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

However

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.

Unfortunately,

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.


Note:

  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.
Taken in summer, photograph looking (plan) east in "Mrs. Wright's Garden". Taken 1961-1969. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

The Prisoner, Taliesin, and my sister

Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

The photograph above shows “Mrs. Wright’s Garden” at Taliesin. Taliesin’s Hill Crown is to the left of the wall. His sister’s house, Tan-y-Deri, is in the distance on the right.

All of us have engaged in things where obscure cultural touchstones are a part of the back-and-forth discussion.

For instance:

You can show a photograph of a Penny Farthing bicycle and some, like me, will instantly think of the surreal television series, The Prisoner

“Surreal” is probably not the correct term

but I have an MA in Art History and early 20th Century art is among my favorites, so I think I outrank you.

but it works for the description of a striking television show.

Likewise, I always think of The Prisoner when I see the photo at the top of this page, which comes from page 53 of Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin, by Frances Nemtin.

What you are seeing is the sitting area around “Mrs. Wright’s Garden” at Taliesin. And the swirly canopies above the chairs are making me think that. 

Which

the Taliesin Fellowship started construction on by 1961.

they later added a swimming pool, which you’ll see below.

But the photo above just has the little wading pool on its right-hand side. That little pool has a fountain feature in blue like the feature you see, in red, at a pool at Wright’s Taliesin West.

I took a photo of the pool and showed it in my post, “Taliesin West Inspiration“.

Another photo,

below, shows the area in 1968. By then it had an inground pool:

Photograph in summer looking (plan) east at the pool in Mrs. Wright’s Garden. The photographer, “Jim” Potter, said he took this photograph in 1968.

The swirly canopies over the chairs, and my thoughts of The Prisoner comes from the umbrellas over the chairs at the top of the post make me think there should be some women standing in mini-skirts in the ’60s, like this enjoyable foray from the Carol Burnett Show:

Screenshot of Vicki Lawrence dancing with Carol Burnett in 1967 during the Carol Burnett show.

For years

the pool and garden were just south of Taliesin’s Hill Crown. The area was surrounded by square, limestone walls and was added by 1961 (and the pool was added by ’68). Its existence (along with the Taliesin pond on the estate) probably increased mosquitos, so netting was added above it. The netting was light blue, which you can see in the photo.

btw: the chairs were there when Wright was alive. If you look at the book by Nemtin, you can see a photograph of Wright and his family sitting in them on Page 62.

The pool and walls were removed after Olgivanna died in 1985 (she died in March and I think they started the removal that summer). If you look closely at the Hill Crown retaining wall, you can see where the stone changed. Just so you’re not crawling around on the grass during your next Taliesin tour, I took the photo below at the Hill Crown retaining wall:

Close-up looking at the stone on the retaining wall at Taliesin's Hill Crown. Photograph by Keiran Murphy

I took this in April 2005. The slight arc I pointed out on the stone in the photo was where I think a “Moon Gate” went (you can see another moon gate in the two photos above).

Because of the garden/pool

I’ve introduced at least two people to the surreality of The Prisoner by sending them the photo of that pool.

well, okay, and maybe talking to them about show and showing them clips on YouTube. But that’s… mostly it, I swear.

So

moments from that show (which I’ve only seen once or twice) still make me twist my head up like a dog trying to understand what the hell the silly humans just said.1

And yet, we all have these things. 

Iconic moments

images, words, and ideas that connect us to a certain group at a certain time.

And once, while at college, one of my roommates kept a running list of the “in-jokes” we all shared. As I recall we had a list of over 100 in-jokes at the end of our sophomore year.

btw—several, including me!, have won awards.

We’re all winners.

And yet, The Prisoner brings to mind

another tangent:

hang on:

It’s the moment when I was introduced to a set of Star Wars fans. I found out about this subset while watching Weird Al Yankovic‘s video for “White and Nerdy“. The guy I was dating mentioned Weird Al getting a videocassette copy of a program.

That moment slipped by me as unimportant.

Not important to me, but important to him and others in this small subset. Because what Weird Al surreptitiously received was a contraband copy of The Star Wars Holiday Special. a.k.a.: The Special That Director George Lucas Tried To Kill, but was unsuccessful due to geekiness at the Ultra-Level.

As a result, that boyfriend and I watched the SWHS on YouTube. I will not provide a link to that show; if you want to see it, goddamn it, Google it. It is a thing you cannot unsee. I later wrote to myself that:

Yes, I am one of the few, the not-so-proud, to have seen the mythical ‘Star Wars’ Holiday Special….

I now know what makes Harrison Ford so bitter.

And, oh those inside jokes, the moments of small touchstones.

Lastly, regarding touchstones:

We in the U.S.A. are upon Thanksgiving and many of us are reminded of family.

And, of those small touchstones and family thoughts, I recall that I expected a time in which I’d have to start listening to my oldest sister prepare for her upcoming birthday. I figured she would talk about this in the year up to it. Because that birthday would be on the numbers that you see below:

Numbers representing the date January 23, 2045.

Could have been that she never would have thought about it and would have thought I was weird for it coming into my head.

Which still brings me back to something published a few years ago on Facebook by Lay Minister Patti Fitchett: “He’s my brother and he weighs a ton!

Her essay addresses what it’s like to lose a sibling. In part she writes:

Often our feelings for our real life siblings don’t come close to the fairy tale relationships we see depicted in movies. How many of us remember a childhood punctuated by shrieks of “Mom, they’re pointing at me again! Make them stop pointing at me!”?

If I’m around in the future I might remember that numerical coincidence that will mark her birthday anniversary.2

 

First published November 22, 2023.
The photograph at the top of this page was published in Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin, by Frances Nemtin, p. 53. It is care of The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).


Notes:

  1. The Simpsons did a great send up of moments from The Prisoner in this edited video.
  2. Bummer alert: E will not be here to celebrate it and is not here to remember it. That’s due to dumbass cancer.
Frank Lloyd Wright and Alexander Woollcott standing outside of Taliesin. Photograph in the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Edgar Tafel collection.

A room at Taliesin

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Alexander Woollcott with Frank Lloyd Wright outside of Taliesin. 

a room that existed before we (or I) knew it existed.

I’m going to write about my discovery of that room’s appearance today. It’s the room with the windows that you see behind Wright, Woollcott, and the birch trees.

It was thought that the room was originally designed for Wright’s youngest daughter Iovanna (born to Olgivanna in December 1925).

Meryle Secrest wrote in her Wright biography that in March 1925, Wright and Olgivanna “made an impulse decision to start a family of their own.” [Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography, 315]

Secrest gave no evidence for this “impulse decision”. Obviously something impulsive happened and Olgivanna was young and pretty, so I’m like, “Yeah… Sure.”

Here’s where it is:

The room is one floor above Olgivanna’s bathroom, so you walk by it as you go into her room on a tour through Taliesin.  

FYI: The bathroom was dismantled, so it’s not on tours.

You can see the outside of Iovanna’s sitting room when you’re on the Hill Crown at Taliesin. Wright added the parapet1 which you can see in this photo I took:

Looking at Taliesin living quarters on a sunny day in spring. Iovanna's sitting room is behind the parapet. Photograph by Keiran Murphy

Taliesin Fellowship apprentices did the construction of the rooms in 1933-34. Abe Dombar wrote about it in this February 9, 1934 article:

Two new rooms were added to the pageant of Taliesin’s 40 rooms merely by lowering the ceiling of the loggia and raising the roof above it to get the most playful room in the house.  The boys call it a “scherzo.”  This is little eight year-old Iovanna’s room.

