Wright, Frank Lloyd
(1867.06.08-1959.04.09) The world's most famous architect.
Lived at Taliesin West, Scottsdale
Died in Phoenix
In 1926 the career of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright was at a low ebb. He had few projects pending. Taliesin, his headquarters and home, had been seized by the Bank of Wisconsin which moved livestock onto the complex. His personal life was hardly better. Separated from his second wife and amid bitter divorce proceedings, Wright and his three decades younger future third wife were arrested near Minneapolis for violating the Mann Act. A call to come to Phoenix would mark the rebirth of his career and a new direction in his life.
Wright's former student, architect Albert Chase McArthur was working on plans for the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. He called on his former teacher, Frank Lloyd Wright, to help create a unique design for the project. With atypical humility, Wright agreed to consult on the project of another architect. He came to Phoenix in 1927 and never really left.
While consulting on the Biltmore project, Wright began talks with developer Alexander Chandler on building a Biltmore style resort southeast of Phoenix. The San Marcos-in-the-Desert resort would compliment the San Marcos Hotel which Chandler built in 1912. To provide quarters and working space for the architects, Wright studied the desert plants and used their geometry in designing the temporary facility Ocatilla [sic] Desert Camp south of the project site. Although the stock market crash and coming depression put an end to the project, Wright would be well served by his observation of nature in the desert.
As Wright entered his 70's he decided that there was a better place to spend his winters than Wisconsin. He purchased a section of land northeast of Phoenix, and in 1937 opened Taliesin West.
An engineering challenge. The SC Johnson Wax Administration Building (14th and Franklin Street, Racine, Wisconsin 53403) opened on April 22, 1939. The most prominent feature of the one-half acre Great Workroom are its slim dendriform columns that support the roof. As the building was being constructed, the Wisconsin industrial commission objected the unusual design of the slender columns over concern that they would not support the weight of the structure. As far back as ancient Greece supporting columns had always either had a uniform thickness throughout their length or started thick at the base and tapered slightly toward the top. Architectural rules of the time also dictated that a column's height would be limited by the diameter at the base.
Wright's columns broke the rules. The columns Wright designed for the Johnson building were a sparse 9 inches at the base. According to the engineering rules of the time, a column measuring 9 inches at its base could support a load no higher than 6 feet 9 inches. Wright's columns extended to 21 feet 7˝ inches. To make matters worse, the columns were hollow and lacked steel rods to reinforce the concrete.
Inspiration from the Saguaro. Wright's columns were the product of “organic” architecture. Wright looked at nature's architecture. He stripped away the flesh of the tall, slender Saguaro cactus dotting the desert around his winter studios in Taliesin West. He found a mesh-like skeleton which gives the giant Saguaro its support. Incorporating this principle into steel and concrete, giving the columns strength with a steel mesh.
To demonstrate that the columns had more than enough strength to support the 6 tons load of the building, Wright invited the press and the industrial commission to witness a test. As the crowd assembled, he began to place tons of sand on top of a column. When 18 tons of sand were resting on the column, workmen and visitors retired to the company recreation building where after refreshments of pretzels and beer, they received a short talk from Wright. They returned to the site and made plans to continue adding weight the next day until the column cracked. The Milwaukee Journal reported that even after 24 tons had been placed on the column it had not cracked.
Arizona Biltmore Hotel
Opened: February 29, 1929
Location: 2400 East Missouri Phoenix, AZ 85016, on 39 acres at the foot of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.
Client: Albert Chase McArthur, architect of record. McArthur was the son on one of Wright's first Chicago clients and was a former apprentice of Wright. Wright's career was at a low ebb in 1927 with few pending projects as he faced financial and personal problems. With atypical humility, Wright agreed to consult on the project of another architect. Wright's primary services would be the designing and engineering of the concrete block system (later known as Biltmore blocks). When Wright left, design changes made the blocks merely decorative elements instead of the integral, structural part of the building.
Description: Luxury resort hotel and cottages.
