Summer photograph in Taliesin's Garden Court looking plan west.

Wall at Taliesin’s Garden Court

Taliesin’s Garden Court photo taken in August, 2002 by Doug Hadley, then the Landscape Coordinator.

In this post I’m going to write about when a stone wall was built at Taliesin’s Garden Court, changing it from an entryway into a private courtyard.

The Garden Court used to be the courtyard where people stopped when they arrived. I showed a couple of old photographs of that courtyard in my post, “When Did Taliesin Get Its Front Door?” The courtyard was the forecourt from the time that Taliesin was built in 1911, until after its second fire.

After that, Wright made it into the Garden Court.

Ok – got it. But why do you have to use capital letters in front of the words Garden and Court, like a snooty know-it-all?

I think it’s because Garden Court is its proper name. I didn’t name it that. Plus, when you’re at Taliesin (or talking about it), you say those words and everyone knows what space you’re talking about.

Like, when I went to Taliesin West (Wright’s home in Arizona) people said “Kiva“, “Cabaret” and “Pavilion“, while talking about those spaces. I didn’t really know what they were talking about, but tried to not look as confused as I felt. I knew they’d tell me on tour, so hopefully I’d learn. Although, I still have to check with myself on The Cabaret vs. The Pavilion.

Besides: it’s not “snooty know-it-all”. . . it’s “socially awkward…” I don’t think I’m snooty, anyway.

Besides,

Wright labelled the court in the drawing published in the book, In the Nature of Materials. And also in one other Taliesin drawing, below:

Taliesin drawing, circa 1943. #2501.060, cropped.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

If you click the link, you’ll see the whole drawing is larger. I made the label “Garden Court” a little bigger, and lighter.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

Back to the Garden Court

Like I said, Wright created it after Taliesin’s two fires. It might be because Wright didn’t like people driving right up to the living quarters.

This was even though he might have had reason for optimism about his career in 1925.

This is despite the 1925 fire that had destroyed so many of his art objects. And, oh yeah: his damned home. Again.

But there were probably some positive signs floating around. After all, he had done some interesting work in California, and was well known because of his Imperial Hotel. That building was one of the few that stood in Tokyo after Japan’s devastating Great Kanto earthquake two years before.

And, finally, on the personal side, Miriam Noel (his second, unstable, wife) had left him (the year before), and he was newly in love with Olgivanna (with whom he spent the rest of his life). 

Regardless, he no longer wanted people driving right to the forecourt when they came to Taliesin. So he added a few things to redirect people on their way up.

So he blocked the old drive in two ways:

From the south:

He built a stone court that ended with a parapet. You see the wall at the end of the terrace in this 1932-33 photo from the Wisconsin Historical Society:

Aerial of Taliesin, in the summer.
Published originally in 1933 in the original prospectus for the Taliesin Fellowship.
Wisconsin Historical Society, image ID: 38757

The arrow in the photo points to where the carriages used to drive when there was a road that continued way.

From the west:

This west here is the part of the building on the left in the photo; under “Image ID: 38757”.

It might have been easier to drive up that way because you didn’t even have to drive up a hill, to get right outside of his studio. So, men and women could be working in the studio, then look up and see people they didn’t know right outside of of the windows. Or those people might walk into the room.

In order for them to drive from the west to the studio

They would have driven through a couple of gates, then under the old hayloft and past the former horse stables.

I suppose it wouldn’t have been bad if Wright were waiting for a client. Plus, there was a door under the hayloft to keep random people (and cows) out. But if the draftsmen forgot to close the door, and people came in, it could really interrupt you.

Like, for a couple of years, when I worked more in the tour department at Taliesin Preservation. On the first floor of the visitor center, there’s a door that goes out to a loading dock. That’s because one summer, at least two groups of people walked in, thinking the door was the building’s entrance.1 We had to tape a little sign on the door telling them “This is not an entrance”. Seemed to work well.

You can imagine other draftsmen or -women,  working on a nice drawing in Wright’s studio, when a stranger comes walking in to the room, wanting to know if this was the “Crazy House” (like I mentioned in my post, “This Stuff Is Fun For Me“).

btw, at that time, they didn’t ask if Taliesin was the House on the Rock. Because that didn’t exist yet.

So, the wall might have been an effort to make a journey to the studio more onerous. The wall isolated the former Forecourt, and allowed an expansion of the gardens.

He took one of his drawings to figure out his plan

Here’s a Taliesin II drawing where he made changes in pencil. An arrow is pointing at the wall below

Taliesin drawing, c. 1917 with changes made 1925-1943.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

The drawing above links to the version online. If you click on it, you’ll see that the actual drawing is a lot bigger.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

One of the changes Wright wanted was to make the old CARRIAGE HOUSE into bedrooms. So, he took a pencil and drew in bay windows at the Carriage House.

One of those rooms with bay windows is where George Kastner lived when he started working for Wright. You saw two photographs inside Kastner’s room in my last post, “Oh My Frank, I Was Wrong!

Kastner also took a photo outside of his room. At that time, November or December, 1928, he was living at Taliesin. The photograph shows the Garden Court wall being built:

Exterior photograph taken at Taliesin in the fall of 1928.
Photograph by architect, George Kastner. Taken on November 28, 1928.
Courtesy of Brian A. Spencer, Architect

Taken in the Middle Court, looking (plan) northeast. The new bay windows are on the left, with the Taliesin III living quarters in the distance on the right. The chimney for the studio fireplace is the second chimney on the right.
The chimney on the left eventually became the fireplace for the living room used by Wes Peters, and his wife, Svetlana Hinzenberg Peters.

