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

Wall at Taliesin’s Garden Court

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

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

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

After that, Wright made it into the Garden Court.

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

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

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

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

Besides,

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

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

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

Back to the Garden Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

So he blocked the old drive in two ways:

From the south:

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

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

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

From the west:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He took one of his drawings to figure out his plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I took this photograph in April 2004.

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


Note:

  1. My theory on why people would walk in the door was is that the grounds people had cut down the yew bushes, so people saw the door more easily when driving by the building. But putting up the sign on the door stopped people from walking in unexpectedly.
A photograph I took of a stone wall inside Taliesin.

I looked at stone

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

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

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

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

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

He also wanted it laid a certain way

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

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

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

Hey, at least he took notice:

Wright later wrote that the stonemasons –

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

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

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

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

How I figured this out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Other Hand

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

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

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


Notes:

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

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

Taliesin August 1914 after first fire

The First Fire

The photographer was on the Taliesin Hill Crown looking toward the structure after the first fire. The person seen standing on the left in the white shirt may be Frank Lloyd Wright.

I’ve mentioned the 1914 fire a few times (and wrote about it snarkily), but I thought it’s time to address Taliesin’s first fire.

On August 15, 1914 as Frank Lloyd Wright was in Chicago putting the final touches on his Midway Gardens project (1913-1929), he received a phone call that Taliesin was on fire. His son John (who later became an architect) was working with his father and described that day later in his book, My Father, Frank Lloyd Wright:1

Suddenly all was quiet in the room, a strange unnatural silence, his breathing alone was audible, then a groan. I turned to him, startled, he clung to the table for support, his face ashen.
My Father Frank Lloyd Wright (1946; Dover publications, 1992), by John Lloyd Wright, 80.

Wright asked his son to get a taxi and then the two grabbed the first train back to Spring Green.

Details on that first fire:

For unknown reasons Wright’s servant, Julian Carlton, set fire to the living quarters of Taliesin after serving lunch, and murdered seven people. He killed most of them with a hatchet (one died from his burns).

The names of those who died were: Wright’s partner, Mamah Borthwick; her two children, John and Martha Cheney (ages 11 and eight, respectively); Emil Brodelle (draftsman); Thomas Brunker (foreman); David Lindblom (gardener); and Ernest Weston, the 13-year-old son of carpenter William “Billy” Weston.

The fire mostly burned down Taliesin’s living quarters within an hour. One-third of the building was destroyed.

It’s impossible to know what happened that afternoon

The murderer died on October 7, before a trial could be held. Additionally, the two survivors (Billy Weston and draftsman Herbert Fritz) never talked about the murders. Who’d want to? Carlton not only attacked Weston (who he left for dead), but he murdered Weston’s son, Ernest. Fritz survived by jumping out of a window on the south side of the house, breaking his arm. 

You would think that my history of working at Taliesin—in a place where the woman’s head was “cleft in two”—would leave a creepy feeling. But it doesn’t didn’t, not for me. First of all, the Taliesin that stands doesn’t have the floorboards, walls and doors where it all happened in 1914. Those were all destroyed in that fire, after which he rebuilt. Then, that same part of the building was once more almost destroyed in the fire of 1925.

Although, ultimately, I’m left in awe by the beauty of the standing structure, built by one of the greatest architects who has ever lived.2

What some say about the murders:

Some have unsubstantiated theories about the murders. These include: Carlton disapproved of Wright’s lifestyle; Carlton’s paranoia took a bad turn for fear of deportation in order to fight in the first World War; that this was a Chicago mob hit (Wright spoke in his autobiography of disagreements with the “union boys” over Wright’s Midway Gardens); and Wright put out a contract to murder Mamah.

I even had a former guide from another Wright house—after taking a four-hour Taliesin “Estate” tour with me—come up to say that he had been hoping to get the “real story” behind the murders from a Taliesin tour guide.

By the way, just so it’s all said: I have posted the basics of what we know about the first fire, above. There is no secret stash of information given to those at Taliesin about what “really happened” during the 1914 fire. 

The theories that Wright had something to do with the murders make me wonder:

What kind of person do you think Wright was? Sure, he left his first wife, sometimes (maybe a lot of times) had problems with money, and could sometimes say outrageous things about buildings and cities (noted in this article on negative things he said about Pittsburgh).

But any of those things are far away from being a murderer.

Finally, as for Wright ordering a hit on Mamah: putting aside the fact that Wright was not a murderer, (a) what self-respecting mobster would have expected Wright to come through with the money on a hit; and (b) if all else, I don’t think Wright would have destroyed his own home.

As for the other theories:

If Carlton hated Wright so much, why didn’t he just kill him in his sleep? And concerning Chicago mobsters: if they were trying to scare Wright, something else would have happened to him, or somebody would have eventually said something.