Construction cost & ownership: The final cost of $2.25 million was more than double the planned cost. As the expenses rose, William Wrigley, Jr., an original investor, put up the additional funds and became the hotel's sole owner. The resort was operated by the Wrigley family for over 40 years during which time it was open only during the winter season. Talley Industries purchased the hotel in 1973 and began installation of a sprinkler system while the hotel was closed for its summer hiatus. A workman's welding torch started a fire that spread throughout the upper stories of the main building. In only 82 days, Talley reconstructed the damaged floors and refurbished the rest of the structure, meeting the scheduled opening date.
Wellington and Ralph Cudney House
Designed: 1927 (unbuilt).
Description: Single family house. Location suggested in the San Marcos-in-the-Desert perspectives.
Designed: 1928-29 (unbuilt).
Client: Alexander John Chandler (1859-1950). Chandler was the first veterinary surgeon in the Arizona territory. He purchased 80 acres south of Mesa in 1891, founded Chandler in 1912, and became one of the areas most successful developers. His San Marcos Hotel was built in 1912-13.
Description: The project was to be a luxurious resort similar to the Arizona Biltmore, on 1,400 acres south of Phoenix at the base of the Salt River Mountains. The project was doomed by the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing depression.
Ocatilla [sic] Desert Camp
Built: 1929 (partially destroyed by fire in June 1929).
Location: Between 30th and 32nd Streets, Mountain Vista Drive and E. Frye Road, now the Ahwatukee Foothills district of Phoenix (south of the San Marcos site).
Client: Frank Lloyd Wright.
Description: Named after the ocotillo, a cactus-like tree native to the area, it would be the temporary Wright camp housing architects working on the San Marcos-in-the-Desert project. The temporary tent-like structures featured a triangular architectural theme with mountains rising behind the buildings that mimic their shape. Low board walls.
Built: 1929 (dismantled by 1934).
Location: Land owned by Chandler Land Improvement Co., Chandler Heights, AZ.
Client: Chandler Heights Citrus, Inc.
Description: A citrus tract camp of a dozen distinctive wooden buildings with canvas roofs provided the the manager with a residence and an office. It had six sleeping boxes for visitors and workers, a recreation hall, a dining hall, and a kitchen building. Each building had a wooden platforms of two-by-fours, board-and-batten walls and roofs with two layers of canvas for insulation.
Broadacre City (model)
Built: 1935 (demolished).
Location: Built at "La Hacienda" in Chandler, AZ.
Client: Frank Lloyd Wright.
Description: A model of a utopian city exhibited at "National Alliance of Arts and Industry Exposition" Rockefeller Center, New York City.
Location: 12621 North Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, Scottsdale, AZ.
Client: Frank Lloyd Wright.
Ashes of the famous architect: When Wright died in 1959 at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, his sixth child from his first marriage, Robert Llewellyn Wright, drove through the night to return Wright's body to Wisconsin where it was buried in a family plot. There Wright was surrounded by the graves of his grandparents, his mother, several of his sons and daughters, and a lover that was murdered by a deranged servant. It was the wish of Wright's third wife and widow, Oglivanna, that his body be removed from its Wisconsin grave, cremated, mixed with her ashes and used in the walls of a memorial garden to be built on the grounds of their home at Taliesin West. That plan was put into effect upon her death in March 1985 without notification of many of Wright's relatives. In spite of a resolution by the Wisconsin legislature protesting the exhumation and spiriting the ashes to Arizona and demanding their return, the ashes remained in an urn at Taliesin West for two years until the memorial garden was constructed.
Pauson House (aka Shiprock)
Built: 1939 (burned in 1942).
Location: 5800 Orange Road, Phoenix, AZ (chimney relocated to entrance of Alta Vista Park Estates, northeast corner of N. 32nd Street and E. San Miguel Place).
Client: Rose and Gertrude Pauson, maiden sisters of San Francisco.
Description: Large single family house made of bermed redwood and "desertstone". It had two stories, 3 bedrooms and 2 servant bedrooms. A large two-story living room at one end of the structure was dominated by a fireplace with massive chimney made of desertstone.
Destruction: In late 1942 embers from the fireplace ignited a hand-woven curtain hanging nearby and the building burnt to the ground. The desertstone skeleton stood for almost 40 years. It was eventually demolished to make room for a new road, but the massive chimney was relocated 200 yards away by a Frank Lloyd Wright admirer to mark the entrance to a subdivision.