A photograph I took in this area is below. The stone wall is slightly taller than it was in Kastner’s photo. Stonemasons later heightened the wall by a stone course or two, probably in the year after Kastner took his photograph.

Looking plan east in Taliesin's Middle Court toward the Garden Court. 4-29-2004.

I took this photograph in April 2004.

First published, May 20, 2022
The photograph at the top of this post was taken by former Landscape Management Coordinator, Doug Hadley


Note:

  1. My theory on why people would walk in the door was is that the grounds people had cut down the yew bushes, so people saw the door more easily when driving by the building. But putting up the sign on the door stopped people from walking in unexpectedly.
Contemporary. Looking southwest in Taliesin's living room at the fireplace.

1940s Change in Taliesin’s Living Room

Photograph from the 2000s taken by me in Taliesin’s living room. Looking toward the fireplace with the inglenook (the built-in bench).

Today, I thought about photographs from the book, Apprentice to Genius, by Edgar Tafel that I recommended almost a year ago. Looking through the book reminded me of a change to the inglenook (the built-in bench) at the fireplace in Taliesin’s living room. I’m going to talk about that change in this post.

A moment about Wright’s living room

While I’ve written about his living room before, I haven’t really talked about it much. That’s in part because, while Wright obviously loved it and rebuilt it after his home’s two fires, he didn’t spend a lot of time changing it.

I mean, comparatively speaking.

Because he changed other rooms. A lot. Like the room I talked about in here; I mean, c’mon: it’s inside Taliesin and figuring out where the room stood (or stands. . . it’s still there) can be really difficult.

But, in contrast, there are things in Taliesin’s living room that he kept the same.

For example:

  1. The door from the main hallway was always in the same space.
  2. The room always had almost square windows.
  3. The dining area was always on the south wall.

And,

The fireplace always had an inglenook. In addition, for years (and after each fire), the inglenook ended a bookshelf on the end, farthest from the firebox. Maybe this bookshelf kept the space on the couch warmer when you had a fire.

Here’s the inglenook and bookshelf during the Taliesin I era:

Black and white photograph of inglenook in Taliesin I living room. By Taylor Woolley
Property of Utah Historical Society, Taylor Woolley collection, ID #695922.

Photograph taken 1911-1912 by Taylor Woolley, Wright’s draftsman at Taliesin at that time. Photograph located at the Utah Historical Society, ID #695922.

btw, I have tried to read the titles on the books on the shelf. Unfortunately, when I magnified it, the book titles just got blurry.

The bench was reconstructed for Taliesin II, after the 1914 fire.

Which can see in this Taliesin II photograph from the Wisconsin Historical Society.

And, again, after the fire of 1925.

You can see the inglenook here in an early Taliesin III photo, at Greatbuildings.com.1

And then we come to one of the photographs from “Apprentice to Genius”. The photograph from it below was taken in 1940 by Pedro Guerrero:

Photograph of Taliesin's living room and fireplace. By Pedro Guerrero.
Photograph taken in 1940.
Property: Pedro E. Guerrero Archives.

The bookshelf is the vertical section at the end of the bench.
This photograph is on page 112 of Apprentice to Genius.

In addition, this photograph shows that Wright had a small bookshelf on the opposite side of the bench. You can see the books where the bench terminates into the wall in the living room, to the left of the fireplace mantle.

btw: I’ve looked at the books on that little shelf and can’t read the titles there, either.

I suppose that could be a nice thing to have if you were at that fireplace in the winter, reading.

And then he made changes in the 1940s

Particularly the early 1940s. Why?

Because Wright, his family, and a few others were (more-or-less) confined to Wisconsin after the United States involvement in World War II. This involvement led to rationing, which resulted in his forced residence of Taliesin again year-around.

In addition,

Being forced to stay at his digs in the Midwest allowed Wright to think seriously on how he could change his home to make it more suitable to living in the summer.

Aside from all those stone changes he made in 1942-43 when he got an offer for “a cord or two of stone for every hour that I use the tractor.”

So, along with large changes at Taliesin, he made changes to this part of the living room. 

Here’s what I think happened:

That bookcase probably helped to preserve heat near the fireplace. So, he got rid of the bookcase, since he wouldn’t have to worry about conserving heat there any more, once they could all get back to Taliesin West in the winter. Besides, taking away that bookcase would make the bench more open to people walking around during hors d’oeuvres for Sunday formal evenings.2

He also eliminated the little bookshelf to the left of the fireplace, and put mortared stone in its place.

The removal of both book storage areas, were just two of five or six changes. You can see the cleaned up area in Apprentice to Genius, p. 113. Or in the photo below taken in the 1950s by Maynard Parker. Parker Taliesin took photographs at Taliesin in 1955 for House Beautiful.3

Color photograph taken of bench and fireplace in Taliesin living room, 1955.
Courtesy of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
Call Number: photCL MLP 1266

Now:

I do not know if Wright thought of the changes near the fireplace all at once, or if he made a change at the bookcase, followed by others over time.

Like when you go to wipe up a coffee spill on the counter and three hours later you’re mopping the entire kitchen floor after having wiped down all the cupboards while you rearranged (and threw out) the old spices (oh, you were so naive when you thought you’d use that much Cayenne).

