Looking northeast at Taliesin's "Birdwalk" during hte summer, with the hills in the background.

When was Taliesin’s Birdwalk built?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry. I’ll explain it, then tell you when it was built.

I’m writing this because a website subscriber wrote me that question after my last post.

You can can also subscribe, by hitting the subscribe button at the bottom of the post. It doesn’t cost anything and you get to read my posts earlier than others.

The Birdwalk is the long, thin, balcony at Taliesin that sticks out from the building. You can see it in the photo above. Below I’ve put a photo I took in May 2008 looking at it from the ground:

Color photograph of Taliesin Birdwalk taken by Keiran Murphy on May 8, 2008

You can also see the Birdwalk in the distance at the top of my post from last April about Wright buying the land where he later built his home. So, yeah: it’s a Birdwalk-a-looza.

And people have asked:

What was it used for? What’s its purpose? Was it a pool?

No, it wasn’t a pool. It seemed to be just a balcony that the Wrights could walk on to enjoy the view, both away from the building, and looking back at it.

But, most of all, they ask:

why is it called the Birdwalk?

The story goes:

that one morning the Wrights were in Taliesin’s Living Room listening to the birds sing outside. Mrs. Wright

(the third Mrs. Wright, Olgivanna Lloyd Wright)

said it would be wonderful to “walk amongst the birds.”

That inspired her husband to create a 40-foot balcony off of the house.1


the Birdwalk wasn’t the first balcony there.

Originally, Wright built a small balcony close to Taliesin’s living room when he rebuilt the house after its 1925 fire. You can see it in the drawing below.

I originally put this into the post, “Things I don’t know at Taliesin“.

I put a rectangle on what I was talking about in that post, but you see the balcony on the left side of the drawing. There’s a dark vertical post under it:

Elevation showing Frank Lloyd Wright's Wisconsin Home and Studio, Taliesin.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #2501.015.


There are barely any photos looking from the same direction as the drawing, because the ground drops away too quickly.

Mr. “build your house on the Brow of the Hill” grumble grumble

However, there are photos that show that balcony from the south.

Here’s a photo

from the early 1930s.

Black and white photo by John Gordon Rideout looking at exterior plaster and stone at Taliesin with leafy trees in the background.

A visitor to Taliesin name John Gordon Rideout took it. He was looking out of Olgivanna’s Bedroom window at the time. I showed one of Rideout’s photos before, in my post, Mortar Mix.

And the balcony appears in a photo that Ken Hedrich took in 1937 for the Architectural Forum magazine devoted to Wright the following January.2 You can see the balcony all the way on its right-hand side:3

Photograph of east facade of Taliesin by Ken Hedrich. Taken in 1937. In the Hedrich-Blessing Collection at the Chicago History Museum, ID: HB04414-2.

It’s online at the Chicago History Museum along with others that Ken Hedrich and his brother Bill, of Hedrich-Blessing photographers, took of Taliesin and other Wright buildings. Many images from their collection are at that history museum.

So, the takeaway

is that Wright had a balcony there. But not the Birdwalk.

Keiran: get to the point—

You told us the what and why. But when was the Birdwalk constructed?

After years of asking members of the Taliesin Fellowship, and looking at photographs to narrow down the date, it was confirmed by two former apprentices of Frank Lloyd Wright’s. These were David Dodge and Earl Nisbet. They both entered the Fellowship in 1951.

What people remember when they enter the Fellowship is always a good way to figure out what was going on and what was there, as people often remember their first experiences at Taliesin (just like I do).

David’s first construction experience was on the terrace perpendicular to the Birdwalk. That’s now called the Loggia terrace,

because that room, the Loggia, opens onto it.

David didn’t remember the Birdwalk in September 1951, when he entered. And since it’s so close to the Birdwalk, he probably would have remembered it if it was there. Earl Nisbet, though, remembered the Birdwalk really well, because that was the first big construction job he worked on.

So, that gave a date:

The Fall of 1951.

