By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
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By Chris Parker
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On the first day of March in 1985, the woman they all called "Mrs. Wright"--Oglivanna was the third wife of Frank Lloyd Wright, but the only one any of the Taliesin West Fellows ever knew--suffered a heart attack.
Though she was 87 years old and recovering from a flu that had escalated into pneumonia, her death was sudden and stunning. Dr. Joseph Rorke was with her when she died, and though he was the only one to hear her final wishes, no one doubted them.
She wanted the body of her famous husband removed from its Wisconsin grave, cremated and brought back to Arizona, the ashes mingled with hers within the walls of a memorial garden to be built on the grounds of their beloved home, Taliesin West.
Rorke says there was no question the Fellows would do their best to carry out Mrs. Wright's final wish. Frank Lloyd Wright was buried in Wisconsin, in a family plot adjacent to a cornfield, surrounded by the graves of his grandparents, his mother, several of his sons and daughters and even his murdered lover, who was killed by a deranged servant years before. His monument was simple. It bore the legend: "Love of an idea is love of God."
Iovanna, Frank Lloyd Wright's only child with Oglivanna, signed the necessary documents. Within days the architect's body was removed and the cremation carried out in Milwaukee, before many of the great man's relatives were notified. After Wisconsin legislators realized Wright's remains had been spirited off to Arizona, they unanimously approved a resolution protesting the exhumation and asking that the ashes be returned. They drafted a letter to the Taliesin Foundation that stated: "Much more than ashes have been taken from Wisconsin--the citizens of the state have lost one evidence of our history, spirit and genius."
When Robert Llewellyn Wright--the son who 26 years earlier had driven through the night to return Frank Lloyd Wright's body to Wisconsin after Wright died at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix--objected to the "desecration," Iovanna sent him a terse telegram: "The heritage of Taliesin is not for the likes of you."
For more than two years, Wright's ashes remained in an urn in a vault at Taliesin West, while the Fellows constructed the memorial garden.
These days, when Joseph Rorke, wearing Birkenstocks, a tweed jacket and a bright-red "Dr. Joe" nametag, leads a tour through the Taliesin West compound, he does not take the visitors to the garden where the remains have been scattered. That is a private place, out of bounds to the 60,000 visitors who tramp over the grounds each year.
Instead, the tour ends where it begins, in a windowless souvenir shop, where tourists shuffle and gawk at plastic gewgaws. Caught in a certain light, "Frank Lloyd Wright" is no more or less than a registered trademark to be stamped on coffee mugs and key chains, and Taliesin West the official resting place of genius.
@body:"What everybody knows about Frank Lloyd Wright is that his roofs leak and he didn't pay his bills," says Edgar Tafel, a New York architect and a former Wright apprentice. "Maybe they know he designed chairs that made you black and blue or his personal life was messy. Most of them will tell you he was the world's greatest architect."
Even 33 years after his death, Wright is unquestionably the world's most famous architect; his name is recognized by people who have little or no familiarity with his work. During his life, Wright was as much pop star as artist, scandal-bitten and outrageous. Since his death, he has acquired a kind of secular sainthood--at Taliesin West, his aging former apprentices speak his name in hushed tones and say they can still feel his presence.
Not everyone shares that reverence, however. The problem is that after Frank Lloyd Wright became Frank Lloyd Wright, he didn't design for people anymore. "He designed for the ages," Tafel says. Wright would refuse to listen to his clients. Pennsylvania millionaire Edgar Kaufmann asked Wright to design a house from which his family could look out and enjoy the beautiful waterfall on its property. Instead, Wright built Fallingwater right on top of the waterfall--the house is the only spot on the property from which the waterfall can't be glimpsed. A longtime Dallas resident remembers the controversy when Wright accepted the commission to build the Dallas Theater Center in the late 1950s. The architect, she says, refused to meet with the board of directors, and insisted the theatre be built his way. If they wanted a Frank Lloyd Wright theatre, they were just going to have to trust his genius. Wright's drawing for the theatre did not allow for adequate backstage storage or for room to maneuver sets.
"That is the most horrible building," the woman--who asked for anonymity--says. "He did the whole thing with an eye to the external. . . . He gave no thought to what the people who actually had to use the theatre needed."
Similarly, Wright's houses are problematic. As early as 1910, the cantilevered balconies in some of his prairie houses began to sag. Wright assured the owners that the balconies would never give way, but "if it gave them comfort," they could slip a pillar beneath the overhang. And his roofs really did leak--his old office at Taliesin West, one of the first buildings completed on the compound, includes an indoor drainpipe system to funnel off the expected moisture.