But, maybe this came to him fully formed. From the bookcase, to the mantelpiece, or maybe the mantelpiece to the bookcase.

And, yes,

There’s a water stain on the ceiling. One time, a Taliesin Preservation employee (hey, Bob!) said to us that leaks in Wright buildings were like Alfred Hitchcock making a cameo appearance in his movies.4

I also like the plaster on the back of the built-in: sort of dark gold. I haven’t determined whether he made it lighter the last summer he lived in Wisconsin. Although, one of his former apprentices, David Dodge, said one time that Wright had apprentices redo colors on the walls every year. Although I don’t know if that was for every square inch of every wall in every space, but “David” said he could see why Wright redid the colors.

David said that just because the same flowers grow in the same place as the year before doesn’t mean the red or yellow of that rose will be the exact same shade in every way.

First published March 16, 2022.


Notes:

1. This photograph is published in the Volume 6 Number 1 issue of the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design archives.

2. Formal evenings were held every Sunday when I started in 1994. Why they were held on Sundays, I don’t know. They were definitely Saturdays later and were held two times a month after I’d worked a season or two.

3. House Beautiful magazine, November 1955, v.97, number 11, p. 233-90 +. Parker gave his collection to the Huntington Library in California.

4. Although I can tell you that, this part of the ceiling has never leaked in my experience with Taliesin. And, while work has always been done to stop them, the roofs of Taliesin do/can leak. I recall one day maybe a dozen years ago, when TPI’s then-executive director told a reporter with excitement that, “Nothing leaked this spring!” [paywall] It’s not that Wright didn’t know what he was doing; he was just always changing things. So he was putting “creases” in the “envelope” of the building.

Frank and Olgivanna Lloyd Wright outside at Taliesin with Alexander Woollcott holding baby goat.

Guest Quarters

Frank Lloyd Wright (left) with his wife, Olgivanna, and friend, writer Alexander Woollcott outside the architect’s home, Taliesin, 1935-43. Woollcott holds a baby goat. The west wall of a bedroom is in the background. This became Wright’s bedroom in 1936.

My years of working at Taliesin Preservation gave me time to uncover the history of Wright’s changes at the Taliesin estate. Although (no surprise, I admit), most of my interest centered on the Taliesin structure by Wright (his home, studio, and former farm).

In trying to figure out Taliesin’s history, I spent time looking at copies of his drawings. While I was/am always cautious toward them, I came to trust some that actually seemed to match what existed.

You’ll see them or a link to them in my post today.

For example

Wright drew elevations in the early 1920s of the portion of Taliesin on which he was adding a guest apartment. This work was done after he returned from working on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.

I noted this change when I wrote about Taliesin II (Taliesin’s forgotten middle child).

This drawing from the early 1920s is number 2501.025.

“2501” on the drawing usually indicates “Taliesin III” (meaning, post-1925). But details in the drawing mean it comes from the Taliesin II era (before the 1925 fire). I’ll show which portion is exclusively Taliesin II. The part where I’ve added the arrow is what became Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s bedroom. In the Taliesin II era, that room had that small balcony that I’ve pointed the arrow at:

Elevation of Taliesin, 1920-25. 2501.025
Property: The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York

I think Wright added this “Guest Apartment” to increase the attractiveness of coming to Taliesin. Even today, you’re about a 45-minute drive west of Madison, the Wisconsin state capital. Moreover, in the early 1920s the only place to stay was in the village of Spring Green (three miles away), which had one hotel. This was a three-story building with the Hotel Myers and a restaurant on its first floor named the Dutch Kitchen.2 And in the 1920s, you couldn’t have even gotten a Brandy Old Fashioned there.

Thus, the architect designed a guest apartment (without a kitchen) at Taliesin. The two bedrooms, living room and separate bathrooms were on the same floor as the architect, separated by his own rooms by a door.

Then, the second fire happened

The April 20, 1925 fire destroyed Wright’s living quarters and he began rebuilding that summer. The reconstruction included the guest apartment. A Taliesin III drawing shows part of this in the drawing linked to here. It’s an elevation and floor plan on one sheet, labelled as “guest living room”.

You’ve seen this “guest living room” before

A door separated the “guest living room” from everything else on the floor. This door was seen in the photograph in my post “About a Wall at Taliesin That No Longer Exists”. It’s the open door on the left-hand side of the photo.

While ups and downs in Wright’s life after 1925 kept him away from Taliesin, he and his family were there in 1928 and he wanted to invite someone to his “guest quarters” when everyone was living again at home. I know this because of a letter that I found on one of my trips down to Frank Lloyd Wright’s archives when they were still at Taliesin West in Arizona.3

As I’ve written, as Wright was the architect, he didn’t have to ask permission to change whatever he wanted. So, there are very few (or non-existant) letters or telegrams to pinpoint changes. As a result, I looked for details (and, goodness, still do) in any way that I could.

What did I find?

Since I read letters between Wright and people he knew, I looked into those between him and friends, employees, etc. I knew writer Alexander Woollcott visited, so I read those letters. And, in 1928, soon after Wright and his family had returned to Taliesin, Wright invited Woollcott to visit, even encouraged him to bring a friend. On page two of this letter he wrote:

. . . . You could have my little studio with a big stone fireplace to write in, and he or she could have a little studio nearby to draw in. We would look [hook?] you up together in the guest quarters back of the house,—two bedrooms and a sunny sitting room with a big fireplace in it. . . .

