Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center

Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center

A major museum show inspires visits to the sites of America's greatest architect


No houses by Frank Lloyd Wright are more important than those he designed for himself, and together Taliesin and Taliesin West sum up his genius in a very personal way. Wright grew up in Wisconsin's Helena Valley, where he returned in 1911, at age 44, to build Taliesin, a retreat for himself and his married lover, Mamah Borthwick Cheney, after walking out on his family in a Chicago suburb. Three years later a crazed servant killed Mrs. Cheney (and six others) and burned down the residence. Wright rebuilt Taliesin, only to see it destroyed again by fire in 1925, and once more he restored his dream house. He continued to tinker with details and additions until the end of his life, always thinking of architecture as a living process.

The new Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center at Spring Green, Wisconsin, now offers a comprehensive look at his private domain. A two-hour two-mile walking tour of Taliesin takes in the famous house itself as well as several subsidiary buildings Wright constructed throughout his career, including the romantic Romeo and Juliet Windmill of 1897 and Midway Farm, erected in the late 1930s.

As he grew older, Wright longed to escape the harsh Wisconsin winters. He had already worked in Arizona and in 1937 began to design Taliesin West in Scottsdale. It is now owned by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which has its headquarters there.

In addition to a standard one-hour tour of Taliesin West, there are other, more extensive ways of seeing this remarkable achievement in its larger context. A three-hour Behind the Scenes tour allows an in-depth look at the activities of the Taliesin Fellowship — Wright's architectural school and professional office — and explores the site around the buildings. The Desert Hike tour focuses on the environmental aspects of building in the breathtaking Sonoran Desert, while the Night Lights on the Desert tour is the most dramatic of all, emphasizing Wright's use of translucency and illumination to make the forms of Taliesin West glow like heavenly bodies in a starry universe.


The idea of there being a new historic house seems like a contradiction in terms, but when a landmark is opened to the public for the first time — especially a design by Frank Lloyd Wright — it qualifies as a major event. One of Wright's lesser-known big houses is Auldbrass Plantation in Yemassee, South Carolina, about 50 miles southwest of Charleston. Begun in 1939, construction continued until Wright's death in 1959. It was bought in 1986 by Joel Silver, producer of such action blockbusters as "Die Hard" and "Beverly Hills Cop," as well as the upcoming "Hudsucker Proxy." A Wright enthusiast who restored and lives in the architect's 1924 Storer House in Hollywood, Silver had Auldbrass brought back to its original state by the master's architect grandson, Eric Lloyd Wright. Now the plantation can be visited two times a year.

Sited among tall oak trees dripping with Spanish moss on the edge of Clearwater Swamp, this low-lying complex of eccentrically shaped pavilions and pergolas shows how appropriately Wright could respond to any environment, even one previously unfamiliar to him. As always, he liked to incorporate stylized decorative motifs inspired by local plants, and here he used copper rainspouts to suggest Spanish moss. Informal, airy, and rambling, the lodge-style main house and its outbuildings give the impression of an elegant campsite, consciously deferring to nature but becoming one with it. Structures that Wright had initially planned but never executed are now being finished, making his vision of Auldbrass — a modern Southern plantation house without the Tara cliches — more complete than even he had experienced it.

Auldbrass Plantation can be visited on two different historic-house tours, each given once a year. For information write or call: Beaufort County Open Land Trust (Box 75, Beaufort, SC 29901; 803/521-2175) or Historic Beaufort Foundation (801 Bay St., Beaufort, SC 29901; 803/524-6334).


Though many great works of architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright are open to visitors, most of the structures are not large public buildings, and access is restricted to small groups for reasons of safety, comfort, and visibility. Some of those landmarks are so completely part of their natural surroundings — especially Fallingwater, the most famous of the houses — that they are open only during the months when their landscape settings can be fully appreciated. Thus it's best to phone ahead before planning a visit. Not listed are houses that are still privately owned and occupied.


24th St. and Missouri Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Guided tours can be arranged; advance reservations necessary.

State Hwy. 381
Mill Run, PA 15464
Guided tours year-round; weekends only during winter months.

951 Chicago Ave.
Oak Park, IL 60302
Guided tours year-round.

4808 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Guided tours year-round. Closed Monday.

1525 Howe St.
Racine, WI 53403
Free guided tours Tues.-Fri., reservations required.

5757 Woodlawn Ave.
Chicago, IL 60637
773/834-1361 or 773/834-1847
Guided tours year-round.

Fifth Ave. at 89th St.
New York, NY 10028
Closed Thursday.

Rte. 23
Spring Green,WI 53588
Guided tours during warm months.

114th St. and Cactus Rd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85261
Guided tours year-round.

875 Lake St.
Oak Park, IL 60301
Guided tours year-round.

33 E. Four Mile Rd.
Wind Point, WI 53402
Open year-round, when conferences are not in session. Closed Sat.-Sun.

FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT by Meryle Secrest (Knopf) — The best biographical overview for the general reader of the architect's tumultuous but ultimately triumphant life and career.
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT: ARCHITECT, edited by Terence Riley with Peter Reed (Museum of Modern Art) — The superb catalogue of the current MOMA retrospective, with essays by Anthony Alofsin, William Cronon, Kenneth Frampton, Terence Riley, and Gwendolyn Wright.
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT: THE MASTERWORKS, edited by David Larkin and Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer (Rizzoli) — Handsome color photographs of the architect's best-known buildings augmented with texts by Pfeiffer, archivist of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
THE FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT COMPANION by William Allin Storrer (University of Chicago Press) — An indispensable guide to all 470 of Wright's built works, including plans for each project; especially useful for those contemplating a visit.
WRIGHT SITES: A GUIDE TO FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT PUBLIC PLACES, edited by Arlene Sanderson (Preservation Press) — An abbreviated list of Wright buildings throughout the United States, limited to those open to the public.
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT'S FALLINGWATER: THE HOUSE AND ITS HISTORY by Donald Hoffmann (Dover) — Newly revised classic monograph by a distinguished Wright scholar tracing the making of this landmark.

An architecture critic and contributing editor of Vanity Fair, Filler wrote the introduction to Picturing Wright: An Album from Frank Lloyd Wright's Photographer by Pedro E. Guerrero, just out from Pomegranate Artbooks.

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