Several new apprentices, with the aid of two carpenters, were working on the job continuously from the architect’s first sketch on a shingle to designing and building in of the furniture.  And the girls made the curtains.  In celebration of the completion of the room we had a “room-warming” in the form of a surprise party for Iovanna. 

Abe Dombar. “At Taliesin,” February 9, 1934. Reprinted in At Taliesin: Newspaper Columns by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, 1934-1937, ed. by Randolph C. Henning, (Southern Illinois University Press, 1991), p. 20-21.

It makes you think:

While kids may have been more hardy in the past, that is a lot of space for a little girl. Here’s one drawing that shows it:

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #2501.008.

Although the rooms in the 1930s were smaller, there was still a bedroom, sitting room, and bathroom.

That makes sense

when you think of the playroom he scaled down for his kids in his first home in Oak Park, Illinois.  

I was told years ago that it was originally scaled down for Iovanna when she was 8, but I’ve never seen an interior photo taken at that time.

Not that this would matter anyway. Remember: Wright’s building scale already messes with your mind.

However,

The number of rooms is also due to things happening in the Wright family.

See,

when the Wrights started the Taliesin Fellowship in 1932, Olgivanna’s oldest daughter, Svetlana (“Svet”), was 15. So the next summer, Wright designed those bedrooms for both Svet and Iovanna (then 7 years old).

But things got complicated.

One of those complications was related to one of the first Taliesin Fellowship apprentices: Wes Peters.

No doubt

Olgivanna made sure to keep her pretty young daughter away from all of the architectural apprentices in 1932 and ’33. But it was all intense and, even if you had them working 15 hours-a-day, young is young and those two (Wes and Svet) fell in love.

They wanted to get married and Svet’s parents said absolutely not.

And, yes, Frank Lloyd Wright fell in love with Catherine Lee Tobin when he was, maybe 19-20 (Kitty was 16-17); and Olgivanna got married when she was 19, but the marriages for those two ended in divorce, so….

But, come on:

check out the screenshots from the film apprentice Alden Dow made in 1933, the first summer those two knew each other. They’re so cute:

Screenshots of William Wesley Peters and Svetlana Wright Peters in 1933 film by Alden B. Dow.

The movie is the property of the Dow Archives, but you can see it in sections through this link.

So, in September 1933,

Wes and Svet left the Fellowship, even though Svet couldn’t get married until she was 18. You can read about their history in this book, “William Wesley Peters: The Evolution of a Creative Force“.

Svet’s age (15 or 16), gets me scandalized, but then again: I’m no longer a teenager.

I mean: I was completely bummed when—in grade school in the spring of 1980—I found out that Sting was 28 years old and married. But then I realized that, “uhh… Keiran? Sting’s not waiting for you.” [I may remember this moment because I was surprised by that grown-up thought]. 

You can read my teenage thoughts about Sting in my post: “Dune, By Frank Herbert“. I wrote this about the second installment of the Dune movie by Denis Villeneuve coming out in March 2024.

To get back to Iovanna’s bedroom:

For years, we thought that before that area had rooms and a bathroom, there was just a mezzanine up there that ended above Taliesin’s Living Room.

You can see it at the top of this post.

And that it ended on the other end just over Wright’s bedroom.

To picture it, you can see part of the mezzanine in this post.

However, in 2004-5, I was asked to research the entire history of that floor up there.

So I did what I usually try do:

I try to wipe my mind of preconceptions2 and look at photos. And so, for the the first time, I saw something earlier photos at Taliesin that shouldn’t have existed at that time. I saw in these earlier photos a chimney flue for the fireplace that’s in Iovanna’s Bedroom. Among other photos,3 the flue appears in one taken in 1928:

Photograph by architect George Kastner of Taliesin. Taken on November 11, 1928.

This photo is published on p. 4 in the Journal of the Organic Architecture + Design archives, Vol. 7, no. 3, 2017 in the article for that issue, “Desert and Memoir: George Kastner and Frank Lloyd Wright,” by Randolph C. Henning.

That flue I pointed out goes to only one fireplace: the one for Iovanna’s Bedroom. Yet George Kastner took this photograph in 1928, 5 years before the apprentices even started working in that area. So it didn’t match what I thought I knew. I thought that, before 1933, this stone mass was simply… stone. That it was like the stone mass that’s on the south side of Taliesin’s living room. That this part was only stone.

Like what was in Hillside’s Dana Gallery on the Taliesin estate that I wrote about in “Truth Hiding in Plain Site“. That it was mostly stone before the Taliesin Fellowship.

But since I couldn’t deny what was in photographs,

I got in my car and drove to Taliesin to see what I could find.

I went upstairs, looking for evidence that things had changed. First thing I noticed was that the stone was executed at one time, as opposed to being changed later. See my photo of the fireplace below:

Interior photograph of fireplace in Iovanna Lloyd Wright's Bedroom. By Keiran Murphy on 9-24-2003.

Contrast this

With the fireplace in the adjacent room. In 1933-34, Apprentices built that fireplace out of the existing chimney. And it certainly looks like it.

I took the photo below where you see the side of the chimney. On the left hand side you see stone that used to be outside. The red stones were those that went through the Taliesin fires in 1914 and 1925. The lighter stone on the right is stone placed there by apprentices when they built the fireplace mantelpiece:

Side of the chimney in Iovanna Lloyd Wright's sitting room. Photo by Keiran Murphy in 2003.

 

After looking at the two fireplaces, I thought about that “At Taliesin” article. In the article, Abe Dombar says,

Two new rooms added to the pageant of Taliesin’s 40 rooms….

But there weren’t two rooms on that floor in 1934. There were three: Iovanna’s bedroom, the bathroom, and the sitting room (the room at the newer fireplace).

In fact, the drawing doesn’t label Iovanna’s bedroom. It only labels “Iovanna’s room”, which is the sitting room with the new mantelpiece.

And one more thing: the bathroom

You can see the bathroom in the plan above. When I started thinking maybe Iovanna’s Bedroom was there before 1933-4, I thought how it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Wright to build a bathroom out of line with the bathroom one floor below. Often bathrooms are in line with each other because this makes laying the plumbing lines easier.

yeah, yeah, yeah: we can talk about how impractical Wright could be as an architect, but at Taliesin he had to live with whatever he designed. And bathrooms are expensive, even if the labor was free….

Moreover,

in 2007, I looked at Taliesin’s drawings for real in Wright’s archives. Luckily for me, Taliesin’s estate manager suggested I take photocopies of Taliesin’s drawings so I could take notes on what I saw in them.

In drawing #2501.007, I saw the word “nook” in pencil with a line going about where Iovanna’s Bedroom was:

Elevation of Taliesin. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). #2501.007.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), #2501.007.

I can’t tell you when 2501.007 was drawn, but the details say 1925-32. I think that in the early Taliesin III period, what became Iovanna’s Bedroom was originally a sitting room, a “nook”, that could be used as a bedroom if needed.

alas, we don’t have Wright’s design for the couch/bed simplicity of a futon frame

3 more things:

coz: in for a penny, in for a pound

One Taliesin drawing shows the “sash details” of the windows in Taliesin’s Living Quarters. This is drawing #2501.032. See the detail of it below:

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York). 2501.032.