FICHEID: W045B08: 1/1/1928 (unknown month and day).
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York

Those “two bedrooms” at the “guest quarters back of the house” are the ones I’ve been writing about.

I recognized this sunny room with the big fireplace in it. It’s in the photograph below. The photo was published in the March, 1929 issue of Liberty magazine:

Taken inside Taliesin, looking southwest in Loggia fireplace. 1926-29.
Copyright David Phillips| The Chicago Architectural Photographing Company.
Published in the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design Archives, volume 6, number 1, 2018, 73.

This image is published in the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design Archives, volume 6, number 1, 2018, 73. That’s available through here.

I’m not sure how often these two rooms were used for guests. Anyway, in 1936, Wright changed the two guest bedrooms into separate bedrooms for his wife and himself and then re-designated their former bedroom as the Guest Bedroom.

OH, and one last point:

Wright’s letter to Woollcott shows that the architect thought of those two rooms as guest rooms. But on a practical level, originally they might have been planned as bedrooms for the daughters Svetlana and Iovanna.

I thought about all of this last year, and these thoughts evolved into a presentation on Wright’s changes to Taliesin for Iovanna, which I did for the Monona Terrace “Virtual Wright Design Series” in October of 2020. That presentation, “Life Is Not Monotonous at Taliesin” is on Youtube, here.

Originally published on September 19, 2021.

The photograph at the top of this page was published in Frank Lloyd Wright. Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, volume 4: 1939-49, edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1994), 192.

 


1 This means that I will not trust anything that man put into a drawing unless I see a photograph of it. “Fool me once…” etc.

2 The Administrator in Historic Studies for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation clarified the name of the hotel (as previously I just had the name of the Dutch Kitchen).

3 I would have spent useless time during my first trip to the archives if the registrar hadn’t taken pity on me and got me a very nice listing of correspondence about the actual Taliesin structure, and not just everything latter that contained the word “Taliesin”. Taliesin was mentioned in letters from people wanting to join the “Taliesin Fellowship”, or everyone wanting to get the magazine they put out for a while entitled “Taliesin”. It was so great when the Director and Curator of Collections at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation gave me this modified list.

Photograph of Taliesin's Loggia by Raymond C. Trowbridge

A slice of Taliesin:

1930 photo looking south in Taliesin’s Loggia. Notice the vertical water stain on the horizontal band of plaster in the background.

Many photos taken inside Taliesin during Wright’s lifetime show water stains. That’s why I’m showing this photograph by Raymond Trowbridge again: it shows Taliesin’s Loggia with a vertical water stain in the background. Personally, I’ve never seen that part of the roof leaking, but I have seen water coming into Taliesin. I start this post with scary water, then give you a short version of what the Preservation Crew did about that (that jumps over a bit of the story), which changed into an even bigger fix.

That can happen with historic preservation. One problem can highlight other problems. It was overwhelming even though I didn’t work on the Preservation Crew – I just researched Taliesin’s history!

Regardless, the way to approach preservation at Taliesin is how you “eat an elephant“: sometimes it’s just best to go after the smaller things until the resources are there to complete the project.

Here’s (most of) my part in the story:

I was eating lunch in Olgivanna Lloyd Wright‘s bedroom one summer day. I worked as a Taliesin House Steward one-day-a-week at that time, and Olgivanna’s Bedroom wasn’t yet on tours. So it was nice to take a break there. As I watched a summer downpour, I looked out the windows onto the Loggia Terrace (here in a recent photo from Flickr). While the roof didn’t (doesn’t) leak, I watched as buckets of water poured into the space between a stone half-wall on the terrace, and the wall that it leaned away from.

Wright added the half-wall in the 1950s, so it wasn’t attached to the taller stone wall behind it.

Check out the photo below to see this noticeable crack:

A stone wall at Taliesin with Olgivanna Lloyd Wright's Bedroom in the background.

Taken on the Loggia Terrace. The red framed windows at Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s Bedroom are in the background.
Kevin Dodds took this photograph in November, 2002.

Remember I wrote about how Wright buildings are smaller than you think? That’s not true here: that crack is as big as it looks

As I stood there in Olgivanna’s bedroom, I tried not to think about how much water was pouring into the building, and where it was going. I didn’t have the resources to do anything about the problem, and worrying would drive me crazy.

Fortunately, the Preservation Crew did do something.

In fact, they started doing something right after that photo above was taken. Kevin, a Preservation Crew member, photographed this in the beginning of their work.

They took the pier apart, looking into the building. On the other side of that stone wall above, they saw that the hearth at Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s Bedroom fireplace was deflecting. To fix the hearth, the Preservation Crew went under the building.

Why?

They had to support the hearth. But they didn’t want to support it on the floor below, in “the Gold Room”.1 They had to go into the crawlspace under the Gold Room to create support for its floor.

But, see, after its second fire Wright rebuilt Taliesin on the ashes of Taliesin II. So this crawlspace was a mess. The man who spearheaded the project2 explained it to me.