Nisbet wrote about it, too, in his book, Taliesin Reflections: My Years Before, During, and After Living With Frank Lloyd Wright. I would write his entire description of the work on page 60-61, but it’s long in this format. But it gives you details and adds info on Wright’s reactions to their construction:

Day by day, Mr. Wright could be seen in the living room viewing our progress. When we finally got a plywood floor down, he came from the living room to appreciate seeing Taliesin from another viewpoint. Although pleased, he was impatient to get the job finished.

Taliesin Reflections: My Years Before, During, and After Living With Frank Lloyd Wright, by Earl Nisbet (Meridian Press, Petaluma, California, 2006), 60-61.

I listed his book in my post, “Books by Apprentices“.

As I recall, Nisbet arranged to donate all of his profits from selling his book to Taliesin Preservation. They might still have it in stock if you want to buy it.

Nisbet also listed the other men who worked on the construction. He explained that they were still working on the Birdwalk when the rest of the Fellowship started going to Taliesin West for the winter. Their work went so late into the cold season that they had to redo things when they returned the next spring.

Really, the flagstone they laid on the Birdwalk’s floor froze and they had to redo it. The Birdwalk retained its flagstone for years but they eventually removed it in the 1960s. In fact, a color photograph by Edgar Tafel shows the flagstone on the Birdwalk in 1959. He published it in his book that I wrote about: Apprentice to Genius. The stone’s color inspired the color on the floor of the Birdwalk today.

Tafel’s photograph is below:

Photograph of Taliesin's Birdwalk taken by Edgar Tafel in June 1959. Property Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, New York City.



The photograph at the top of this post was taken during a Formal evening at Taliesin. The Taliesin community gave Formals once a month throughout the year at both Taliesin and Taliesin West until 2019.
First published March 10, 2018.


  1. It doesn’t appear that either Wright or Alex Jordan (from the nearby House on the Rock) were inspired by each other in the creation of the Birdwalk or the “Infinity Room” at that attraction.
  2. I wrote about a discovery I made related to those photos in my post, “Old Dining Room“.
  3. Bonus! At the ground level is one of the windows that future architect, Gertrude Kerbis, climbed through in the 1940s when she spent the night at Taliesin. Here’s my post on her Taliesin experience.
Frank Lloyd Wright on balcony at Taliesin.

Mortar Mix

Reading Time: 5 minutes

This post is about figuring out where Wright was standing in the photo at the top of this page.

And, several years ago, “Looked at some mortar,” was my answer to the question, “What did you do at work today?”

Wait – what? Why?

A collection of images in Delaware:

Earlier that day someone from the Hagley Museum and Library (Wilmington, Delaware) wrote me (as the historian for Taliesin Preservation) looking for a date on some images they have. It’s a collection of negatives by John Gordon Rideout.

According to the Hagley Museum,

John Gordon Rideout (1898-1951) was a noted industrial designer and architect based primarily in Ohio. The images in this digital collection come from an album of negatives in a collection of Rideout’s papers. Some of the images, likely dating to the early 1930s, depict Frank Lloyd Wright and his Spring Green, Wisconsin, estate, Taliesin.

There are 192 negatives from Rideout. Most of the images don’t show Taliesin, but I hope I had something to do with that date that’s on that page. 1933-34 is the date I gave for Rideout’s Taliesin images.

Figuring the date out from the other photos was easy. However, there was one photograph in the collection that I couldn’t immediately figure out. That photo is at the top of this page. That’s what led to me to look at mortar. In that photograph Wright stands against a stone wall with a ceiling over his head, and the frame of a window on the photograph’s left hand side. I figured I could find the wall where he was standing by looking for some of those mortar blobs. Turns out I was correct.1

Finding the site of the photo:

If I hadn’t seen the rest of the Rideout’s collection I might have thought Rideout had taken the image years earlier. That’s because Wright doesn’t look like the man we know: the fashionable, well-known man from the 1930s surrounded by his apprentices in the studios in Wisconsin or Arizona. The man in the photograph above looked like someone maybe 15 years before. I think it was his tie, billowy shirt, and the magnifying glass (like a monocle) that hangs around his neck.