The three windows I pulled out from the drawing match the three windows currently on the east wall of Iovanna’s Bedroom. The drawing labels these windows as being for—not a clerestory or above the mezzanine, but—”Gallery Bed Room”.

Also, in 2006

The Taliesin Preservation crew worked in a closet in Iovanna’s Bedroom and found remnants of pipes going through the floor above Olgivanna’s bathroom. I asked what those pipes could be, and one crew member (I forget who) said they were small enough to be used for a sink, but not a toilet or tub.

Wright could have had this little room up there and if someone were just staying overnight, they could use the sink in the morning to brush their teeth.

One of those people might have been architect Philip Johnson

See, back in the 2000s someone emailed me at work. He was working on a book of interviews conducted by architect Robert A.M. Stern with Philip Johnson.

Stick with me here

At one point, Stern talked to Johnson about Wright:

Robert A.M. Stern: And in researching for the book [on the International Style] you also went to visit Wright?

Philip Johnson: …. We went to see Wright in 1930 in Taliesin East [sic].5 I stayed overnight in the part that’s now all closed in and ruined, in the upper terrace there, just above the big room. We visited and had a great time and we realized that he was a very, very great man.

The Philip Johnson Tapes: Interviews with Robert A.M. Stern (The Monacelli Press, printed in China, 2008), 41.
The book’s price tag is over $40, but I’m that crazy: I got the book on sale for $10.

He mentions “the big room”. In 1930, there wouldn’t have been any other “big room” on the Taliesin estate except for the Taliesin Living Room.6 He was wrong about the placement of the room on that floor, but there was nothing else up there in 1930 that matches it.

OK!

I hope I explained what I found/think.

That is:

When Wright rebuilt his living quarters after the 1925 fire, he built a mezzanine above the main floor that ended in a small room with its own fireplace, three windows on the east wall, and windows (or possibly French doors) on the other side.

The windows above and behind where Alexander Woollcott and Frank Lloyd Wright are standing in the photo at the top of this post might have looked into this “nook”.

 

The photo at the top of this post was taken 1937-41 and published in Apprentice to Genius: Years with Frank Lloyd Wright, by Edgar Tafel, p. 179.
First published October 22, 2023.


Notes

1. He expanded the space and added the parapet in 1943 for an anticipated visit by Solomon Guggenheim (of the Guggenheim Museum commission) and curator, Hilla Rebay.

2. Which I remember every damned time I think about the window found in Taliesin’s guest bedroom that was staring me in the face for years in photos. I’ll write about it another time to go over it in detail. It’ll be penance.

3. I think I first noticed it in a photo that I can’t show because I don’t think it’s ever been published. It’s Whi(x3)48218, an aerial photograph in the Howe Collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

4. Her personal spaces were featured in a Wright Virtual Visit in 2021, which is on Facebook, here.

5. Johnson was wrong on when he and Hitchcock visited Taliesin. According to Wright on Exhibit, the book by architectural historian, Kathryn Smith, they came in June 1932. Wright on Exhibit: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Architectural Exhibitions, by Kathryn Smith (Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 2017), 83.

 6. It wasn’t at Hillside because Johnson said they visited it and while it was a great building, he described Hillside in 1930 as “a total wreck”.  

Headline describing the April 20, 1925 fire at Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's Wisconsin home

What a Way to Begin

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Have you ever fallen in love with someone, were blissfully going along, and then

something crazy-bad happened

outside of the control of either of you?

It’s a test of your mettle. And you move beyond your fears and you are all there for that person. It’s a test and you’ve aced it, in this binding experience.

Well,

that is, in short, my completely unauthorized and totally subjective start of the story of Olgivanna Milanoff Hinzenberg (later, Olgivanna Lloyd Wright) and the dashing, brilliant architect, Frank Lloyd Wright1 in the aftermath of the fire that ripped through Taliesin on April 20, 1925.

So, that’s what I’m going to talk about in this post. Because the anniversary is right around the corner.

Let’s go back in history

In 1924, Frank Lloyd Wright was living back in Wisconsin, after his supervision and building of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo Japan, followed by designing and building in California.

He referred to most of these California homes as the Textile Block homes. Wright had a cool idea with these homes. They would be made out of specially-designed concrete blocks, that used material from the site. This way they would be less expensive, and use local material as the aggregate that would normally be displaced during construction. Plus, Wright was trying to think of a way to beautify the “gutter rat” (as he said) of concrete. They were “textile block” because of the way they were “knitted” together. He tried to do this once more in Oklahoma, but it wasn’t as easy or as inexpensive as he thought they would be.

Then, by mid-May, 1924

he was newly single after his second wife, Miriam Noel, had left.

About 6 months later, in late November, Wright went to Chicago and visited friend Jerry Blum. Wright says in his autobiography that Blum was a “diamond-in-the-rough painter” who had been “spoiled” by his parents giving him “too much easy money.”2 Blum brought Wright to an afternoon ballet performance in Chicago.

Afternoon ballet performances might not be the common thing nowadays, but then again, this was 1924. After all, my parents used to drive us to NYC in the late 1970s/early ’80s to see matinees on Broadway on Sunday afternoons. It was inexpensive, but mom made sure we all held hands because at that time, Times Square could be a little sketchy, to say the least.

The theater was packed and Wright and Blum sat in the box seats with one free seat. That’s where Wright and Olgivanna

had a meet-cute.

She was brought in to the only free seat in the theater just as the performance began. Wright wrote that he was drawn to this striking woman with no jewelry, and with dark hair worn straight down on either side of her face. He wrote in his autobiography in 1943 about this chance meeting:

Suddenly in my unhappy state something cleared up—what had been the matter with me came to look me in the face—it was, simply, too much passion without poetry… that was it, the best in me for years and years wasted—starved! This strange chance meeting was it… poetry? I was a hungry man.

An Autobiography (1943 edition), 5093

The photograph below is Olgivanna, apparently on her first visit to Taliesin:

Photograph of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright on her first trip to Taliesin in Wisconsin

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York).

She’s standing in front of the south wall of Taliesin’s Drafting Studio.

Shortly after the new year, Olgivanna moved into Taliesin with her daughter, Svetlana.

Then, just over 4 months later,

on April 20, 1925, Olgivanna, Wright, Svetlana, and a few others were eating in Taliesin’s dining room up on the hill. At that time, a fire began in Taliesin’s living quarters and would destroy them.

I wrote just about the this fire two years ago, in this post.

Olgivanna wrote about Taliesin’s 1925 fire, later published in her autobiography:

One evening while the three of us were having dinner in the little dining room up on the hill, separate from the residence, I smelled smoke. The telephone rang incessantly. The housekeeper and her husband did not bother about it and said later that they were not conscious that the smoke might spell fire. “There must be something wrong,” I said. “Don’t you think we had better find out? Frank,” I insisted, “I think we had better go down and see what is going on. The smell of smoke is growing stronger.”

            We stepped out and saw Taliesin in flames. We ran down fast. The neighbors began to arrive….

They all fought the flames for hours until rain came, dousing them. Yet, while the studio and offices were untouched, the living quarters, and almost everything in them, were destroyed mostly down to stone.

Olgivanna wrote that Wright had been so concerned about stopping the fire, that he argued against people removing objects from the building. So, he sat on the hill blaming himself for all of the lost art.