Imagine it:

Wright had recently spent over eight years of his life on a consuming project (the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo), and had acquired tons of art. That he brought home. And just under three years later his living quarters were, once again, consumed by fire.3

Wright wrote in his autobiography about that fire’s aftermath:

Left to me out of most of my earnings, since Taliesin I was destroyed, all I could show for my work and wanderings in the Orient for years past, were the leather trousers, burned socks, and shirt in which I stood, defeated, and what the workshop contained.

But Taliesin lived wherever I stood! A figure crept forward from out the shadows to say this to me. And I believed what Olgivanna said.

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1943), 262.

So, Wright moved on. Because what else was he going to do? Therefore, when the Preservation Crew (really, two men) started work, the crawlspace was full of dirt and ash. Literally: the ashes from the Taliesin II fire.

This photo shows the crawlspace.

It was taken a month after that photo showing the stone pier on the Loggia Terrace:

A crawlspace with dirt and stone piers underneath Taliesin

Photograph taken in December, 2002, by Kevin Dodds.

The “after” photo is below.

Kevin took this after the debris and ash (but NOT the stone piers) were removed. Then they built a support for the vertical section they built in the floor above:

Wooden platform in Taliesin's crawlspace.

Photograph in Taliesin’s crawlspace taken in February, 2003 by Kevin Dodds.

With that, they were able to put the structure in the Gold Room to support the hearth in Olgivanna’s Bedroom.

The support in the Gold Room.

This structure supported the stone hearth at Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s fireplace:

Photograph of a fireplace in the room at Taliesin known as "the Gold Room".

Photograph looking north in the room at Taliesin known as “the Gold Room”. Taken March 2004, by Kevin Dodds.

With that, they left it alone until they could get back to it.

In 2004, a year after this work, students from the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture (now The School of Architecture), working under the direction of the Preservation Crew, repaired the terrace outside of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s Bedroom (that’s the light blue area you see in the the first photo of the half-wall).

In 2005, the half-wall was rebuilt

Here’s a photo of the pier, rebuilt (with two layers of flashing):

Stone half-wall on Loggia Terrace at Taliesin

Photograph by Kevin Dodds taken May 2005. Looking southwest at the rebuilt half-wall on the Loggia Terrace. The dark membrane at the bottom of the photograph is waterproofing. This was covered by flagstone once the Loggia Terrace was restored.

In 2006, the crew continued in the crawlspace

After creating wooden forms, they prepared to pour concrete piers in it. Here’s one photo I took:

Concrete being brought in a hose to Taliesin.

I wasn’t usually involved with this stuff. But I had to get out and see the pumper truck. That photo above is showing the arm bring the concrete in. They brought it in through a little passageway (out of sight on the photograph’s left side). The passageway goes to the crawlspace where the forms were set for the concrete pour.

The concrete supports were created and set.

When that was done, they put jacks on top of them, then devised a way to bring steel beams into the crawlspace. It’s cool: hollow, rectangular, steel pieces were about two feet long were brought in, then bolted together.

Looking at a new beam in Taliesin's crawlspace

Jacks supporting the beams in the crawlspace that the Preservation Crew had constructed and prepared. Photograph taken March 2007 by Kevin Dodds.

The crawlspace looked like this for awhile.

The Preservation Crew had to wait until the next phase: jacking up the beams to correct the deflection.

Once this was accomplished, they contracted with Custom Metals (Madison, WI) to permanently weld the steel I-beams in the crawlspace.

Welding posts to concrete pads in crawlspace

Photos that show welding are so cinematic!
Taken by Kevin Dodds in February, 2010.

New posts and beams in crawlspace at Taliesin.

Photograph of the metal posts, beams, and concrete pads in Taliesin’s crawlspace. Taken February, 2010 by Kevin Dodds.

Once this was settled, they worked upstairs.

The Preservation Crew restored Olgivanna’s Bedroom in 2010. The bedroom was prepped and put on Taliesin House tours.

In 2011, Taliesin turned 100 years old.

After the tour season finished that year, the Preservation Crew began to completely restore Taliesin’s Loggia. After this, they restored all of the spaces in Taliesin’s Guest Wing rooms.

So now the Guest Wing is level, warmer, doesn’t smell like mildew, and the crew rebuilt amazing pieces of furniture. While you can’t see the crawlspace on a tour, you can go on a Virtual Tour through Taliesin’s Guest Wing (via Facebook), here.

When I look back on these things, I’m a little amazed. And I was only the sidelines for most of it!

Published August 31, 2021
The photograph at the top of this post is by Raymond C. Trowbridge at the Chicago History Museum, ICHi-89168. It is in the public domain.
Thanks to Kevin Dodds and Ryan Hewson from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation for allowing me to publish the work photographs.


1 It’s unknown why the room was given that name. Taliesin Preservation asked members of the Taliesin community (members of the Taliesin Fellowship) why it was given that name and the people they asked didn’t know.

2 Jim, the former Estate Manager who brought me to the crawlspace, is written about here.

3 This was an electrical fire.

Exterior of Fellowship dining room, summer.

Old Dining Room

The photograph above shows the dining room areas, first built before 1920, then used by the Wrights and the Taliesin Fellowship. The area dining rooms were on the left, with the kitchen located behind the tower on the right.

I have had the goal of figuring out the history of Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, Taliesin, for awhile. Well, a lot. It’s almost like it’s, I dunno, a career or something.

And, I’ve written about figuring out Taliesin’s history in this blog here, and here, and a few more places.

Regardless, come along with me while I talk about how I figured out something because of photographs and what others wrote.

