Friday, January 28, 2005

The Inn on Central Park in Mason City, IA

Mason City's Council has delivered on its end of the Park Inn restoration project.Now, it's up to the building owner and project developer, the Mason City Foundation, to step up its efforts.

A majority of council members agreed this week to grant a five-year extension to the Mason City Foundation for restoration of the inn on Central Park, the last standing hotel designed by world-famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

The foundation has spent the past year transitioning from the leadership of Carl Miller to David Vikturek, who has trimmed staff and expenses at the foundation, which also owns and operates The Music Man Square.

At least one council member favored a shorter leash, but the majority agreed to the full five years requested by the foundation.Councilman Jeffrey Marsters said he'll insist on annual or semi-annual reports progress reports.We think the public deserves at least that.

The council has shown its trust in the foundation's ability to get the job done. Now the foundation — which has raised just $1.2 million of the more than $9 million estimated cost of the project — should make public its timeline and, if it hasn't done so already, establish a progressive plan to complete the project. Doing so would perhaps even win over some doubters.

A lot of volunteer effort is going into the project, and that's fine to a point. But it won't be enough.Council members know that, and they want the foundation's steering and fund-raising committees expanded.

Vikturek addressed that issue, suggesting a Chamber of Commerce representative and a Mason City Downtown Association member be added to the steering committee. That's a good start, but a wider representation may be needed. Raising nearly $9 million to finish this essential project will take some intense fund-raising efforts.

There is no question this project must be finished; the historical significance of the building makes it so. Inclusion of the adjacent City National Bank building would seem to be a natural, too, but first things first.The city has given the foundation the five years it wanted. Now, the foundation must step up its efforts, and let citizens know how it plans to do so

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Melissa Galt visits the Arizona Biltmore

If he were still alive, Frank Lloyd Wright probably would be pleased with how the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa looks today.

That's what the famous architect's great-granddaughter thinks, anyway. Melissa Galt, an Atlanta lifestyle designer and freelance writer, spent the weekend at the Phoenix resort, whose design was influenced by Wright."I've always thought the property was underrated . . . (and) not getting its share of PR and press," said Galt, who was making her first visit to the Biltmore in 20 years to research stories she plans to write about the resort's food, architecture and setting.

She is hoping to educate Southeastern readers who associate the Biltmore with George W. Vanderbilt's 250-room Biltmore Estate in the mountains of Asheville, N.C.

Galt, 43, praised the Arizona Biltmore's building, landscaping, food and service. But she said her great-grandfather probably would take exception to the art in the lobby."It just goes head to head with the architecture; the architecture is the art in this building," Galt said.

She remembers hearing stories about Wright as she grew up, but "until he popped up in my design textbooks, I didn't know he was that important." Wright died in 1959 and Galt was born in 1961.

While she appreciates Wright's "brilliant" architecture, she doesn't shy away from commenting on his faults."He was a serious womanizer," she said. "On a personal level, he was very challenging

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Racine class designed around Wright's work

Teacher Susan Anderson Ford knew it was the Wright time for a lesson on architecture.

Anderson Ford, who teaches fifth grade at Roosevelt Elementary School, was among more than three dozen Racine Unified School District teachers who adopted a series of lessons on Frank Lloyd Wright -- considered by many to be America's greatest architect -- and his contributions to Racine.

Jane Barbian, Racine Unified's elementary reading/language arts coordinator, wrote the curriculum. Anderson Ford said her students connected with the material and Wright's presence in community. One girl brought in a copy of "This Old House" and spoke excitedly about the cover story on restoring a Frank Lloyd Wright home.

"This little girl's going home talking about it with her family," Anderson Ford said. "Creativity and thinking outside the box is important to me. And also making this connection with the community, because Frank Lloyd Wright is such a landmark and he's so local and there are so many people who aren't aware of the many things he's done here."

Wright's works include several houses, including the Hardy House on Main Street and the SC Johnson administration building, which opened in 1939.