Continuing her story,

Olgivanna wrote:

I moved close to him and said, “We will get more works of art. We have each other. Nothing can stop us. We will rebuild Taliesin. you will make it more beautiful now. Let us look at it as a truly fresh beginning of our life, all new. Great opportunities lie before us.” “And,” I whispered to him, “I’m going to have a baby.”

…. He put his hands around me and said, “Nothing matters but you and me – now we will be welded together.”

The Life of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright: From Crna Cora to Taliesin; from Black Mountain to Shining Brow, compiled and edited by Maxine Fawcett-Yeske, Ph.D. and Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, D.H.L. (ORO Editions, 2017), 83.

After this, there would be lots of problems in the press, and with money, and, you know, that weekend Wright spent in jail.

Helped, or created, by problems with Miriam Noel.

But according to Olgivanna, her push (and optimism) immediately after the fire helped him start to rebuild. Talk about a test by fire, man.

 

First published April 19, 2023.
The newspaper headline at the top of this post is from the New Britain Herald and was printed on April 21, 1925.


Notes:

1 Re: Wright as “dashing” – his widow’s peak seen in the photo below is quite respectable. It’s got a flavor of Christopher Walken:

Frank Lloyd Wright with draftsmen outside of Taliesin.
Photograph published in Big Little Nobu. Right No Deshi Josei Kenchikuka Tsuchiura Nobuko

Back: left to right: Kamecki Tsuchiura, Nobuko Tsuchiura, with Silva Moser behind her husband, Werner Moser.
Seated are: Frank Lloyd Wright, Erich Mendelsohn, with Richard Neutra in the front.

2. Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography, new and revised ed. (New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1943), 508. I don’t know why Wright wrote that about Blum, but it’s amusing to read.

3. You may have read about this meeting in the book by Roger Friedland and Harold Zellman: The Fellowship: The Unknown Story of Frank Lloyd Wright & the Taliesin Fellowship. And, yes, I have opinions about it.

In fact, my major opinion is that if you haven’t read it, please don’t.

 
The number "42" on a black background. By Mark Konig at https://unsplash.com/photos/fbKMKNVJjwo

Things I learned at Taliesin

Reading Time: 6 minutes

To know why the top of the post says the number “42”, read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.

I know these things –

through my work at as the Taliesin historian, when I worked in the Taliesin tour program, and/or I answered weekly questions in the “Hey Keiran” feature. You’ll see a variety of things here. Remember –

Frank Lloyd Wright wrote:

“I like the company of a number of clever and plausible eclectics”1

and this is an eclectic list:

The Wisconsin state bird

is the American Robin.

Photograph of American Robin taken on May 14, 2021 by KikoAKT01

Wisconsin’s state flower

is the Wood Violet

Nakoma and Nakomis are the parents of the fictional character, Hiawatha2 (from Longfellow‘s “The Song of Hiawatha“)

Frank Lloyd Wright designed statues of them for an unbuilt project in Madison. Then he reproduced the statues in small sizes.

He put statues of Nakoma and Nakomis both inside his Hillside structure, and in Taliesin.

Even though Wright was wrong on the gender. In Longfellow’s poem, Hiwawatha’s mother being is NOKOMIS. Wright made his father Nakomis.

Some photos of the statues are below:

In the Assembly Hall at Hillside

There is a smaller version of Nakoma, as seen in a video tour on-line:

Photograph taken in the Assembly Hall at Frank Lloyd Wright's Hillside Home School building. An arrow points at Wright's statue of Nakoma.

I took this screen grab from a video tour I did in 2009. Taliesin Preservation put online thanks to producer/editor, Claudia Looze.

And a smaller pair of them are at Taliesin:

You can see the small versions in Taliesin’s living room on the light deck. The photo below shows them in 1955:

Photograph looking east in Taliesin's living room. Taken in 1955 by Maynard L. Parker. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

This is an unpublished photograph of the set that photographer Maynard Parker took in 1955 for the November issue of the magazine, House Beautiful.

More things I’ve learned:

Bats are considered good luck in China

Bats—literally, living, sleeping bats—used to hang on wooden carvings inside Taliesin

They snoozed all day, so these bats didn’t start my screamy-phobia of them, like I posted about.

Yes, bats eat mosquitoes.

I learned that barn swallows eat mosquitoes, too

Mosquitoes can get very bad at Taliesin, and barn swallows fly around Taliesin all summer. Preservation Crew member, Kevin Dodds, took a photo of baby barn swallows in their nest. He gave me permission to post it below:

Photograph of four barn swallows in a mud nest at Taliesin. Taken by Kevin Dodds.

The swallows are in a little mud nest at Taliesin. You might see swallows early in the summer on a 2-hour House Tour or the 4-hour Estate tour.
This photograph shows the nest under the roof near Taliesin’s ice house. Permission for photo from Dodds.

More information I learned:

Frank Lloyd Wright’s life taught me the definition of the “Mann Act4

The Mann Act “criminalizes the transportation of any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.” [here’s a link on it from Cornell Law school] It was designed to stop human trafficking, but was also used by women whose husband’s abandoned them for other women. So, Wright’s second wife, Miriam, tried to use it on Wright in 1926 after he fled Wisconsin for Minnesota with his future wife, Olgivanna.

Plus, he was almost being arrested for it in the 1910s.

I know the date of Japan’s Great Kanto earthquake.

I’m sure plenty of other people know about it.
It mostly destroyed Tokyo on September 1, 1923.
But I know it because of Frank Lloyd Wright. His Imperial Hotel in Tokyo was supposed to see its grand opening that very day. The fact that the building survived made Wright world-famous.

I know what a “Quit Claim deed” is

Chief architect of Taliesin Associated Architects and Wright’s son-in-law, Wes Peters, bought up the Taliesin estate one or two times, then sold it back to Wright for $1 in a Quit Claim deed.

I probably first read this in the biography on Wright by Meryle Secrest.

The definition of the word “jocund”

That’s in a poem stanza in the fireplace at the Hillside Assembly Hall. This is footage of me speaking in front of that fireplace. I don’t know if I talk about the poem that’s carved into its mantle. The stanza of the poem is from “Elegy Written in a County Churchyard” by poet Thomas Gray.

Here that stanza:

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,

         Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;

How jocund did they drive their team afield!

         How bow’d the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Oh, and 1 more thing about this poem:

It taught me that “glebe” means “ground“.

I know what a hydraulic ram is

I think I covered this in my post, “My Dam History“. My photo from that post is below:

Dam, waterfall, and hydro-house at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin
Photograph taken 1926-27 of the hydro-house on the Taliesin estate. Photographer unknown. Taken from a postcard owned by Keiran Murphy

John Michel Montgolfier invented the hydraulic ram.

and he and his brother invented the hot air balloon.

My knowledge on the second fact didn’t come from Taliesin. I know it because another Taliesin guide told me (hi, Nath!).

I know the name of the last king of Iraq:

King Faisal II.

He commissioned Wright to design an opera house in the capital city of Baghdad. The reason the commission never went further is because he was overthrown in 1958.

A Balalaika is a Russian, stringed instrument.

I know that because it sits in Taliesin’s living room at its “music corner”

Speaking of Russia,

They created the samovar. A is a tall, decorative metal container that holds water for boiling. One sits just outside of Taliesin’s living room. Here’s a photo showing it at Taliesin, taken in 2018:

Taliesin photograph looking northwest into Taliesin's living room from an alcove. Taken July 4, 2018.