The old Fellowship dining room at Taliesin is a simple example.

That’s the dining room Wright was exiting in 1925 when he saw that his home was on fire:

… [O]ne evening at twilight as the lightning of an approaching lightning storm was playing and the wind rising I came down from the evening meal in the little detached dining room on the hill-top to the dwelling on the court below to find smoke pouring out of my bedroom. Again—there it was—Fire!

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings: 1930-32, volume 2. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (1992; Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 294.

Below is a photo from the Wisconsin Historical Society, taken prior to that day:

Taliesin dining area and Hill Tower, summer. 1920-22.
Wisconsin Historical Society. See image online here:
https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM38788

The door he was coming out of was to the left of the stone pier. You can’t see the door because it’s behind all of that foliage.
https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM38788

There’s a tree coming out of the roof on the left hand side of the photograph. That tree was there for close to a decade (don’t worry: the tree didn’t stand inside a room).

Continuing on Taliesin’s history

Taliesin’s second fire happens in 1925, then, after ups and downs in his career over the next seven years, Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife, Olgivanna, founded the Taliesin Fellowship in 1932. The apprentices in the Fellowship did a lot of work at Taliesin in the 1930s so they could have places to live and eat.

(I wrote about one of them, Edgar Tafel, and his book, Apprentice to Genius, in this post).

Here are the changes in the dining room in the 1930s:

Eventually, the main Fellowship dining room was at Hillside. But, in those early Fellowship years, while the group still ate at Taliesin, Wright added a chimney with two fireplaces to the existing dining room. Abe Dombar, then a Taliesin Fellowship apprentice (along with his brother Bennie; they both became architects) mentioned this in his “At Taliesin” article on March 23, 1934:

….  Additions were made… and the little dining room soon grew to be the big dining room.  The apprentices that were there helped to make it grow.  The low ceiling of the old dining room now projected out into the new part to form a deck….

And then they built a corner fireplace on the far side by the windows.

At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937. Edited and with commentary by Randolph C. Henning (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1991), 30.

The chimney mentioned in Dombar’s article is seen in an aerial photograph from the Wisconsin Historical Society, below:

Aerial of Taliesin in summer, 1932-33. Cropped.
Owner: Wisconsin Historical Society. Available at: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Image/IM38757

The chimney stands on the far left-hand side of the photograph, to the left of the tree.
Wisconsin Historical Society, ID 38757. The image is online here.

Then, in 1936, Wright invited young photographer, Edmund Teske, to live at Taliesin as the Fellowship photographer. Teske’s photos also show the tree.

In 1937, photos were taken for Architectural Forum mag

On preparation for an issue of that magazine devoted to his work, that fall, Wright dispatched young photographers Bill and Ken Hedrich (of the photography firm, Hedrich-Blessing) to photograph Taliesin and his other recent work. This magazine issue was released the next January. Among other things, that issue of Architectural Forum included unique photographs from the Taliesin estate, as well as the Johnson Wax world headquarters, and that little Wright building known as “Fallingwater”.

During his session, Ken Hedrich took a distant photograph of Taliesin, which showed the building without that tree in the roof. I don’t have that one to show, but here‘s a photograph Ken took on a roof looking over a courtyard with the dining room in the background. It ends at the chimney, and has no tree through the roof.

So, I’m figuring this stuff out: “Ok, the chimney’s built, then the tree is eliminated. Got it.”

Around that time, I grabbed another piece of writing. This is the book, Working With Mr. Wright: What It Was Like, by Curtis Besinger. He wrote about his years in the Taliesin Fellowship (1939-43; 1946-55).

Besinger on a change to the dining room in 1939:

He was involved in this during his first fall in the Fellowship:

I was also involved in one other construction project that fall, a remodeling of the Taliesin dining room…,

One morning, having finished his breakfast in the nearby little dining room, Mr. Wright1 came into the Fellowship dining room and announced that he wanted to put a clerestory in the ceiling to let more light as well as the morning sun into the room…. He directed some people to start knocking off the plaster on the ceiling along the east side of the ridge…. He made a rough drawing to indicate how he wanted the clerestory built….

Curtis Besinger. Working with Mr. Wright: What It Was Like (1995; Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England), 26.

Even though he wrote his memoir years after his time at Taliesin, I trust Besinger’s memory on when this construction took place. That earliest experience at Taliesin makes a strong impression.

Here’s the conclusion to this information:

By looking at things written contemporaneously (as well as in memoirs), and by using definitively dated photographs (the Teske and Hedrich-Blessing photos), I was able to figure out when the chimney was built (1932-33); then when the tree disappeared (1936-37); then when the clerestory was constructed (1939).

In my nonstop refining of the dates of Taliesin’s changes, I looked at all the photocopies, took a pencil, and re-dated them accordingly. Figuring out these photographs has helped me to figure out changes; and on the other hand, figuring out changes has helped me figure out photographs.

First published, August 21, 2021.

The image at the top of this post is published online at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Taliesin_Exterior_21.jpg. The image is licensed under the Creative Commons  Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.


1 While it’s slowly changing, people who knew him and worked with him referred to him as Mr. Wright. I was taught that specifically when I started giving tours. But, as I was completing grad school at that time, I carried the lesson on referring to an artist. First introduce them by their full name and thereafter just use their last names. I tried to call him “Frank Lloyd Wright” otherwise, but I can’t guarantee it.