Fortunately, according to Taliesin Fellowship member, Dr. Joseph Rorke:2

. . . [O]ne of the first things that Olgivanna did was to persuade Frank to abandon his flowing artist’s tie and shorten his hair, presumably because he was beginning to look faintly quaint and old-fashioned.
Meryl Secrest. Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1992), 428. 

Regardless of when the photo was taken I had to figure out where Wright was standing. I knew he was at Taliesin (because of the stone, stucco, and wood) and despite what I thought, the photo comes from the early 1930s. So, I mentally walked through the structure to figure out his location.

Why didn’t I just know where he was?

Since Wright changed walls, doors, windows, etc., all the time at Taliesin, sometimes things in photographs no longer exist. And I don’t trust Taliesin’s drawings 100% of the time (he used the drawings to work things out; or he changed the designs as the construction proceeded). Based on what I know, I thought Wright was standing on a balcony off of his private office (the balcony no longer exists; he expanded the room).

So I drove to Taliesin to see if I was correct.1

Finding the mortar

I printed the photo and went to the room at Taliesin where I thought it was taken. Luckily two employees of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation were there working so I could ask them what they thought. The three of us went back and forth on it until we agreed to go over to the back of Wright’s vault.

Here’s the area we looked at:

Stone wall in Wright's private office with this studio in the background.

This was a photograph taken by me (thanks to Kyle for letting me inside the space to take photos).

Near the upper right portion of the photograph, under the horizontal pieces of stone, you can match the mortar to what’s in the photo with Wright. The stones are on the outside of his vault. In the photo with Wright, the top blotch of mortar is at around the same level as the top of his head.

So, there you go: the stone & mortar didn’t change. Just the stuff to the left of it did.

To the left of the stone you see into Taliesin’s drafting studio. The desk in the photo is where Wright would answer his mail in later years.

It’s not a working studio

Well, d’uh Keiran. I know it’s not a working studio. You do realize that Frank Lloyd Wright is dead, don’t you?

Yes I know that (about Wright’s relationship to life). But Wright stopped using this room as a drafting studio after 1939. In that year, another studio of his in Wisconsin was finished. That’s the 5,000 square foot drafting studio at Hillside on the Taliesin estate. So, it’s on the estate, but about half a mile away.

I talked about the studio in my post about Hillside. In fact, most of the photos you’ve seen where Wright is working in a studio in Wisconsin were taken at Hillside, not at Taliesin. You can also read this post at Wikipedia (the post that I, um, wrote), which is on Hillside and has an exterior photograph of that studio.

After the drafting was moved to Hillside, Wright used the Taliesin studio as his office.

Photographs taken in Wright’s studio (later his office) back to what was just shown:

Wright's desk in his office (his former studio).

This was a photograph taken by me (thanks to Kyle for letting me inside the space to take photos).

Here’s Wright’s office desk from the other side. The stone on the left is his vault. I put in an arrow to show where I took the other photograph from. When Rideout took the photo of Wright, Wright was standing about where the arrow is pointing. Out through the windows there’s the beige-colored wall. That wall didn’t exist when Rideout took the photo of Wright. At that time, Wright’s private office was further to the left. The place where the beige wall is today was, at that time, an exterior balcony.

Originally published April 10, 2021.

The photograph of Frank Lloyd Wright at the top of this page was taken by John Gordon Rideout. Courtesy of the Hagley Museum & Library. The photograph is available from this URL: https://digital.hagley.org/2701_negalbum_strip22_004.

1 I tend to say “correct” instead of “right” when I’m talking/writing about things related to Taliesin because. . . Wright, y’know. I’ve noticed that others who work/ give tours at Wright buildings also say “correct” instead of “right”. It’s a way to keep one’s sanity. Because when you give tours of a Wright building, you’re already saying his name and also saying, “And to your right. . . . “

2 Taliesin Fellowship, 1957-2013. “Dr. Joe” was 95 when he passed away.