The samovar is on the table in the foreground.

Ideally, chicken coops face south.

I know that because there were chicken coops at Taliesin that were later turned into dorm rooms. A couple of people on tour told me about chicken coops, and once you hear this, it makes sense. That way the chickens get the most light. So, yes: the chicken coops at Taliesin face south.

You can see the drawing showing the chicken coops below. It’s also in my post “Unfinished wing” (read that post and you’ll know why “Hog Pens” is highlighted in the drawing below).

Partial floor plan of Taliesin II, 1924. Location of original drawing unknown.

Wendingen Magazine published the drawing in its issues devoted to Wright in 1924 and 1925.
Then the magazine issues were published as a book, The Life-Work of the American Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, by Frank Lloyd Wright, H. Th. Wijdeveld, ed. (Santpoort, Holland: C. A. Mees, 1925).

An oar lock on a Venetian gondola is officially called a Forcole.

I know that because there’s an oar lock in Wright’s bedroom that was a gift from students in Venice. Here’s another photo by Maynard Parker that shows it by the east wall. It’s the wooden piece that looks like sculpture:

Black and white photograph looking at built-in bookcase at wall in Frank Lloyd Wright's bedroom. Includes an oar lock, a harmonium, and a special box for holding Wright's architecture medals.

Photograph of Wright’s bedroom in 1955 by Maynard Parker. Published in House Beautiful magazine, November 1955, 308.3

Ok, that’s it for now.

 

Published January 20, 2023.
The photograph at the top of this post is by Mark Konig from https://unsplash.com/photos/fbKMKNVJjwo

Edit: June 4, 2023:

Ice houses are quite ancient.

The construction of one was detailed in a Cuneiform tablet in c. 1780 BCE. Read Wikipedia’s post about ice houses to find out about this.

I read this because I was researching the ice house at Taliesin.


Notes:

1 An Autobiography, by Frank Lloyd Wright (Longmans, Green and Company, London, New York, Toronto, 1932), 343.

2 There was a man named Hiawatha in the history of the Iroquois Nation, but he’s completely different than Longfellow’s Hiawatha.

3 House Beautiful magazine published this photo again in its October, 1959 issue, 232.

4 Even before  Eliot Spitzer’s prostitute scandal in 2008.

Screen grab of actress, Bonnie Hunt as a tour guide walking with a group through the White House.

“Well, the guide told me….”

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Screen-grab of actress Bonnie Hunt in the 1993 movie, Dave. The scene shows Hunt as a White House tour guide with a group going through the “People’s House” [the White House]. I guarantee most of you, tour guide or not, have this going through your head right now: “We’re walking… we’re walking….

In this post, I’ll write some of what people on tours told me, or other guide staff, during the almost-26 years that I worked at Taliesin Preservation.

In addition to being the Taliesin historian, I gave tours every season from 1994-2019 (except for the 2004 season and most of the 2014 season).

Giving tours exposes you to many things. In this case, visitors on tours told me things about architect Frank Lloyd Wright, his buildings, his personality, the murders at his house, etc.

In a way, that’s the beauty of it: you come into contact with so many different people and you’re all on a journey that lasts 1 to 4 hours. You’re all experiencing the same space at the same time and are interacting with each other. Even if they aren’t looking at—or listening to—each other.

Fortunately, though, I never expected people on tours to listen to me like I was a drill sergeant. So I didn’t take it personally if people on tour weren’t looking at me. I usually only asked them to keep their voices down if they were interrupting others on the tour.

That’s because I knew people were coming with their own backgrounds. Some loved Frank Lloyd Wright since they were 7 years old, and were now in their 70s.

On the other hand,

others might not know anything. Maybe they were on tour because their partners, children, or friends brought them. Maybe they were driving to The House on the Rock and thought they’d stop in….

Although, honestly, I really felt for the husbands who came on the Loving Frank Tour when that was offered for a few seasons.

The book, Loving Frank, really appealed to women, and – at least from my perspective – the men on those tours mostly seemed to be the husbands/partners/boyfriends/friends of those women who had read, and loved, the book.

My job on those tours was walking the group around and describing what was there in 1911. Then I brought them to Taliesin’s Living Room and another guide (Margaret) did a book reading.

There were moments I had with the husbands/male partners at the end of those tours. I usually asked if they were there because their wives wanted the tour.

They all answered yes.

I’d often give a small nod and said that I hoped they were having a good time.

Yet,

sometimes the guests had preconceptions. Hopefully, if those preconceptions were, well, on the wrong side, the guests didn’t argue on the facts. And I think I tried to be nice when there were some real zingers out there, but I honestly can’t be sure.

That’s because guides, for the most part, are on their own with guests.

And while I thought I was pretty nice, those are only my memories and interpretations. Perhaps someone on the tours thought I answered things like a b****y a-hole.

As an example,

This one time I thought that I made a joke with a group. They were being slow and I said that,

Boy you folks are harder to move than 2nd grade school teachers.

yeah, that wasn’t a great line, but this is live, folks!

I said that because a week or two before this I was trying to move a group of women and one said,

Oh, I know it’s hard to move us. We’re all 2nd grade school teachers!

Apparently, this other group took what I said as an insult. Fortunately I didn’t have to handwrite an apology to them.

No: I never heard of any tour guide having to handwrite apologies to tour guests.

But on the other hand,

no one complained the year I was going through a really painful time when I know I was bitchy for at least half of that season.

I’d ended a relationship before the season started and was not in the best of moods.
I liked giving tours b/c they got me away from the pain for a while, but I was constantly on the verge of bursting into tears.

There were sometimes, though….

When things like this happened:

“My guide told me at [another Wright site]

“The back of Wright’s chairs were so tall because he didn’t want people to look at the back of his head.”

“He had a room at Taliesin for both his wife and his mistress.” 

“He designed uncomfortable furniture because he didn’t want people sitting too long.”

Or:

“It’s basically accepted that Wright was responsible for Mamah’s death, right?”

“Did Frank Lloyd Wright do a painting for Guggenheim or something?”

“Oh, I know that you guides all have some ‘script’ that you have to follow, but…?”

“No – he killed them all.”

“I heard that Joseph Stalin’s daughter is a bag lady living in London.”

OK: I’ve got to unpack that last one there:

Joseph Stalin’s daughter—Svetlana Alliluyeva—lived at Taliesin for a few years in the early 1970s.

She came into the Taliesin universe in 19701 when she was invited to Taliesin West by Wright’s widow, Olgivanna Lloyd Wright.

Svetlana married William Wesley Peters soon afterward. Peters was the former son-in-law of Olgivanna and Frank Lloyd Wright. He had married their daughter, Svetlana (who died in a car accident in 1946).

Now, while marrying two women named Svetlana is probably not wildly unusual for people living in the former Soviet Union, it’s rather odd for people in the United States. 

Which is why

some people conflate all of the facts about Svetlana, and hear about Taliesin, and think that Frank Lloyd Wright married Stalin’s daughter.

After all,

some people think that Frank Lloyd Wright killed his second wife.

Back to the bag lady comment:

We were at the end of our tour and driving up to the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center. I asked those on the bus if they had any other questions. And one woman said,

“I heard that Joseph Stalin’s daughter is a bag lady living in London.”