A photograph I took of a stone wall inside Taliesin.

I looked at stone

A stone wall on the north side of Taliesin’s entry foyer. Based on the red wash across most of the stones, the bottom of the wall survived Taliesin’s 1925 fire.

Sometimes, while working at Taliesin (as I wrote once before), my answer to the question, “What did you do at work today?” was, “I looked at stone.” I’ll explain that here, because it engendered some interesting conclusions.

In order to understand that, you’ve got to know Frank Lloyd Wright’s stone at Taliesin.

(what? You didn’t think I’d say that?).

It should be no surprise that Wright employed local stone when building his home; the stone came from about a mile down the road to the north. And, as he built his home in Southwestern Wisconsin, he had plenty of dolomite limestone indicative of the surrounding Driftless Area. He used it in Taliesin’s foundations, chimneys, walls (when he didn’t use plaster or glass), and flagstone floors.

He also wanted it laid a certain way

The stone had to be in the same orientation that was in the quarry (it was kept horizontal; not orientation like facing east or south, etc.). And, on walls, he told the masons to vary its depth. This way, it would echo the look of stone outcroppings (and is gorgeous with snow on it). You see the snow on the stone in the photo below from my entry about newly seen photos:

A photograph of Taliesin in winter, published in the Chicago Tribune

Posted in a “Flashback” article from December 4 by Ron Grossman at The Chicago Tribune: “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin was a refuge for illicit romance. But tragedy tore apart the love he built.”

Hey, at least he took notice:

Wright later wrote that the stonemasons –

[L]earned to lay the walls in the long, thin, flat ledges natural to it, natural edges out. As often as they laid a stone they would stand back to judge the effect. They were soon as interested as sculptors fashioning a statue. One might imagine they were, as they stepped back, head cocked to one side, to get the effect.

An Autobiography, published in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, volume 2: 1930-32. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 227.

This wonderfully unique stonemasonry allows you to see crags and details of individual stones from a dozen or so feet away. As a result, I learned to “read” the walls, quickly finding their stone configurations to follow through time. I mean: pick a stone (or several) in a wall, and see how the building changed around it/them—walls getting longer or taller; things appearing and disappearing.

Although, honestly, it’s easier to figure out when the walls got longer. You can see the vertical lines in the masonry when Wright had stonemasons (and, later, his apprentices) expand the walls. While it seems that Wright wanted things done quickly, both I and others have thought that Wright also wanted people to know the changes that were done.

How I figured this out

I first studied the individual stones when I began writing the history of one room at Taliesin, the Garden Room.1

Its chimney has been in the same location since Wright started his home in 1911. But a former coworker, looking at the chimney in archival photographs, concluded Wright must have completely rebuilt the chimney after the first fire of 1914. That’s because the stone didn’t match what was under its capstone.

Originally, I was set to put what she wrote into my historic doc.2 But then I asked myself: did Wright completely dismantle the 1911-14 chimney? I had the archival photos, and the time, so I started to study them (probably with a magnifying glass and/or a loupe).

I discovered that the chimney today, while changed, is the same chimney that existed in 1911. After Taliesin’s 1914 fire, Wright made it taller and that’s what confused Kelly. I’ll show the images below with the stones pointed out (with “circles and arrows on the back of each one explaining what each one was…”).

Someone took this photo of the chimney below in the Taliesin I era:

Looking east at the chimney for what became the Garden Room (in the foreground) with stones pointed out. Photo owned by Wisconsin Historical Society.

Then, look at the photo below from the Taliesin II era, with the stones, again, circled and numbered:

This photograph was originally published in 1915. It can be found in multiple places, included at the Wisconsin Historical Society, here.

You can see in the photo why Kelly got confused: there are two capstones (two horizontal lines) in the photo taken in 1915. She tried to match the stones under the lower capstone with what existed in 1911-14. But no. They must have heightened the chimney while constructing Taliesin II, and then Wright decided, “it needs to be a little higher”, so they added a few stone courses. Fortunately, I figured this out because I looked until I found the correct stones.

Finding stones that way was probably the first time I did that (and the first time I spent that much time staring at stone).

This work, and more like it, eventually trained my eye to catch things. And, not just with individual stones: it trained my eyes to find specific stone groupings/configurations. Now I can look at an old photo of a wall, see one squarish stone and two little ones to the right, quickly find that place on the wall IRL, and know where I am. It’s like one of those tricks I talked about last time that makes me sound like a magician.  

On the Other Hand

One of the easiest things to find at Taliesin are its wall sections that went through one of the fires (most likely the second fire). See, the limestone at Taliesin has iron, which turns red when it goes through fire. It can be quite lovely.

Taliesin walls that survived the second fire are all red (those built after the fire have select, red, stones built into them). A photo of one of the walls that went through the second fire at the top of this post.

First published July 29, 2021.
I took the photograph at the top of this page on September 1, 2003.


Notes:

1 There’s a “Garden Room” at Taliesin West, but that Garden Room is Wright’s living room at his winter home in Arizona (here’s a link to a photo of it). This Garden Room (the one in WI) is not his living room. It’s the former porte-cochere that Wright turned into an informal sitting room in the 1940s. I believe Wright called it the Garden Room because it looks out onto the Garden Court.

2 As I wrote on July 23, this is done in the hope that I did this work so, say, in 20 or 50 years someone else won’t have to.

