By Amy Silverman
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Wright often said he considered the San Marcos project the "most perfect" of his unrealized projects. From time to time, there is talk about reviving it--Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, a former Wright apprentice who is now the chief archivist for the Taliesin Foundation, says several inquiries have been made over the years, including one a few years ago that would have located the resort at Pinnacle Peak.
David Dodge, a former Wright apprentice who returned to Taliesin after a decade practicing architecture in Switzerland, says nothing remains of Wright's first desert camp.
"There's nothing out there," he says. "I mean, we know where it is, so we can see signs of it, but there's really nothing left at all."
Photographs of the camp show that it bears a marked resemblance to Taliesin West. Wright had established roots in the desert; he and Oglivanna would live here intermittently for the rest of their lives. "He felt a deep affinity for the desert," Edgar Tafel says. "It was a place to be renewed. I'm not sure he didn't see himself as sort of an Old Testament prophet, returning to the desert to see visions."
@body:William Carlos Williams, the poet, wrote that "the pure products of America go crazy." Wright's megalomania was matched only by his talent. He was lucky enough to be the great man he always posed as, and his failures are often as grand as his successes. Like Elvis Presley, another uniquely American artist, Wright ended up insulated from the world, shuttling from his compound in Wisconsin to his compound in Arizona, surrounded by a crew of sycophants.
And those sycophants still carry on today, pretty much as if their beloved Mr. Wright was still tapping his cane around the grounds. They are the keepers of the flame, the protectors of his legacy. Some call them "grave tenders" and point out that in its 60-year history, the school founded by Wright has produced only a few architects of note. They say the work produced by Taliesin Associates--the for-profit architecture firm that is a subsidiary of the Frank Lloyd Wright Institute and that, in part, supports the school and archives--is a shadow of Wright's work.
The place has the scent of cult. The true believers have preserved the Wright lifestyle as well as his drawings and letters, they still commute from Taliesin to Taliesin, they still hold formal dinners with music and dancing provided by the Fellows and students. Like the members of a cloistered order, they have devoted themselves to a patron saint. And those who leave the order are not always welcomed back.
"It's clear that those of us who've left aren't welcome anymore," says a longtime Wright associate who asked not to be identified because he still "has dealings" with the group. "Some are more pure than others; that sort of thing. There's an awful lot of pettiness and political nastiness that surrounds it--all these people who take their identity from their closeness to Mr. Wright. It's pathetic."
Wright's aging former apprentices tend his memory with patient ardor. They speak his name in hushed tones and say they can still feel his presence. David Dodge, who lives on the Taliesin compound, says, "Sometimes, I get the feeling he is here. I'll come around a corner and I'll almost expect to see Mr. Wright standing there."
In a way, he is still there. Some 660 Wright-designed buildings were executed during his 72-year career, and at least 35 of his original designs have been realized since his death. Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer of the Taliesin Foundation says there are more than 400 of the architect's finished drawings in the foundation's vaults. It is still possible to commission a Wright house; Madonna recently asked to examine the plans of a circular home Wright designed--but never built--for Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller in 1957.
At Taliesin West, they expect the building to go on. Pfeiffer says he believes that someday, somewhere, every single Wright drafting will be turned into a building. Wright, born just 43 years after the death of Thomas Jefferson--the other great American architect--is likely to have an influence on the architecture of the 21st century.