As it so happens

At that time, I was renting my apartment from Svetlana’s daughter. She lived on the ground floor with her mother, and I lived on the second floor.

So, my I answer to “I heard Joseph Stalin’s daughter…” was

“No. Joseph Stalin’s daughter is not a bag lady living in London.”

The woman on the bus replied, “Well, I read it in the newspaper.”

And I believe I replied, more or less that,

“No. Believe me: she lives nearby, I’ve seen her, and had tea with her in her apartment last week.”

And, happily, this happened to be true!2

Originally published August 5, 2022.
The screenshot at the top of this post if from the movie, Dave, from Warner Brothers. I am not posting this to make money off of the movie, or any of its stars.


Note:

1 Thanks, again, to the Administrator of Historic Studies at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, who gave me the correct year on Alliluyeva’s first visit. She has also helped me here, here, and I’m sure elsewhere if you search this blog.

2 I know this is true because I don’t usually drink tea and and I felt pretty good about having tea with her. 

Updated:

In the theme of “well, the guide told me…,” after I posted this, I read on a Wright page on Facebook that someone heard a Taliesin tour guide tell people that the Guest Bedroom of Taliesin housed Eleanor Roosevelt and Elizabeth Taylor (on separate occasions, of course). I posted as calmly as I could that, um, NO.

Those two women never stayed there.

That this was a case of

“the telephone game of tour guiding”

[I should copyright that term]

I’ll show you why I call it that:

Lady Bird Johnson, then First Lady of the United States, was invited to Taliesin. It was during her whirlwind “Crossroads USA tour“. Olgivanna Lloyd Wright invited her, but the Crossroads USA tour went so quickly (7 states in 4 days), that she didn’t stay at Taliesin overnight. So, one First Lady got confused with another First Lady.

In addition,

movie producer Mike Todd and then-girlfriend (later wife), actress Joan Blondell stayed at Taliesin in the late 1940s.

Todd later married Elizabeth Taylor. SO: Todd coming to Taliesin + (later-)wife = Todd’s later wife, Elizabeth Taylor, actually coming to Taliesin.

whew. Now everything will be fine and no one will ever get anything wrong on tours again.

Photograph of a section of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin, fall.

Unfinished Wing

Reading Time: 5 minutes

George Kastner took this photograph on November 28, 1928. It’s looking northeast at the far western end of Taliesin.

“I don’t know why you say it was a pigsty,” Minerva said to me (Minerva became a member of the Taliesin Fellowship in the 1950s). “It always had goats.”

She was referring to a section at the end of Taliesin. It’s rectangular, with a shed roof, and stands over a sandy area. It’s never been lived in. I’d heard it was called a pigsty because Frank Lloyd Wright had the label “Hog Pens” in it, the first time it appeared in a drawing. You’ve seen part of this drawing before, but this part (below) shows the far western part of the Taliesin structure. “Hog Pens” is there, in and outline:

Part of the Taliesin II floor plan executed in 1924. Archival number 1403.023
Location of original drawing, unknown.

The drawing was originally published in Wendingen Magazine during issues it published on Wright in 1924 and 1925.
Then the magazine issues were published as a book, The Life-Work of the American Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, by Frank Lloyd Wright, H. Th. Wijdeveld, ed. (Santpoort, Holland: C. A. Mees, 1925).

Most of what you see in the drawing was designed as the “Farm Court”. It had the hog pens, a yard with a circular pool for the pigs, and a room on the right placed there for the boar.

Moreover,

90 degrees to the left of the Hog Pens was the poultry house. This space contained the entire chicken life cycle:

  • the “incubator room” (for hatching eggs),
  • the chicken coop (raising the chickens),
  • and the abattoir (harvesting them).

Between the poultry house and the pigsty/goat pen was the octagonal “Granary” with circular “Silo”.

Those two were never built. Even though Wright had drawings showing them.
See — I told you not to trust the drawings. But you didn’t listen to me, did you.

All of these spaces (for hogs, chickens, and feed) are all related to the photograph that is at the top of today’s post. And that’s what I’m going to write about today.

Architect, Brian A. Spencer gave me the copy of the photograph at the top of this post. This, and other photographs of Taliesin were taken in 1928 by George Kastner.

Kastner appeared in my post “Oh My Frank: I Was Wrong” and one of his photographs is in “Wall at Taliesin’s Garden Court“.

Kastner arrived at Taliesin to work under Wright on November 20, 1928.1 His dated photographs give us a certain date on details at Taliesin. Better yet, Kastner labelled the photographs on the back!

What did he write on the back of the photo at the top of this post?

Unfinished Wing

So, even though this part of the building had been around since 1924 (according to that drawing and photos 2 ) it was, according to Kastner (or Wright), “unfinished”.

Did Wright ever use this part of the building the way he originally planned?

We know this was built after 1920.

How do we (ok: mostly me) know that?

The Pigsty/Goat pen was added after the November 1920 drawing by Rudolph Schindler (I referenced the drawing in a post late last year).

And this part of the building existed by 1924 when the Tsuchiuras (Kameki and Nobuko) were at Taliesin.

But, then what? Did he ever have pigs there?

So, here’s what I did:

I investigated whether or not Wright had the time to finish this part of the building, what with a fire and bankruptcy and all that crap.

Although, I didn’t really do this. I just knew the work of the ones that did. 3

So, Wright’s life in the 1920s is abbreviated below:

1922

In August, Wright comes back from Japan after working on the Imperial Hotel for years. But, he probably didn’t have time to construct the farm wing before the winter set in. And he might have held off while trying to settle into other commissions. Because, in

1923

he’s in Los Angeles working on commissions from February through late September.

Then he was back at Taliesin in October and November, when he married his second wife, Miriam Noel. Then he was in California again from December until

1924

the end of February.

He’s back in Wisconsin near the time of the death of his mentor, Louis Sullivan (Sullivan died in Chicago on April 24).

Miriam Noel left Wright by late April/early May.

Wright stayed put at Taliesin for most of the rest of the year.

He meets Olgivanna in late November after a trip on in late November to see the ballet with a friend.

Looking at the dates and Wright’s availability, I think that 1924 was when Wright built what’s in that drawing: a chicken coop, hog pens, incubator room, and sure, parking spaces. He had the time, and perhaps thought it was time to get some farming done in Wisconsin (Wisconsin is the Dairy State after all).4

1925

In the beginning of this year, Wright, along with his new love Olgivanna and her daughter, Svetlana, was living at Taliesin. In April 20 of that year, the second Taliesin fire happens.

That little fire certainly pulled him away from thinking about the chicken coops on the other end of the building. So, Wright redesigned and rebuilt Taliesin’s living quarters for most of the remainder of 1925.

Then

In early December, Olgivanna gave birth to her and Wright’s daughter, Iovanna. The life of Wright and the three other people in his life (Olgivanna and the two daughters) for lots of reasons having

NOTHING TO DO WITH FIRES

goes off the rails for years. Due to this, Wright sure didn’t have a lot of time to think about being a dandy country farmer. 

And, while that part of the building did eventually have chickens (for years), George Kastner’s 1928 photograph says that the entire western side of the building was not, for years, used for farm work.

Originally published July 25, 2022.
The photograph at the top of this post is the property of Brian A. Spencer, architect. Used with permission.


