Broadacre City model in the Dana Gallery at Hillside

Preservation by Distribution

The model of Broadacre City, Wright’s idea/design for decentralized living. Photo taken while the model—mentioned in the post below—was displayed against the north wall of the Dana Gallery at the Hillside building on the Taliesin estate. Raggedkompany took this photograph in 2008/09.1

One day over 16 years ago, a woman came in for a tour of Taliesin.

She did a kind and thoughtful thing

She brought photocopies of letters that her aunt, Lucretia Nelson, had written to her parents (this woman’s grandparents) while Nelson was in Wright’s Taliesin Fellowship in 1934. So this woman wanted to give this to someone associated with Taliesin.

Fortunately I was on hand to take these from her.

Her act caused me to name this post, “Preservation by distribution”. That is: you try to get copies of things out there, in order to help them survive.

I spoke briefly to Lucretia’s niece (Lois) before she took her tour of Taliesin. While she was on tour, I read her aunt’s letters as quickly as possible, while getting what info I could on Lucretia Nelson. It turns out that in 1934, Nelson had written an article for “At Taliesin”. These were weekly newspaper articles that the Taliesin Fellowship had written in the 1930s. So I copied that for her and had it when she came off the bus after her tour.

Architect and writer, Randolph C. Henning, collected, transcribed and edited these columns, which he put into a book. I wrote about this book in my post on books by apprentices.

That day I got Lois’s address, since I wanted to absorb some of what Lucretia Nelson had written. I felt I should give her more information once I had a some time to look things over. So when I did, I told her who Lucretia had mentioned, and pointed out an important event in Wright’s career that Nelson had written about.

I’ll talk about that further below. First of all, I should mention Lucretia and some of those people. And why she was at Taliesin.

Who was Lucretia Nelson?

Nelson (1912-1991) received a B.A. in painting at University of California-Berkeley in 1934. Apparently after graduation, she came into the Fellowship with a college friend, Sim “Bruce” Richards. Frank Lloyd Wright had seen Bruce’s work in Berkeley during a lecture and had encouraged the young man to join the Fellowship. So the two friends (Bruce and Lucretia) headed to Taliesin, where they met up with another former UC-Berkeley student, Blaine Drake (Drake had entered the Fellowship the December before).2

Lucretia was there in 1934, possibly into 1935. The men, who later became architects, stayed longer. Bruce until 1936; and Blaine until 1941. Meanwhile, Lucretia returned to UC-Berkeley, received a Master’s degree, then taught in its department of decorative arts, where she also became an administrator.

Her year in the Taliesin Fellowship was something that she often remembered and one can understand why: she was devoted to the connection between life and art, which she saw around her when in the Taliesin Fellowship.

Two things that stuck out in Lucretia’s letters:

She wrote about one change to Taliesin. It was planned for her room, and she told her parents that:

“You see it gives me instead of one small window on the north side under the deep eves [sic]… a south exposure and a wall almost entirely of windows.”*

This change is going to cause a problem.

The upcoming change altered the room. The southern wall in the room was moved further south. The that was the wall that she said would be “almost entirely of windows”. Then-apprentice, Edgar Tafel, wrote about this change for the July 4th, 1935 “At Taliesin”. He said that,

Fortunately, Taliesin is in an ever state of change.  Walls are being extended and new floors are being laid to accommodate our musical friends.  We are trying out the new concrete mixer – which marks a new day in our building activities.

Randolph C. Henning, ed. and with commentary. At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937 (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, Illinois, 1991), 139-40.

This concrete caused a problem decades later:

Unfortunately for Taliesin, this concrete work blocked a drain behind this south wall. Water going behind the wall would freeze in the winter. This created a wedge from 1935 until the early 1990s. My understanding is that the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (the site owners) began trying to figure out this problem in the late 1980s.

By that time, the back wall (visible on tours of Taliesin) was protruding seven inches out of plumb. Here’s a drawing that Taliesin Preservation did before the start of the project, just to give you a sense of things:

Drawing of a section of Taliesin during preservation work in 1993-94.

The part people saw was to the right of the stone wall.

During the preservation work, earth was removed from the back of the wall, which was slowly pushed back into place using jacks. This made the wall once again plumb. Then two drainage systems (one behind the wall) were installed.

This big project was done the winter before I started giving tours at Taliesin (1993-94).

Lucretia’s other important note:

In that same letter where she mentioned the upcoming work, Lucretia said that “a guest last week” who “has his son here” gave $1,000 for the construction of Wright’s “Broadacre Citymodel.

Every Frankophile (in other words, a Wrightfan) in the audience might have done a double-take at that last sentence.

The model of Broadacre City was Wright’s thought project about decentralized living (not tied to any real site). This $1,000 gave Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship the resources to construct it.

And the guest was Edgar Kaufmann, Sr.

Who was Kaufmann?

Edgar Kaufmann, Sr. was visiting Taliesin (with his wife, Liliane), because their son, Edgar, Jr., had joined the Fellowship a couple of months before. Edgar Sr. ran Kaufmann’s, a department store in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Most importantly, in less than a year, he and Liliane would receive plans for their weekend home near Pittsburgh. That home is known as Fallingwater.

Fallingwater: the building that started to put Wright back on the forefront of architecture.

Kaufmann’s $1,000 check not only meant that the architect had the money so his apprentices could build the 12 foot X 12 foot model. The money seemed to signal that Kaufmann believed in Wright’s ideas and work. And that, perhaps, he might hire Wright for that home they were thinking of building.

Originally published, November 21, 2021.
Thanks to Raggedkompany for permission to use his photograph at the top of this post.

* I changed this post on May 7, 2020 when I realized I’d incorrectly identified a photograph. I deleted the photograph here, but talked about what room it was really showing in my post “Oh my Frank – I was wrong“.

There’s an earlier version of “Preservation by Distribution”, with the mistake. It’s on the Wayback Machine, here.

**Bonus—See my post about the glorious Wayback Machine, here.


1 In 2012 the model became part of the collection of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (Museum of Modern Art | The Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). 

2 In case you’re wondering: as far as I know, Lucretia was just friends with both Bruce and Blaine.

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.