Students didn't just sit through lectures on Wright. One day, Anderson Ford's students tried their hand at designing chairs. Wright designed furniture for some of his buildings, including a failed attempt at a three-legged chair for the SC Johnson administration building. After employees complained the chairs easily tipped over, Wright redesigned the chairs and added a fourth leg.

The student ideas for chairs were creative, featuring built-in television screens, speakers and aquariums. Later in the week, students moved into creating art glass windows after a brief study of Wright's works, which feature triangles, squares and rectangles. Students first sketched designs on paper and then used colored markers and transparency paper for their finished "art glass," which was hung on the classroom windows. Micaela Kelley, 11, created a design with a colorful lily. "I picked it because I like flowers," she said. She also picked the design to emulate some of Wright's work. "I think he would have picked some of these because he liked nature and the outdoors and he liked to bring them indoors," she said.

The following week, Anderson Ford's students took part in the culminating activity of the Wright lesson: a trip to SC Johnson for a short video about Wright in Racine and a tour of the Great Workroom. The lessons from the classroom took on different meaning when they appeared on a big screen and then in person. "It was all pretty cool," said 10-year-old Jake Bissen. "I like the glass tubes." The administration building uses 43 miles of glass tubing for both natural and artificial light.

Near the end of the tour, all of the students crowded around a red tile upon which Wright had left his initials on the SC Johnson building. Earlier in the week, parent-helper Sue Bolter reminded Anderson Ford's class to sign their chair drawings.

"Who knows? They might put it in an archive," Bolter said. "I would like to think there's a budding architect in the room."

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Wright in Japan Centennial Festival

A festival celebrating the influence of Japanese art and architecture on Frank Lloyd Wright's work as well as his contributions to the architecture of Japan is under way at Unity Temple in west suburban Oak Park.

"Wright's visit to Japan in 1905 is particularly significant for Unity Temple, since he began designing Unity Temple here in Oak Park as soon as he returned," said Emily Roth, program manager of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation.

The event runs through April 16 and features exhibits, lectures and a documentary film. The renowned architect (1867-1959) left an international legacy that includes a collection of designs for masterpiece buildings and decorative arts.

Unity Temple is at 875 Lake. For a complete schedule of events and more information, call (708) 383-8873 or visit

Here are some of the upcoming festival highlights:

*2 p.m., Saturday, " Frank Lloyd Wright and the Light of Japan": Rolf Achilles, a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and curator of Smith Museum of Stained Glass at Navy Pier, will explore the relationship between Japan and Wright's designs for art glass, windows and lamps. All lectures are free with general admission to the Unity Temple Tour Program, $7 for adults, $5 for youths and seniors. Arrive by 1 p.m. for a comprehensive tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's first public building.

*2 p.m., Jan. 29, "The Hooden: The Japanese Pavilion at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893": David Sokol, director of Museum Studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago, will discuss the design, construction and influence of the Hooden -- or Phoenix Hall -- including new information on the rarely seen Ra-ma, a group of exquisitely carved panels.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Wright's living quarters on view at Taliesin West

For the first time, Taliesin West tours take visitors into Frank Lloyd Wright's private living quarters at the desert campus he and his apprentices built in Scottsdale beginning in 1937.

The renowned American architect created the complex in the McDowell Mountain foothills as a winter location for his Wisconsin architecture school.

The structural restoration and re-creation of the interior and furnishings return the bedroom, living space and work area to what they were like during Wright's life.

Taliesin West offers a variety of tours of the complex; the 60-minute ``Panorama Tour'' does not include the private quarters. A special jazz evening Feb. 18 includes a tour, cocktails and a concert with Bob Ravenscroft in the Music Pavilion.

Details: (480) 860-2700,

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Frank Lloyd Wright Homes a Tough Sell

By JAMES PRICHARD Associated Press

OKEMOS, Mich. - Imagine having a dream home in a private, peaceful, bucolic setting - and being unable to sell it because it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Some owners of one-of-a-kind houses conceived by the iconic architect are discovering it's not easy selling them in an era when cathedral ceilings and easy commutes are on the wish lists of many prospective purchasers.

