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Art & Architecture US (Southwest) US Travel

Frank Lloyd Wright Wronged

 

 

When your eyes become accustomed to an architectural wonder

top house photo
Outinaz [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

It’s important to see the beauty in our midst.

One day many years ago when we lived in Phoenix, my husband and I were invited to visit an acquaintance and her young daughter who happened to be occupying a house designed by the world-renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

While cruising down Camelback Road, we would often look up and scan the cactus-dotted hillsides to spot the house nestled in the rugged terrain. We would admire its unusual appearance with its exterior winding walkways, circular windows, and austere concrete block masonry. Wright originally designed the 2,300 square foot structure for his son, David, and his wife, Gladys. It was built in 1952.

The home was intriguing and beckoned a closer look, so we took up our friend’s offer one sunny afternoon to visit the home, whose design was named by the senior Wright, “How to Live in the Southwest.”

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In recent years, the home was restored and made available for tours. | Photo: for Media Use | http://davidwrighthouse.org/media/

We’re not sure about the arrangement between the homeowners and our acquaintance. Maybe she was renting it or acting as a caretaker while the owners were away temporarily. We can’t even recall her name now.

Perched in the Camelback Mountains, the spiral home was indeed stunning and modern and magical.

It was also trashed.

Bedroom floors held oceans of wadded-up loads of laundry. Dirty dishes lined the kitchen counters. Smudges and stains sullied the bathroom mirrors and floors. Crumpled junk mail littered the hallways. We were dumbfounded.

All this disappointment obscured the home’s jaw-dropping features: an entrance preceded by a spiral walkway ramp, ubiquitous concealed built-ins, custom carpets, a rooftop deck, panoramic views of the rocky desert terrain, and Philippine mahogany ceilings, cabinetry, and furniture.

As we roamed through the home, with its desert views, calming circular design, and ingenious use of space, our acquaintance apologized for her poor housekeeping habits. “Oh, well… yeah,” we answered, laughing nervously, embarrassed for her—and the house.

A few years ago, I was curious about the status of the home and wanted to see what had become of it since our move to Missouri about a year after our tour. So I googled the house while my husband and I reminisced about our Phoenix experiences.

Yes, the house did survive that messy time. And many people today care about the newly named David & Gladys Wright House’s existence and condition.

 

kitchen
The kitchen as seen during public tours. | Photo: for Media Use | http://davidwrighthouse.org/media/

After the Wright’s deaths in 1997 and 2008, concerned citizens protested the house’s demolition, which was planned by a developer who had purchased it. In 2012, a Las Vegas attorney devised a strategy to preserve and operate the home and grounds for tours and cultural performances. However, concerns about traffic and noise from the surrounding neighborhoods blemished the whole affair. Eventually, the home was donated to benefit Scottsdale’s The School of Architecture at Taliesin, formerly known as the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. However, those agreements have been abandoned. The home is now for sale for just under $13 million.

outside
The exterior in recent years. Photo: for Media Use | http://davidwrighthouse.org/media/

And to think our friend had trashed it all those years ago. How did she not revel in the structure that couched her every daily activity in architectural significance? Was she, like many of us, too distracted? Depressed? Too concerned with meeting daily obligations to notice? Too busy being human?

It’s understandable. Life happens.

But it’s still important to try to see the beauty in our midst. The beauty of a yellow leaf resting against a rusty brick sidewalk. The beauty of the intricate shell of a snail. The beauty of an architectural wonder your all-too-human eyes have become accustomed to.


Thanks for reading! Ever had a similar experience? Feel free to leave a comment or click “like” to show that this story resonated with you. Also—click follow or enter your email address to receive a notification when I publish a new post. 

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US (Southwest) US Travel

Travel to places that make you feel small: Monument Valley, Utah

Monument Valley is good for that.

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Photo by Maria Sabljic on Unsplash

Those spires. Those ledges. Those bluffs. Behemoths of weight and mass, rising from the high desert floor with quiet heft and bulk.

The space between them is as much a part of the experience as the monuments themselves. My perspective disintegrates. My awe overwhelms. There is no way to determine: how far is that from me? How much expanse between those mittens?

The valley appears surreal, other-worldly. The interior of a cave where the sky forms the walls.

