 28, 2008 6:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There are, in fact, two access points into the site; both appear to be drainage channels between houses to the south and east. I've never had the nerve to walk in there. It appears from the Google satellite photos that a path across the site has been worn-in by kids and others looking for a shortcut through the development, so whether legal or not, there seems to be no local taboo against walking across the site.

There was a report on the site prepared prior to the development being granted a building permit. I'm not sure if this report had anything to do with the preserved site but I can't imagine it wouldn't have; the builders would have just mowed it flat otherwise. This much was saved, at least, and it should be marked in some fashion.
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Paul Ringstrom



Joined: 17 Sep 2005
Posts: 4098
Location: Mason City, IA

PostPosted: Thu Feb 28, 2008 8:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'll check with Margo Stipe at the FLLW Fdn to see if she knows anything specific.
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