Notes:

1 Kastner and others lived with the Wrights at the camp Wright designed in Arizona, Ocotillo. Several of Kastner’s photographs are in the article, “Desert Camp Memoir: George Kastner and Frank Lloyd Wright”, in Journal of Organic Architecture + Design, vol. 7, no. 3, 2019

2 I can’t show you the photos of that part of the building in 1924. They’re not owned by me and I have never been in contact with the person or institution that has the rights to them. The owners would be really (and justifiably) pissed off if I showed them. But I was able to show the photo of Taliesin after the 1925 fire photo months ago, because it’s published in a book. Although if anyone wants to get in touch with the owners and give me a call I’m sure I could do a good job writing about them.

3 Wright scholars have figured out Frank Lloyd Wright’s activities 1911-32. I found this information by looking in the books, FLLW: Designs for an American Landscape (185-201) (link to the Library of Congress exhibit web page, here); Meryle Secrest’s biography, FLLW: A Life, the book, FLLW: 1910-22, The Lost Years, by Anthony Alofsin, and “Wright and the Imperial Hotel: A Postscript,” by Kathryn Smith, Art Bulletin 67, no. 2 (June 1985).

4 ALTHOUGH, in some sort of Wisconsin crime against all that is perfect, the website “www.comesmellourdairyair.com” is owned by someone from outside of the state. Why, Vicarious Ranch in California of all things! They’ve got goats, pigs, lambs and a creamery, which sounds wonderful, so I hope they make a good living.

Taken under the oak tree at the Tea Circle looking toward Taliesin's Drafting Studio

First year of tours

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I took this photograph in 1994 under the oak tree at the Taliesin Tea Circle. The room with the French doors near the center of the photograph is Taliesin’s drafting studio. Wright used it as an office after he moved drafting operations to Hillside.

“1867. . . . 1886. . . . 1896. . . Oh, shit – 1901? 1902?”

That’s basically a transcription of what came out of my mouth in 1994 while I drove with Alex1 from Madison, Wisconsin to Spring Green and the Taliesin estate. The dates were important in Frank Lloyd Wright’s life and on the Taliesin estate.

The rundown of all those dates

1867: the year Wright was born.

despite how much he lied about the year he was born, which can get you into a rabbit hole on the internet unless you’re judicious

1886: the year Unity Chapel was designed/built.2 It’s the family chapel and can be seen from Taliesin.

1896: the year the Romeo & Juliet Windmill was commissioned by Wright’s aunts.

1901: the year the aunts commissioned Wright for the Hillside Home School stone structure. We were taught 1902 for a while. But, the Weekly Home News (Spring Green’s newspaper) edition of October 1, 1901 said:

“Owing to the increased attendance, the principals [i.e., the Aunts] have decided to build a new school house.  The plans have been drawn and sent from the studio of Frank Ll. Wright, architect, Chicago, and work upon the construction will begin at once.”

I recited those dates to continue my obsessive-studying over the previous week. Alex and I were newly hired tour guides. He and I knew each other because we were students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (he studied Architectural History and I was pursuing my Master’s degree in Art History3).

On that day in the car, however, I had no idea that I would become an expert on Taliesin, and would eventually live in the village of Spring Green.

More about tours:

At that time, Hillside tours were the first ones that all guides learned. An hour long, they gave the basics on Wright’s life and work while going through Hillside’s 14,000+ square feet. Meanwhile, Taliesin House tours were new. They’d only been offered three days a week the season before this. In 1994, they went out 2 times a day, every day but Wednesday. The tours were twice as long as Hillsides, and cost more than four times as much ($35 vs. $8 / $4 for children under 12 4).

Hillside tours were also the most popular. Apparently, one year over 30,000 people took one. Also, there was an architecture firm in the Hillside building, where apprentices at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture worked in the Hillside Drafting Studio.5

Those at the school were literally apprentices working under the licensed architects. Later, the firm closed and the curriculum changed so they became actual students.

Lastly, there was an exterior Walking Tour created in ’86 or so. Before the House tour existed, the Walking Tour was the closest a person could get to Wright’s residence. And that was only while standing at the bottom of the hill around which Taliesin sits.

That summer:

Here are a couple of my Taliesin-related memories from 1994:

The first time I got a laugh on tour. It was when we came up to the exterior roof of the Hillside Theater foyer. Its ceiling rises to just about 6 feet tall. As I brought the group to the foyer, I gave the story I’d been told: that, “Wright always said that ‘People over 6 feet tall are wasted space.'”

Running through a Taliesin courtyard as birds fluttered by me, and chuckling while I thought, “what I did on my summer vacation.”

An interesting group of people

I remember laughing hysterically that summer with those funny, smart people. In fact, most of the people that I’ve encountered at Taliesin through 25+ years were whip-smart and creative, along with being devoted to Wright and his architecture. Another reason to stick around. Here’s a photograph of some from an end-of-the-season party one year at Hillside:

Staff at a party at Hillside
Photograph by Keiran Murphy.

As the buildings were (or are) unheated, closing down the structures commenced in the days after the season’s end. So, having a party allowed the staff to let off steam and prepare for the upcoming work. Plus, most of the staff wouldn’t see each other again until the following spring. Wright’s living quarters are heated now, but not Hillside. That still has to be prepped for Wisconsin winters. Unlike earlier years, the people who now close the buildings are the Preservation Crew.

Plus, my movie-viewing experience expanded:6

Alex and I were invited that summer to watch movies at the home of a Senior guide (who officiated my wedding 23 years later). He showed us The Last Picture Show, The Magnificent Ambersons, and Evil Dead, Part 2, among others I’m sure I’ve missed.

Craig also figured out how to hook the History geek into the Wright world.

uh… that’s me.

So, when a “House Guard” went on vacation, he put me on the schedule with the other guard, Germaine. Germaine, whose father was Wright’s gardener, became friends with Iovanna (the daughter of Frank Lloyd Wright and Olgivanna). Germaine, this elegant older woman, who always wore dresses and her hair in a chignon, spent years in the Taliesin Fellowship and later married apprentice Rowan Maiden.

House Guards (now known as House Stewards) opened the House in the morning, by cleaning and vacuuming. They, then and now, greet people at Taliesin’s front door and, at that time, gave out booties for guests to put on their shoes.

Booties were used to protect the rugs. I guess they do, but maybe not when thousands of feet walk over the rugs every tour season. The booty fuzz—a light blue—gets all over the rugs. You almost have to use your fingernails to scrape it up.

Germaine and I had time to talk that week. She told stories of the life at Taliesin and invited me up to Iovanna’s5 bedroom (in the floor above Frank Lloyd Wright and Olgivanna’s quarters). That’s when she told me that she and Iovanna used to sunbathe outside on a little balcony.

I mentioned this in the on-line presentation I gave in 2020 through The Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center.

Another memory

Photograph of Taliesin Tea Circle in the summer of 1994.
Photograph by Keiran Murphy.

Photograph of the Taliesin Tea Circle with the oak tree. The Chinese bell is hanging off the limb veering to the left.

I remember sitting in the Entry Foyer at Taliesin’s “front” door, waiting for a House tour. A member of the Taliesin Fellowship, architect Charles Montooth, came bounding up the steps of Taliesin’s Tea Circle on break (he usually worked at the Hillside drafting studio). He ran up to the large Chinese bell that hung from the oak tree limb you see in the photo above, then stopped in front of it and drummed it several times with his knuckles. He paused for a moment to listen to its faint ring, then ran back down to where he came out.