I hear the purr of a single car traveling the dusty road, a red thread snaking in the distance. Other than that, nothing. Even the breeze is silent, its sound swallowed in the burnt sienna drapery of rocky canyon gowns.

The valley transforms me and I am small, insignificant, a dot of breath in the stillness.


We travelled to Monument Valley three years ago and I’m still thinking about it.

Click like if you enjoyed this piece and follow me for an occasional travel post. Also… I would love to hear about your own canyonland experiences. Feel free to comment!

 

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Art & Architecture Life lessons Memoir & Narratives US (Southwest) US Travel

How Not to Live in the Southwest

house
Photo: AZcentral.com

One day in 1992, my husband and I were invited to visit an acquaintance who happened to be occupying a house designed by the world-renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. We had seen the house from a distance and had admired its unusual appearance with its exterior winding walkways, circular windows, and austere concrete masonry. It was intriguing and beckoned a closer look.

Wright originally designed the 2,200 square foot structure for his son, David, and his wife, Gladys. It was built in 1952. We’re not sure about the arrangement between the homeowners and our acquaintance. We can’t even recall her name now. Maybe she was renting it or acting as caretakers while the owners were away temporarily. We accepted our acquaintance’s  invitation to visit the historic home and stopped by one sunny afternoon for a tour.

Perched near Camelback Mountain, the spiral home was indeed stunning and modern and magical. It was also trashed. Our acquaintance, who was fortunate to occupy Wright’s last residential masterpiece named ironically, “How to Live in the Southwest,”  was, in short, a slob.

Bedroom floors held oceans of wadded-up loads of laundry. Dirty dishes lined the kitchen counters. Smudges and stains sullied the bathroom mirrors and floors. Crumpled junk mail littered the hallways. We were dumbfounded. All this disappointment obscured the home’s jaw-dropping features: an entrance preceded by a winding walkway ramp; Philippine mahogany ceilings, cabinetry, and furniture; ubiquitous concealed built-ins; custom carpets; a rooftop deck; panoramic views of the rocky desert terrain. Without a doubt, we had seen it at its worst and even then, it was beautiful.

As we roamed through the home, with its desert views, calming circular structure, and ingenious use of space, our acquaintance apologized for her poor housekeeping habits. “Oh, well… yeah,” we answered, laughing nervously, embarrassed for her — and the house.

Not too long ago, I was curious as to the status of the home and wanted to see what had become of it since our move to Missouri about a year later. So I googled the house  while my husband and I reminisced about our Phoenix experiences. Yes, the house did survive that messy time.

And somebody, many people in fact, care about the house’s existence and condition today. After their deaths, the Wrights passed on the house to a granddaughter, who later sold it to a developer who wanted to demolish it. Concerned citizens stepped in, and the house was eventually saved. In fact, another developer is now devising a strategy to preserve and operate the home and grounds for tours, weddings, and cultural performances. It seems a fitting purpose for the architectural gem now known as the David & Gladys Wright House. Still, there is controversy surrounding the whole ordeal, which I likely don’t fully appreciate or understand, since I no longer live in the area. To find out more, go here. As I understand it, the developer wants to expand his concept and residents of the surrounding neighborhood are upset about the increased traffic and congestion they expect to occur.

I hope, even though they disagree on a number of points, that the developers, area residents and preservationists are united in their gratitude that the house previously survived a greater controversy: the disrepair and poor treatment it received when it was in the care of our acquaintance.

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US (Southwest) US Travel

Trusting Your Gut: If It Looks Like a Dead Body, It Probably Is

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Photo: Bureau of Land Management

When I lived in Tempe, Arizona, one night I think I might have witnessed someone loading a dead body into the trunk of their car. This was in 1991. It was around 10 at night and I was walking back from my boyfriend’s apartment across the street. My apartment complex was called Riviera Palms and it was actually a converted motel that consisted of three 1950s-era two-story brick buildings that were arranged into a “U” with a swimming pool in the middle.

That night, as I approached my apartment, I could see a car with an open trunk around the corner of my building. I lingered out of sight in front of my corner apartment’s door and watched two people lifting something wrapped in a white or a light-colored sheet between them into the trunk of the car. The two people struggled to lift the heavy load.

