Saturday, October 15, 2011

DAY TRIP--Fallingwater

(this photo is from the Wikipedia page on Fallingwater--all the others were ones I took during our day trip)

Our next day trip covered a few more miles than the one to Hawk Mountain.  We decided to go to Fallingwater, a place neither of us had ever seen.  Fittingly, this lovely house (but, oh, so much more than a house) is a U.S. National Historic Landmark, as well as being on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

The day began with most unpromising weather--yet another day of rain.  We drove across the PA Turnpike in a pouring rain that made driving anything but a delight.

Just as we reached Fallingwater, the clouds began to clear and snippets of sunshine peaked from behind the remaining clouds that were reluctant to leave.

Autumn has finally arrived--the leaves were not quite as bright as I had hoped.  Autumn is my favorite time of year--and I look forward to the splashy displays of vermilion, yellow, and orange.  There is just enough color now to satisfy me.

After checking in at the Visitors' Center, we waited for our tour group number to be called.  Then we walked down a crunching gravel path to Fallingwater.  

No photographs are permitted inside the house, so I had to content myself with views from the outside.  

A little history is in order.  Anyone who grew up in western Pennsylvania knows the name Kaufmann's Department Store.  For decades, this department store was the height of upscale shopping.  This downtown Pittsburgh store was the kind of place people got dressed up to visit.  Maybe you remember the days when department stores had ladies with gloves operating the elevators.  Kaufmann's was that kind of place.

By the time Edgar Kaufmann, Sr. was running the store, the Kaufmann family had a country retreat location on Bear Run, some 76 plus miles southeast of Pittsburgh.  They wanted to have a house built on the location.  Through various contacts, Edgar Kaufmann engaged the services of Frank Lloyd Wright.  He fully expected that Wright would design a house that would face the lovely view of the waterfalls.  Imagine his surprise when Wright's design called for the house to be built OVER the waterfalls.

What followed is a well-known story of twists and turns in the building process.  Not only was the location a surprise, but the design itself was revolutionary.  Wright called for cantilevered reinforced concrete balconies  that were the primary features of the house extending over the waterfalls.  The conversation flowed back and forth between Kaufmann and Wright.  Some of the controversy swirled around whether or not Wright's design could, in fact, be built.  Of course, eventually it was. 

When Kaufmann Senior died, his son Edgar Kaufmann, jr. (who, for some reason, insisted on the lower case j for jr.) inherited some of his father's wealth along with Fallingwater.  The son Edgar was an only child--and, as it happened, he was also gay.  He never married, though he did have a long term partner.  Since Edgar, fils, was childless, he made plans for Fallingwater to be deeded to Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which occurred in 1963.

The house was, in many ways, a glorious failure.  While it was being built, the soundness of design was the subject of constant communication between Wright and Kaufmann, Sr.  Eventually, during the 1990s, the house had to be reconstructed to shore up the cantilevers.  The last work, which finally appears to resolved the structural problems, was done in 2002.

While the house was being built, Edgar jr. joined the fray, defending Wright.  It is telling--at least to me--that when Edgar jr. was selecting a career, he eschewed retail altogether, having no interest in the life of running a chain of department stores.  His passion?  Art.  He studied during the 1920s  at the School for Arts and Crafts at the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna.     He also was a residence apprentice in architecture at Wright's Taliesen East school in the mid 1930s.

Edgar jr. went on to become the  Director of the Industrial Design Department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  He also authored a book on Frank Lloyd Wright.

What a day trip.  Not sure if we have energy for another such trip this autumn, but if we do, I will surely let you know.


Unknown said...

What an amazing trip -- Fallingwater is my favorite Wright house. As the wife of an architect, I know a fair amount about architecture and FLW is Greg's favorite of all architects. I'd love to get out there and see it in person at some point. There is a Lego kit to build your own Fallingwater!

Anvilcloud said...

That's quite the place and description of it. For a brieh while toward the end I thought that J Edgar H was in the mix till I gave my head a shake and read Edgar jr not J Edgar.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

As soon as saw your first photo I recognized it was a Frank Lloyd Wright house. I have been interested in him for a number of years. He has Unitarian connections. He built the Church in Oak Park, Il. and the one in Madison Wisconsin. He also built the building that houses our theological school in Chicago. I once preached in the Unity Church in Oak Park which I enjoyed thoroughly.

What a lovely location this historic site is. I enjoy the history lesson. I do remember the great department stores. The two in Toronto are gone now, Eatons and Simpsons. There was a time before fast food joints and I remember going to the lovely restaurant in Eatons for afternoon tea with my mother. It was an elegant civilized place.

NCmountainwoman said...

The house is quite interesting. Many people visit Frank Lloyd's home "Taliesin" in Spring Green, WI and there are several smaller houses he designed in metro Milwaukee. I would never have admitted it when I lived in WI and I am still ashamed to admit it, but I really don't care for his architecture. The subject and the man are both fascinating, but I haven't seen one Lloyd home I would want to live within.

Ruth said...

I enjoyed your two day trips. I love autumn too and my only complaint is that the evenings are too short. Pennsylvania has plenty of trees and there must be some spectacular colour.

Anonymous said...

I have seen some of Wright's homes in Wisconsin, but didn't know about this one. WOW!! It's quite spectacular, but gosh, like many other houses, he sure didn't give any thought to the maintenance costs--in labor and money-- did he?!

I'd love to see this one from the inside out. Sorry they wouldn't allow photos inside!

Ginnie said...

Of course I've know of the house and some of the background but your pictures and description brought it all alive to me.
Thanks so much.

justin said...

coach holidays
I experienced your two day visits. I love fall too and my only issue is that the times are too short. California has a lot of plants and there must be some stunning color.