Designed: 1945 (unbuilt).
Location: Phoenix, AZ.
Client: Elizabeth Arden.
Description: Garden with owner residence in the rear. Wright's notes explained why the project went no further. He placed the emphasis on sunlight when twilight or moonlight would have been preferable.
Designed: 1947 (unbuilt).
Location: Designed for Tucson.
Client: Valley National Bank (later acquired by Bank One). The bank did not believe customers would adapt to banking in their vehicles and never constructed the building.
Description: Circular building of exposed aggregate concrete and buff roman brick topped by a copper dome with skylights. Wright described the faceted dome as "like a little diamond" set in the concrete building. The skylights would allow natural light to stream to the main banking floor and through a circular well exposing a giant vault in bas relief brass and copper featuring the VNB emblem. Drive-up teller windows would allow access from vehicles.
Designed: 1948 (unbuilt).
Location: Meteor Crater, AZ.
Client: Mr. & Mrs. Burton Tremaine.
Description: Resort and inn with restaurant, shops and a service station to sit on the rim of Meteor Crater along Route 66. Not wanting to disturb the rim of the crater by leveling the area for a building, or to prop up structure on posts, Wright designed the building in a series of terraced levels embracing the natural slope. The roof line would slope from the lowest to the top level where the main dining area and the lounge would overlook the crater. From one side of the top level, visitors could go up a tower for a more expansive view, or take an inclined elevator which Wright called and "inclinator" down the crater wall for access to the bottom of the crater itself. Building materials were designed to blend with the natural terrain rather than to contrast with it. Walls would be concrete with imbedded desert stone, similar to those Wright used in Taliesin West and many later structures. The cedar shake roof would be stained brown to blend better with the earth.
Designed: 1949 (unbuilt).
Location: Tucson, AZ.
Client: Louis Bloomfield.
Southwest Christian Seminary
Designed: 1950 (unbuild).
Location: Designed for Glendale, AZ.
Description: A chapel, administrative buildings, seminar rooms, library, Greek theater and faculty homes on 80-acres.
Client: Peyton Canary. The seminary ceased operations, and the project was not built. [But see First Christian Church below.]
Location: 1123 West Palo Verde Drive, Phoenix, AZ.
Client: Raymond Carlson, editor of the Arizona Highways magazine from 1938 until the 1972, who is credited from turning the publication from a drab, obscure highway magazine into a world-famous photographic journal of the state. The Carlsons were close friends of the Wrights and regular visitors to Taliesin for weekend dinners. Much of the construction was done by the Carlsons to save money. When the work was done, a party was thrown to celebrate the home's completion. Wright sent a piano as house warming gift. The piano cost more than Wright had charged for his design fees.
Description: A three story home with a sublevel kitchen with a high ribbon of windows; bedrooms and bath in the middle; and a top level with an office opening onto a terrace. The total construction costs, held down by the Carlsons' labors, were $14,000.
Building materials: Wright designed the home to use a new structural system of wood posts and insulated Cemesto boards. Cemesto boards were a substitute building material created by Celotex in 1937 which were widely used during World War II because of the shortage of conventional building materials. The 4-foot wide panels which came in lengths from 4 to 12 feet were made of one-eighth-inch-thick layers of asbestos-filled cement applied to a cane-fiber-composite core. Depending upon their finish, they could be used for exterior and interior walls. While easy to work with they were reputed to be among the sturdiest of wartime construction methods.
Modification and Renovation: Dan MacBeth, a contractor and electronics worker, acquired the house for $34,000 through a classified ad in the 1970's when it had to be sold to support Carlson in a nursing home. Not aware of the notoriety of home's designer, MacBeth received a quick indoctrination the first week he was there. He went out in his robe to fetch the Sunday paper and was greeted by a group of people on the lawn snapping pictures of the house. Other features of the home required the rainy season to become evident. Rain water came in through the kitchen windows and the roof patio became a pond. The home had fallen in to disrepair as Carlson lived there alone after the death of his wife, and the MacBeth's had their work cut out for them. The renovations were completed with the undersized carport being replaced with a larger one of similar design and a guest house being added. In 2003, the 1,664 square-foot home was sold for $400,000.