At the time, despite its cumbersome size and the fact that it really looked like a body, I still didn’t believe it could be a human inside the sheet. I rationalized that it could have been a couple of large dogs (still a very strange scenario) wrapped up due to the bulges and bumps that protruded from the sheet. Or maybe one of the people was moving from their apartment and this was the easiest way to get their kitchen appliances, their guitar, and a lamp into the car.

These ideas sound ridiculous now. Looking back, what else could it have been but a body? But, really? 

After they closed the door on the trunk, I turned away and quickly ducked back around the corner and into my apartment. And then, I assumed, they drove away. I got ready for bed, and drifted off to sleep. While dozing off, I reasoned that I probably hadn’t witnessed a crime. From a small, Midwestern Kansas town, I had not, up to that point anyway, experienced first-hand much of any serious physical violence. In fact, peering around the corner of my apartment building, I felt as if I was watching a movie or TV show like an old “Starsky and Hutch” episode. Things that happen on-screen don’t actually happen in real life, right?

I also, and perhaps more pragmatically, thought that it was simply too early at night for people to be sneaking dead bodies around. Tempe is a college town, and at 10 p.m. the streets are still busy with cars and people out in the cooler temperatures.

I went to work the next day. And the next. And the next. Occasionally, the episode would cross my mind and it wasn’t until a full month later, when I finally acknowledged my unforgivable failure: I should have reported what I saw that very night.

So I called the police. After listening to my story, the first thing the officer asked was, “Why didn’t you call sooner?” I told him I didn’t really know.

And I still don’t. It surprises me how quickly I was able to dismiss what I had seen. What if it was the culmination of a murder? What if upon leaving Riviera Palms that car then made a left onto Rural Road, and then continued out of Tempe into the deserts south of Phoenix, and then stopped at the end of a quiet, sandy road? What if those two people had earlier packed a shovel so they could dig a grave for the body?

My casual dismissal of what I witnessed causes me to wonder why I didn’t trust my first instincts. Why didn’t I immediately go with my gut feeling that I had seen a crime in progress? Why did I doubt myself? Would I still do that today?

Has the passage of twenty-three years imbued me with a confidence I lacked in my mid-20s? Or could it be simply that the advent of 911 emergency service has made reporting suspicious activity easier to do and more common now?

I’ll never know if I witnessed a crime or not that night. I hope I didn’t and all this retrospective analysis is for nothing. But it does make me wonder why some people, myself included obviously, automatically dismiss a danger signal as needless worry.

It reminds me of the phenomenon present in some school shootings when witnesses report their first response to hearing gunshots. Often they assume the sounds are something benign, such as a balloon popping or a textbook falling to the floor. Does this happen because they are unfamiliar with what gunshots sound like, much like I would be? Those people presumably aren’t attuned to the sounds of gunfire. Maybe that’s why I was so quick to dismiss what I saw on that warm Arizona night. Violence simply wasn’t a part of my prior experience.

Now I know the next time I find myself in an unknown experience — especially one that involves doubt and fear — I should trust my gut even if it feels wrong, silly, presumptuous, naive. That night, I could have truly been in the right place at the right time to help someone or provide a lead. Before ending the conversation, the police officer said there was really nothing he could do at that point, but he would make a note of my call. Too much time had passed, he added. He told me to call sooner if I ever saw anything suspicious again.

“Okay, I will,” I said, and then I hung up the phone.

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US (Southwest) US Travel

Great Sand Dunes National Monument

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Unexpected detour.

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US (Southwest) US Travel

Favorite place on Earth

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Monument Valley, Utah

Well, it happened again. I travelled someplace new and I am forever changed. This time: Monument Valley, Arizona. There is nothing quite like spotting something on the horizon that appears surreal, other-worldly and truly unknown. And then it is something that changes you and makes you feel small, insignificant, yet important to the world.

Those spires. Those ledges. Those behemoths of weight and mass, rising from the high desert floor with quiet heft and bulk.

The space between them is as much a part of the experience as the monuments themselves. A disintegration of perspective coexists with an awe that overwhelms. There is no way to determine: how far is that from me? How far apart are those mittens?

Silence. True silence. Other than the distant, nearly imperceptible rumbling of cars travelling the dusty red roads, there is nothing. The breeze is even silent, its sound swallowed within the folding gowns of sienna curtain walls.