Regarding World War I, everyone in Europe that August was saying that it would be over by fall (by the time “the leaves turned”), so probably no one in the world was worried about multiple countries outside of Europe going to battle.

In addition,

Author Paul Hendrickson brought forth evidence that Carlton was born in Alabama (not Barbados) in his book, Plagued by Fire.

Wright’s reaction:

But to get back to the 1914 fire: Wright was devastated. Who wouldn’t be? He left for work in Chicago on a summer’s day in the middle of the week and came back that Saturday to a complete, unreal nightmare. And probably nothing could touch the guilt the man must have felt for hiring Carlton. Finally, the emotional weight of such a horrific and terrifying end to his life with Mamah must have been overwhelming. In fact, as far as I know, his painful and poignant writing about the fire was only done once: in his autobiography. I encourage you to seek out his autobiography to read his words (in three editions: published in 1932 and updated in 1943, which was republished in 1977), but here’s his writing about burying Mamah:

The August sun was setting on the familiar range of hills. I felt, dimly, the far-off shadows of the ages, struggling to escape from subconsciousness and utter themselves… then—darkness…. I filled the grave—in darkness—in the dark.

No monument marks the spot where “Mamah” was buried.

All I had to show for the struggle for freedom of the past five years that had swept most of my former life away, had now been swept away.

Why mark the spot where desolation ended and began?3
Frank Lloyd Wright. An Autobiography, in Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings: 1930-32, volume 2. Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, introduction by Kenneth Frampton (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York City, 1992), 240.

Wright wrote how the aftermath of the fire caused him to leave Taliesin for a bit and try to work out his grief in Chicago. And, then he writes,

So the rage that grew when I felt the inimical weight of human censure on my soul began to fade away and finally took refuge in the idea that Taliesin should live to show something more for its mortal sacrifice than a charred and terrible ruin on a lonely hillside in the beloved Valley.
An Autobiography, Collected Writings, volume 2, 241.

Some final thoughts about the 1914 fire

I noted at the start of this that the fire doesn’t make me feel weird while being at Taliesin. But I do feel deep, quiet sadness if I go to Mamah’s grave in the family cemetery, particularly standing near her grave and looking toward his house. Some years I’ve made a point of going there on August 15 when the sun is setting, the mist is rising, and the frogs are singing. The physicality of it goes deep in the bones.

But in addition, there’s the knowledge that above it all, he stayed! He rebuilt his living room in the same spot and the same size and rebuilt their bedroom in the same spot and the same size (and kept using it until 19364). What a weird reaction. Well, I used to think it was a weird reaction, anyway. Then September 11 happened.

In the wake of 9-11-01, I came probably as close as I can to fully understanding Wright in the aftermath of the 1914 fire. That desire to rebuild as a fight against obliteration was all around us in talks of rebuilding the World Trade Center. And, that connects very simply to Wright’s closing words about the fire in his autobiography:

There is release from anguish in action. Anguish would not leave Taliesin until action for renewal began. Again, and at once, all that had been in motion before at the will of the architect was set in motion. Steadily, again, stone by stone, board by board, Taliesin the II began to rise from Taliesin the first.
Ibid.

This was first published March 10, 2021.

The photograph above was taken by A.S. Rockwell on the day of, or the day after, the fire. The photograph was placed on Wikimedia Commons as an image in the public domain. See here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Taliesin_After_Fire.jpg for information about the origin of the photograph.


 Notes:

1 If you get the chance, you should read John’s book. It’s fun, funny, and insightful. I got a real sense of what Wright was like as a father. You can check out my post, “How did Frank Lloyd Wright feel about Christmas?” to read the scene John about seeing his father on Christmas Eve.

2 I haven’t said so before, I’ll say it here: I don’t think he was the absolute, above all others, greatest architect. The world’s a big place and built human history goes back to, what, 4,000 BCE? That’s a lot of building. So I think it is impossible to pick one person as the greatest architect (or artist). However, if someone made a list of the top 25 greatest architects in history throughout the entire globe, I believe his name would be there.

3 If you go to the cemetery at Unity Chapel, you’ll see a grave marker for Mamah. It was placed there in 2022 after members of the Borthwick family contacted those from the Lloyd Jones family. The new marker is near the base of the tree under with Borthwick is buried. Borthwick family members commissioned a new marker for Mamah to replace one put there under the direction of Olgivanna Lloyd Wright (Frank Lloyd Wright’s widow). The earlier marker in limestone was removed by employees of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, who put it into storage.

4 He and Olgivanna moved to separate bedrooms in that year. Those rooms remained their bedrooms in Wisconsin for the rest of their lives. 

 

A link to my writing on Taliesin’s second fire.