Taliesin from the south. circa 1920

Taliesin’s 1925 Fire

Looking north at Taliesin, 1920-24. On the far left is a workman’s apartment. The vertical tower to the right of the apartment is called the “Hill Tower”. On the far right are Wright’s living quarters. The workman’s apartment and Wright’s living quarters are connected under roofs. But, you can’t see it all because the building wraps around the hill.

April 20 is the anniversary of the second fire at Taliesin: April 20, 1925. That fire (like the first one in 1914) pretty much destroyed Frank Lloyd Wright’s living quarters down to the chimneys and foundation. Fortunately no one was hurt.

Part of what Wright said about the fire:

In his autobiography, he wrote:

[O]ne evening at twilight as the lightning of an approaching lightning storm was playing and the wind rising I came down from the evening meal in the little detached dining room on the hill-top . . . to find smoke pouring out of my bedroom. Again–there it was–Fire!

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings: 1930-32, volume 2. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (1992; Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 294.

The “little detached dining room”? Where was that?

The “little detached dining room” isn’t connected to Taliesin’s living quarters. It’s connected to its Hill Tower. So you can find the room in the photograph at the top of the page by following the line of the tower down. The room is under the low-hipped roof above a horizontal rectangle of stone. Here’s a link to a photograph of the room, available at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

What was the cause of the 1925 fire?

According to Wright: “. . . . The fire had originated in a house-telephone that had given trouble as it stood by the head of my bed.” [An Autobiography in “Collected Writings,” volume 2, 295.]

Wright and the others at Taliesin that day spent several hours fighting the fire. And Wright was so desperate to save the building that, along with burning the soles of his feet, he burned his eyebrows off.

Description of one of those at Taliesin that day:

Draftsman Kameki Tsuchiura, who worked at Taliesin with his wife (draftsperson Nobuko Tsuchiura), wrote this on April 211:

We carried water in buckets but how helpless, we were only, Mr. Wright, I and Nobu, Mrs. Ohlson and Jack and [Mel, the chauffeur]. . . . We connected the hose to the water pipe and firemen came, but too late. His apartment, and all the guest apartment [sic] were burning. Strong wind blew from east to west. Such a smoke and flame that no one could get in the house to bring anything out. We could only cut the roof [that connected] Mr. Wright’s kitchen and studio and prevent the fire from spreading west. After 9 o’clock, wind changed, rain started to drop. And what a night we had till midnight, fire, thunderstorm, lightening and more fire!!

William Blair Scott Jr Collection, OA+D Archives

There is a book in Japanese on the architecture of Nobuko Tsuchiura. While I don’t know the full title (I don’t read Japanese), it translates in part as, “Big Little Nobu”. But the book include a photograph that shows the Taliesin living quarters after that second fire. So I put that below. It was taken at floor level, looking north. The fireplace you see on the right is now the fireplace in what became  Olgivanna Lloyd Wright’s bedroom.

Photograph looking across the main floor after Taliesin II was destroyed by fire in 1925.
Photograph taken by Kameki or Nobuko Tsuchiura.
In the book, “Big Little Nobu, Right No Deshi Josei Kenchikuka Tsuchiura Nobuko”
ISBN: 9784810705416.

You can find the book on-line. Its ISBN is 9784810705416. ⇐I originally wrote that number incorrectly. Thanks to one of the readers for catching that and contacting me.

While no one got hurt, Wright lost a lot of the art he collected while working in Japan

He wrote:

Left to me out of most of my earnings, since Taliesin I was destroyed, all I could show for my work and wanderings in the Orient for years past, were the leather trousers, burned socks, and shirt in which I stood, defeated, and what the workshop contained.

[An Autobiography in “Collected Writings,” volume 2, 295.]

Personally, it would be difficult not to think that the universe had something out for me. However, then Wright wrote this:

But Taliesin lived wherever I stood! A figure crept forward from out of the shadows to say this to me. And I believed what Olgivanna said.

[An Autobiography in “Collected Writings,” volume 2, 295.]

Olgivanna would become his third wife. I think it’s kind of cool that his description—when Olgivanna said “Taliesin lived wherever” he stood—is the first time that Frank Lloyd Wright mentioned Olgivanna.

Wright starts building “Taliesin III”

During Taliesin’s rebuilding, Wright put pieces of destroyed statuary into the walls:

Smoldering or crumbled in ashes, priceless blossoms-of-the-soul in all ages—we call them works of Art—lay broken, or had vanished utterly. . . .

A few days later clearing away the debris to reconstruct I picked up partly calcined marble heads of the Tang-dynasty, fragments of the black basalt of the splendid Wei-stone, Sung soft-clay sculpture and gorgeous Ming pottery turned to the color of bronze by the intensity of the blaze. The sacrificial offerings to—whatever Gods may be.

And I put these fragments aside to weave them into the masonry—the fabric of Taliesin III that now—already in mind—was to stand in place of Taliesin II. And I went to work.

[An Autobiography in “Collected Writings,” volume 2, 295.]

First published April 16, 2021

The photograph at the top of this post appears with the essay, “The Story of Taliesin: Wright’s First Natural House,” by Neil Levine, in Taliesin 1911-1914, Wright Studies, v. 1, ed. Narciso Menocal (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1992), fig. 1, p. 3.


1 I mentioned this couple in my post, Taliesin II: The Forgotten Middle Child of Taliesin.