But the sellers are also concerned about finding the right Wright buyers - ones who will cherish, not demolish, his creations.

After pouring tens of thousands of dollars into buying, repairing and renovating her Wright-designed house, Arlene Moran hasn't received any serious offers despite its pedigree. She's asking $375,000 for the three-bedroom home in Galesburg, about halfway between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.

"It's going on two years and I'm desperate," said Moran, 70. "I refuse to lower the price. I put in $180,000 (worth) of restoration. I would like to have my money back." But, Moran said, "I can't have just anybody" buy it. She considers her home, which she never has lived in, a work of art.

Don Schaberg is ready to sell the Okemos house he and his late wife commissioned Wright to design, and where they lived happily for four decades. Schaberg realizes it won't be easy finding someone willing to spend $1.6 million for a 3,800-square-foot ranch without a garage, but also said he's under no real pressure to sell and doubts he will come down much on his price.

"I'm just certain the value is going to increase," he said, calling the house and its six acres southeast of Lansing "the closest thing to heaven on earth." "Everybody thinks it's one of the warmest and most peaceful places they've ever been in," Schaberg said of the window-filled ranch that overlooks a tree-lined meadow.

Schaberg first contacted Wright in 1949 and construction was completed in 1958, a year before Wright's death. It was done during Wright's "usonian" period, when the architect, in his final years, focused on more modest homes for families on a budget.

Schaberg said his ideal buyer would be interested in obtaining "one of Mr. Wright's last, practical, family houses," while fully appreciating it as a work of modern art.

Susan Sweetow, a real estate agent in Scottsdale, Ariz., who for two years worked as a tour guide at Taliesin West, Wright's sprawling, 600-acre winter home and work campus near Scottsdale, said "the market is narrow for his homes and limited to people who appreciate a work of art and a piece of history. It's important the market be geared toward that target market."

She said modern home buyers want big garages, large kitchens and spacious bathrooms - features not generally found in Wright's usonian homes. "You have to find the right buyer who will appreciate the qualities that were in his homes," Sweetow said.

Moran's southwestern Michigan home is part of a 72-acre association featuring four Wright-designed homes and one designed by a Wright apprentice. A unique feature shared by the five houses is that each sits on one circular acre of land, with the remaining property jointly owned by the members of the association.

The retired high school art instructor said no matter how enticing an offer she may receive, she would not sell to someone who would demolish the home. Moran, who lives in the Chicago area, has tried advertising in local newspapers and in the Chicago Tribune. She has listed it for sale on the Web site of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.

The Chicago-based group is dedicated to preserving the architect's 400-plus structures that still stand. The group was caught off guard weeks ago when a dilapidated Wright cottage in Grand Beach, on Lake Michigan near the Indiana border, was purchased and razed by its new owners to make way for a new home.

Ron Scherubel, the conservancy's executive director, said that as in other real estate transactions, there are a few important basics to keep in mind when buying or selling Wright homes: price, location and condition.

While many of the grand homes from Wright's "prairie" period of the early 20th century were built in or near large cities, his smaller usonian homes - such as those owned by Schaberg and Moran - often ended up in remote rural settings, which was part of the appeal.

"Many of these are still located in nice, scenic, country areas but they're not convenient for today's buyer who has to work in the city," Scherubel said.

Ken Goldberg, a real estate agent trying to sell one of Wright's prairie homes built on Chicago's north side, said he expects a developer to purchase the 90-year-old structure. The asking price for the well-maintained house, which has been on the market for about six months, recently dropped from $2.5 million to $1.9 million.

Its view of Lake Michigan shrank over the years as taller buildings went up around it, but the property includes two adjacent lots that offer room to build. "We're appealing not only to the individual owner but somebody that's a developer, an investor that could build townhouses adjacent to it or condominiums adjacent to it," he said. "It's really a multiple-use home. It's more than just something for your family to own and live in."

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