Sunday, December 20, 2015

When the Wright Thing Happens

The David and Gladys Wright Home

I suppose most architects of my generation have their "Frank Lloyd Wright" story.

As for me, I have two.

The First:
When I was young my grandmother took me on annual visits to San Francisco at Christmastime.  She just said we'd be going to the "City". The trip always included a stop to see the three-story Christmas tree in the very elegant "City of Paris" department store. It is now a Neiman Marcus store and has suffered from a tragic Philip Johnson "renovation".

We'd go on to the (now defunct) Podesta Baldocchi florist shop with its annual display of lavishly decorated Christmas trees. This is the florist shop that Jimmy Stewart stumbles into from an alley in Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 movie Vertigo. Our final stop was Swedish meatballs in an upstairs Scandinavian cafe on Maiden Lane.

On one of those trips (when I was about six or seven) I was intrigued by a shop with a simple brick facade on Maiden Lane.  To enter it you walked into a curving brass and glass tube that projected into the store. In those days the shop was Helga Howie's Boutique.

The Helga Howie (VC Morris) Shop on Maiden Lane

The Entry (With a View Into the Boutique)

I walked into the entry and was transfixed at the space inside. Without even going through the entry door I felt its interior soar in an upward curving spiral capped by a fantastic luminous ceiling of white half spheres of glass. 

That space (along with Kevin Roche's spectacular Oakland Museum) confirmed my desire to become an architect.

The Second:
In 1976 my parents decided to take a trip across the US in celebration of the American Bicentennial. Along the way we planned a stop in Chicago to visit the neighborhoods mom grew up in.

I was excited as the stops would allow me to visit Oak Park, La Grange and Riverside and experience various examples of Wright's early "Prairie Style" architecture.

While driving around mom's old neighborhood, she told me about a wealthy matron that rolled up in a chauffeur driven limousine one day to her elementary school. The woman's regal arrival and amazing fur coat (at the height of the depression) made for a lasting impression on my mom.

The women turned out to be Mrs. Peter Kroehler (of the Kroehler furniture company). She came into Mom's classroom and "selected" a few little girls to play with her visiting grandaughter. It was right out of a Shirley Temple movie.

At the appointed time a limo came for mom for her play date. Upon arrival at the Kroehler house she joined the other girls playing in what she described as a "huge, dark and very modern" house. Mom remembered a separate playhouse with stained glass panels. She also remembered servants delivering snacks of peeled grapes.

As she told me her story we toured various Chicago area Wright buildings. Then, I set out to see the Avery Coonley house in Riverside.

As we approached the Coonley house mom's eyes got huge. This was the very house she had visited as a child. So, as we stood on the sidewalk looking at it, Mom gave me a room by room tour based on her recall of a visit when she was about 9 years old.

After a little research I verified that the Coonley's sold their 9000 square foot Wright designed residence to Peter Kroehler in 1921.

Now all these years later I live in Phoenix and find myself surrounded by numerous examples of Wright's work.  Here, we have the Arizona Biltmore (the world's only remaining Wright inspired hotel), the soaring First Congregational Church on Seventh Avenue, Taliesan West, ASU's Gammage Auditorium, the (nearly football field long) Price House in Paradise Valley and the circular linear residence Wright designed (at the age of 84) for his son David in what is now Phoenix's Arcadia neighborhood.

David and his wife Gladys lived in the house until they passed away after living more than a century.  

Since 2012 the house has been a source of controversy after a developer bought it and floated various options to subdivide the property and possibly tear down the house. 

Efforts to save the house were mounted immediately.

Simultaneously Arcadia neighbors (afraid preservation would result in a noisy tourist attraction), loudly and aggressively fought preservation efforts.

Finally benefactors emerged with the energy, patience and resources to restore the home.

So far they have made great strides rebuilding the house, securing its historic designation and establishing a foundation that will assure its preservation.
And tonight a long time friend, who now works there as a docent, invited me to come and experience it.

What a joy!

The David and Gladys Wright Home Today

The Living Room With its Brilliant Carpet

The Compact and Circular Kitchen

Space for a Steinway

And Views Every Direction 
(Including Camelback)

When I visited the Rooftop Terrace 
I Was Rewarded With A Spectacular Arizona Sunset 

The David and Gladys Wright House is truly an Arizona treasure. An icon Phoenicians and visitors will be able to celebrate and enjoy for generations to come.

Always quotable, Wright's own words sum it up best.


Roadboy's Travels © 2015

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