Location: 5802 N. 30th Street, Phoenix, AZ. (Adjacent to the Boomer House.)
Client: Benjamin Adelman. Second home built for the Adleman family of Milwaukee. The Adelmans and the Boomers came to the Biltmore Hotel in the winter where they might be found playing bridge with Mamie Eisenhower.
Description: Originally designed as an inexpensive winter retreat, the Usonian house was composed of two concrete block buildings connected by a covered walkway. It had a two story living room and a kitchen with natural lighting from glass openings in the patterned block. Ceilings were suspended from concrete beams. Typical of Wright homes, halls were narrow and the bedrooms small. It featured another innovation which Wright is credited with inventing and naming: a carport. The construction cost was $25,000.
Modification: In an article in the November 29, 1979 Arizona Republic, Judy Kopulos describes the search she and her husband made to buy a Frank Lloyd Wright home two and a half years earlier. They wrote to 50 owners of Wright homes asking if they might be for sale. The settled on the Adelman house because not only was it for sale, it was affordable because of its rundown condition. They embarked on a project to restore the purity of the original design--stripping the gray paint from the mahogany kitchen cabinets and the pink paint from the gray block walls--as well as adding to the house. Eventually the structure was enlarged and squared off to provide room for a full sized master bedroom with walk-in closets and a study, and the original entry was closed. The carport which to the Kopulos's distress had been enclosed remain enclosed. The 3,365 square foot reconstructed house sold in February, 2002 for $1,200,000.
David Wright House
Location: 5212 East Exeter Road, Phoenix, AZ.
Client: David Wright, Wright's 4th child by his first wife. As a concrete block machinery sales executive David Wright wanted his father to design a home to show off block construction. Frank Lloyd Wright designed this as a generic home constructed in reinforced concrete for a project, "How to live in the southwest," to show how a house in a citrus grove could sit above ground level with the treetops becoming its lawn. David had it re-engineered for block.
Description: The elevated living area of the 2,250 square foot home are shaped as an arc from a 154 foot diameter circle. Floor to ceiling windows give a view of the almond shaped pool in the center of the circle. The end of one bedroom floats with cantilever support. Access from the ground is from a spiral ramp. The roof is galvanized steel. In 2003, the county assessor listed the home's full cash value as $891,500.
Location: 6442 E. Cheney [7540 N. 65th Street], Paradise Valley, AZ.
Client: Arthur Pieper, whose second wife was Iovanna Wright, was a student at Taliesin West. With the help of Taliesin fellow Charles Montooth, he built the home himself, even making the concrete blocks. Montooth, whose own home was on a neighboring lot, had been a laborer on a number of Wright projects, including the David Wright home. The two Taliesin students formed Horizon Builders to fabricate the blocks for Usonian automatic houses. When the homes did not catch on with the public, Pieper moved east and Montooth joined Taliesin Associated Architects.
Description: Perhaps the first of Wright's Usonian automatic house designs to be built, it featured concrete block construction. Usonian automatic homes were not automatic to anyone but the architect. Wright intended the design to be built in do-it-yourself fashion by the owner from a kit. In the early 1930's, about the same time as he made the Broadacre City model, Wright conceived a style of home which could be affordably produced and bring style to the masses. He used an almost-acronym of "United States of North American", to name his Usonian architecture. Over a 15 year period, he built about a hundred of these homes.
Reconstruction: As it turned out, the economies of constructing the Usonian automatic design did not fare well in the Arizona desert. Air conditioning units were placed on the roof and an addition was made to the dining room. In the 1990's, extensive additions obscured the design. The original Wright design has been reduced to a wing of the home.
Location: 5808 North 30th Street, Phoenix, AZ (adjacent to the Adelman House).
Client: Jorgine Boomer, a member of the Dupont family. Her husband, Lucius Messenger Boomer, was president and chairman of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. Before her husband's death in 1947, the Boomers and the Adelmans came to the Biltmore Hotel in the winter where they might be found playing bridge with Mamie Eisenhower. Ms. Boomer left the property to the Phoenix Art Museum, but it was not suitable for their collections and Lucille Kinter acquired the property on December 25, 1958.
