By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
Even today, a pricey Wright house is a hard sell. It's usually marketed as art for the ages, or a part of art history, rather than comfort-centric real estate. In fact, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, an international preservation organization based in Chicago, has, at this writing, 19 listings for Wright homes on its website, www.savewright.org, none of which is under $1.2 million.
On the list is the Millard House in Pasadena for $4,995,000. More commonly known as La Miniatura, it has gone through a "multi-year restoration," according to the conservancy site, probably because of its leaky flat roof and notoriously porous building materials. It's recognized as the earliest Usonian house and the first to use Wright's decorative textile block system. Wright claimed to have created this system of interlocking molded blocks but, in fact, lifted it from a former disciple, Walter Burley Griffin, who had come up with a "knit-lock" block system several years before Wright did.
In Phoenix, the 2,553-square-foot Arcadia home Wright designed for his son and daughter-in-law, David and Gladys, in 1951 is listed for sale on a number of websites at $2.3 million and, as of March 7, had been on the market for 153 days. Its circular, gray concrete block-and-wood design smacks mightily of Wright's Guggenheim Museum circular ramp design. The house sold previously in 2009 for a reported $2.8 million.
The curators for "Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century" might have ended up with a more engaging show had they avoided the kitchen-sink approach that the exhibition employs. Of more interest to viewers might have been a show limited to the real innovations Wright was responsible for in American mass housing — the ones commonly in use today, together with commercial design amenities, like those he included in the Larkin building, and innovative hotel designs that champion rooms built around a open atrium and underground parking.
The Usonian House, with its concrete foundation embedded with a radiant heating system, single-level, open floor plan, and adjoining carport (which Wright and the Fellowship envisioned would be used for the Broadacre City project) is given short shrift. Equally snubbed are Wright's earliest ideas for mass housing, the American System-Built Houses he developed between 1912 and 1915, and multi-family residential Suntop Homes (also known as 1938's The Ardmore Experiment), consisting of four Usonian houses arranged in a pinwheel fashion. And there's no question that photographs of any completed construction would have assisted the less visionary viewer — myself included — in getting a feel for the finished product.
All in all, Phoenix Art Museum bypassed a golden opportunity to showcase the truly visionary designs and ideas that made Frank Lloyd Wright, in spite of himself, one of the most memorable architects in modern history, and one whose designs are still relevant today.