Taliesin tours certainly struck me,

as someone who had measured my worth mostly through test scores, as a very nice way to come into adulthood. Plus, giving tours meant that I was judged for the words that came out of my mouth instead of numbers on a page.

You can read here how the tour program became integrated into my life.

First published March 7, 2022.
I took both of the photographs used in this blog post.


1. not his real name

2. We also thought 1886 was the year he designed the first Hillside Home School building for his aunts, a.k.a., the “Home Building“. That was, until being corrected by someone else. The year he designed the Home Building is actually 1887.

3. I received my degree that December with my thesis on David Wojnarowicz.

4. No kids under that age were allowed on tours going into Wright’s Living Quarters at the House. Now tours take kids as young as 10 years old.

5. Now The School of Architecture, no longer at Taliesin.

6. I’m not talking about the biweekly online series, “Welcome to the Basement“.

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

Guest Quarters

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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.

 


Notes

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.

The Home Page of The Wayback Machine Home Page from Archive.org

Behold: The Wayback Machine

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The image above is a screenshot from the home page of “The Wayback Machine“, which is explained below.

Here’s part of the explanation of The Wayback machine in Wikipedia:

The Wayback Machine is a digital archive of the World Wide Web. It was founded by the Internet Archive, a nonprofit library based in San Francisco, California. Created in 1996 and launched to the public in 2001, it allows the user to go “back in time” and see how websites looked in the past. Its founders, Brewster Kahle and Bruce Gilliat, developed the Wayback Machine to provide “universal access to all knowledge” by preserving archived copies of defunct web pages.

Since its creation in 1996, over 603 billion pages have been added to the archive….

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayback_Machine

If you’ve never heard of the Wayback Machine on the Internet, you may have come across the phrase from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show on television, starting in the 1960s (I watched it on Saturday-morning-cartoons). The Rocky and Bullwinkle show had a short cartoon, “Mr. Peabody’s Improbable History”, which featured a Time Machine known as The Wayback Machine.

Mr. Peabody, a talking, genius dog, is the grownup, taking care of a young boy named Sherman. They use the Wayback Machine to go back in time to correct history. Here’s the intro on Youtube:

Luckily I only wasted about 20 minutes finding, then watching, the intro.

Nice. You gonna tell us why you’re talking about this today, Keiran?

Yes. Glad you asked.

The Wayback Machine popped into my head because I was thinking about what to post today and remembered a photo I had previously seen on the Internet.

When I post, I look for photos that copyright rules let me show you all. I thought of this great Taliesin exterior that I got off the internet almost 15 years ago. I got the URL, but couldn’t find the image today.

So I went to The Wayback Machine. I put the URL into their archive, and the photo below came up:

Taken from the Hill Crown of Taliesin, looking (true) east at Taliesin’s living quarters. The unknown photographer apparently took this in the spring, based on the green leaves seen on the oak tree on the left hand side of the photograph. Architectural details indicate they took the photo in the 1950s, before Frank Lloyd Wright’s death.

When I found it, I said, “Behold: The Wayback Machine”

Said, most likely, in stentorian tones and accompanied (again, most likely), by a sweep of my arm.

Immediately after this, I thought I should write about this site as well as this on-line image.

Here’s the image through the Wayback Machine:

https://web.archive.org/web/20060127201224/http://studentwebs.coloradocollege.edu/~j_buscaglia/Images/897072.jpg

You see the name “j_buscaglia” in the location information for the image. I have attempted to locate “Buscaglia”, the person who had uploaded this image when they were, perhaps, learning HTML coding, etc. as a student. Years ago I found an email address for them at Colorado College and wrote them, but they never replied. Moreover, I never found information about the web page or anything else. So this is perhaps an “orphaned” image.

Things I find interesting in the photo:

You can see details to the right of the pine tree (detail, below).

A cropped view of the Garden Room

These are the west and south walls of “the Garden Room” in Taliesin’s living quarters. The south wall of the Garden Room has beige/yellow stucco, to the right of the French doors. Next to it is a tree trunk, followed by a limestone pier. The pier supports the edge of the balcony. The beige stucco attracted my eye, because there aren’t many photographs of that wall with stucco.

Before 1959, that wall often had tar paper (as waterproofing)

Look here for another photo of that wall with tar paper. This photo comes from the website of Pedro E. Guerrero, Wright’s photographer.

I don’t know why it took so long before Wright covered the tar paper. Although, in truth, the Guerrero photographs of Taliesin come from 1952-53. While Guerrero took many photographs of Wright and the two Taliesins, he worked on retainer. Wright would send the photographer all over the United States to photograph the architect’s newly constructed buildings. As a result, he could rarely visit just to photograph Taliesin.

If you were to go to Taliesin on a tour today, you would see that this wall has, not tar paper, but a stone veneer (here’s a photo of it). That veneer was applied by a member of the Taliesin Fellowship, Stephen Nemtin. He joined the Fellowship as an apprentice after Wright’s death and was asked to do this by Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, the architect’s widow.

I don’t know why the Fellowship veneered the stucco with stone. Maybe the stucco got too wet in the rain, ice, and snow.

Here’s the detail from that color photo again:

A cropped view of the Garden Room

The photo has a white, almost-vertical line underneath the balcony. That line is the trunk from a birch tree that used to grow there. That tree was originally one of a pair. The photograph below shows those two trees. I took this photo from my copy of the book, Wisconsin: A Guide to the Badger State, printed in 1941 as part of The American Guide Series:

Looking from Taliesin's Hill Crown to its living quarters, 1937-1943.

Photograph looking (true) east from Taliesin’s Hill Crown towards its Living Quarters. The birch trees are in the center of the photograph. The roof on the left was later over the Garden Room.

Finding my version of the image:

This book was part of the Federal Writers’ Project. It was a project of the Work Projects Administration in the state of Wisconsin and was sponsored by the Wisconsin Library Association. I took this image from the book, in its photographs between pages 310-311.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has the original image, on-line here.

I found this image, and the book, during another on-line photo-searching project of mine one Friday.1 After finding out about this photograph, and the book in which it was published, I bought the book via abebooks.com.

The book has, among other things, descriptions of driving tours one could take at that time around Wisconsin. The “Madison to Richland Center” drive is “Tour 20”. The book’s write-up gives a brief history of Taliesin, as well as telling you that you can take a tour at Taliesin (really, the Hillside Home School) for $1. In addition it tells you that you could take in a “moving picture, Sun. 3 p.m., included in tour fee; otherwise 50¢ per person.

The birch trees grew there over 15 years, but Wright’s expansion of the room above killed them: the new construction meant that the trees now grew through an interior room. Perhaps he did this just because he wanted to see the effect (and not worry about killing them). In fact, this was not the first time Wright’s expansion of his home killed a tree: his expansion at his first home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois, resulted in the death of a Willow tree.

I hadn’t planned it, but it seems that we stepped into an example of what Bertrand Goldberg characterized as “romantic kitsch” at Taliesin (relayed in my post of May 17, 2021).

Originally published on September 9, 2021.


Notes:

1 I wrote in early December, 2020 about some of my photo searching.

Some ouroboros for you:

Shortly after I posted this, the Internet Archive recently sent me a link to a 2:04 min. video from 1996, in which the Internet Archive staff explained the newly-created Wayback Machine.