Description: 1,413 square foot home designed for a single person, with separate servant's and chauffeur's quarters. The compact two story house has a equilateral parallelogram footprint and is built around a central chimney flue. Wright described his design, which is virtually identical to the home he did for George Clark on the Carmel seaside in 1951, as a "mountain cottage". It is constructed with desert rubblestone walls and horizontal wood sheathing especially evident in the bedroom balcony. The Maricopa County Assessor scheduled the full cash value of the property as $419,250 for 2003.
Harold Price, Sr. Winter House (aka The Grandma House),
Built: 1954; master suite added in 1957.
Location: 7211 North Tatum, Paradise Valley, AZ.
Client: Harold Price, Sr. (1888-1962). Price was one of Wright's most important clients. In 1952 he visited Wright at Taliesin to discuss the building of a modest multi-story building to serve as offices for his international pipeline construction firm, the H. C. Price Company. When he left, Wright had been engaged to build The Price Tower, a nineteen-floor mixed residential, retail and office tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Wright also designed homes for the Price children.
Description: The 4,781 square foot house was executed in concrete block with a light steel frame. The elongated building stretches the length of a football field along a hill east of Tatum Road. It has 10 rooms are arranged in 4 areas which can each be closed off from the rest of the house. Each of the 5 master bedrooms and 2 servant's bedrooms have their own baths. Bedroom wings on the east and west, and the living room and kitchen surround an open-air atrium at the center of the building. The roof of the atrium floats two feet above the walls on narrow steel pylons atop massive massive concrete block columns which end short of the ceiling and taper toward the floor. A skylight illuminates a fountain in the center of the atrium.
Subsequent owner: In 1964 the Price estate sold the home to Sam Shoen when he moved the headquarters of his U-Haul company from Portland, Oregon, to Phoenix. At that time there were 11 little Shoens ranging from 2 to 23 years in age. There were destined to be 12 Shoen children in corporate America's most dysfunctional family.
Arizona State Capital, "Oasis - Pro Bono Publico"
Designed: 1957 (unbuilt).
Location: Papago Park, Phoenix, AZ.
Client: State of Arizona. When Arizona was planning an addition to its capitol building, a reporter contacted Wright to get his view of the skyscraper design. As they were talking, Wright took out a pad and pencil and began to draw his concept of capitol complex that would be distinct from any other capitol and take advantage of the natural landscape. The reporter suggested that Wright present a more formalized drawing to the public. A few weeks later, Wright did that before reporters at the Westward Ho Hotel in Phoenix.
Description: The plan called for a 400 foot wide area of fountains, gardens, and reflecting pools covered gazebo style by a hexagonal latticework dome of crenellated concrete. An enormous spire similar to that of the First Christian Church would top off the dome. Two hexagonal copper-domed halls, one on each side of the garden oasis, would be the House and Senate chambers. Other wings would house the governor's offices, the Supreme Court, legislatures' offices, and a 250 seat restaurant. The plan for a 212,000 square foot complex had a drawback greater than its estimated 1960 cost of $5 million: It would require moving the capitol from its 1700 W. Washington location to Papago Park. In true Wright style, he had selected a location whose spectacular land formation would compliment the unique design. Instead, the state opted to erect conventional box-like buildings in front of the original 1900 capitol building to house the legislature, and a high rise box behind the capitol building for the governor and executive offices.
Comment on not being built: Years after the project was passed over, John F. Kennedy's Secretary of Interior Stewart Udahl was asked why Arizona has the ugliest state capitol. His reply, "Because we missed the boat and muffed the ball when we rejected the Oasis Project designed by Frank Lloyd Wright."
Gammage Memorial Auditorium
Opened: September 16, 1964.
Location: ASU campus, northeast corner of Apache Boulevard and Mill Avenue, Tempe, AZ.
Description: 3,000 seat auditorium, concert hall and theater with classroom and office space. The design conjoins two circles, the larger of which houses three tiers of seating and a smaller circle containing the stage and four floors of rehearsal and classroom space. Access to the widely spaced rows of seats in auditorium is exclusively from the sides since there are no aisles between the seats. Wright's design has its origins as the plan for part of a cultural complex for Baghdad, Iraq.
Client: Arizona State University, Grady Gammage, president of the University. In 1957, Gammage drove out to Wright's home at Taliesin West to discuss the design of a cultural and fine arts center for the university. Wright visited the campus and selected its southwest corner which was then the women's athletic field for the building site. The gently arching curve where north-south Mill Avenue turns into east-west Apache Boulevard matched Wright's concept for a circular design. Both Wright and Gammage died before construction on the project was started in 1962. Wright's successor firm Taliesin Architects West took over design and supervision of the project. It was named in honor of Grady Gammage.
Designed: 1959. Wright's last design built by the original client.
Location: 6836 North 36th Street, Phoenix, AZ.
Client: Norman and Aime Lykes. Lykes is a big name in the shipping industry. Seven brothers operated the Lykes Brothers Steamship Lines which dates back to 1899.
Description: 2,849 square foot home with a spectacular view of the city. The building is constructed with "desert-rose" concrete block with all elements taking their shape from 5 circles. The Taliesin architect executing Wright's design, John Rattenbury, made a modification to a second floor study.
Modification: In 1993 Linda Melton, the home's new owner, had Rattenbury modify the interior, enlarging the master bedroom by extending it into an adjacent bedroom, combining two other bedrooms into a single guest room and converting a workshop into a home theater. The county assessor's 2005 value of $784,600 does not seem to reflect the true market value of the property.
Designed: 1959 (unbuilt). The last design bearing Wright's signature.
Location: Paradise Valley, AZ
Client: Helen Donohoe.
Description: Wright met with Ms. Donahoe on the hill which she owned in Paradise Valley. The previous owner had bulldozed the top of the hill flat. Donahoe wanted a structure built on top of the hill instead of Wright's customary practice of building on the side with less disruption to the natural landscape. "Very well," Wright replied, "then we will have to put the top back on the mountain." Wright's design put the top back on the hill with a residence topped by domed living room with a 360 degree view. The next level has a large dining room opening into a screened terrace with a swimming pool and fountains. Bridges span in different directions from the main house to meet two smaller residences completing the triptych.
Location: Grounds of Taliesin West.
Client: Originally designed for Ralph Jester of Palos Verdes, CA. After Jester turned the design down, Wright proposed it to 9 other clients, none of whom wanted the design. Bruce Brooks Pfeifer, archivist of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, liked the design and built the home himself with the help of his father.
Description: 1,500 square foot, two bedroom, two bath home fashioned out of mocha colored cement plaster over a wood frame. The home is shaped by clusters of a total of 12 circles. The bedrooms, kitchen, study, 26 foot diameter living room, outdoor fountain, pool, fireplace and central patio are all circles. The home's most striking and perhaps most distracting feature is a horizontal stripe of waist high windows offering a view only to the inhabitants when they are seated. Home buyers who might want to raise their arms above their heads to slip on a sweater or dress could be deterred by another feature described by Pfeifer in an 1982 Arizona Republic article, "The building has human scale. Six-feet, 9 inches is high enough in the bedroom because you don't stand up much. But the living room is 12 feet, 6 inches because here we want people to stand."
First Christian Church
Location: 6750 N 7th Ave Phoenix, AZ.
Client: The First Christian Church leadership knew of Wright's plans for the Southwest Christian Seminary (above) and contacted his widow to obtain permission for their use.
Description: Worship center featuring a sky blue roof. A 77-foot-tall sky blue spire with stained glass of various colors appears triangular from any angle but is actually rectangular. The spire is mimicked by that of the Ascension Lutheran Church, Paradise Valley, (built by Taliesin Associated Architects) and the steel spire at the Promenade of Scottsdale shopping and office complex.
Presley's House of the Future
Location: 3713 Equestrian Trail, Phoenix (Ahwatukee), AZ.
Client: Presley Development Corporation. Designed after Wright's death by The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Charles R. Schiffner, Architect.
Description: A demonstration project for
Presley's 2,500 acre planned community of Ahwatukee. The pamphlet
promoting the project describes it:
Home owners: As an investment property the House of the Future did not fare well. Built for a $1,200,000, the first buyers, James W. and Harriet Walker, paid around $500,000 for the property in 1986. They sold it to Karl Kempf in 1993 for $360,000. He managed to become the first owner not to take a loss on the property when he sold it to David Kaufman in 1998 for $390,000.