October 4, 2018 – Sun City, Arizona
This morning I visited with Sue and Alice before Sue had to leave to set up the Sun City Library’s booth at the Farmer’s Market. After Sue left, I got ready and headed out to Taliesin West. This was the winter camp for Frank Lloyd Wright, his 3d wife and 2 children. It is named after his home in Wisconsin which was Taliesin. It means shining brow.
Wright wanted a home where there was no one around, and he found the place in 1937. He was 70 when he began Taliesin West. He lived there during the winters until he died in 1959 at the age of 91. He started the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture by inviting “fellows” to help in the building of Taliesin and learn from the master architect himself the craft of designing buildings. He wanted to break the square box mold of the Victorian Age and produce buildings which look like they were a natural part of the nature around them. At any one time, during his years at Taliesin, he would have 25-65 fellows. They used Taliesin to experiment with various designs which might or might not work. That was part of the learning experience. Wright designed over 400 buildings which are scattered around the world. He lived in Japan for a time and designed the Imperial Hotel which opened in 1923. It is the most famous of the numerous buildings he designed while he lived there.
The tour of 6 of the buildings was interesting. The whole complex was built at the time when this area was a long way from any other civilization such as Phoenix which was a small backwater at the time. It could only be reached by dirt tracks (not worthy of being called roads). All of the construction materials had to be trucked over these tracks to the site. They bought redwood for beams because it was the cheapest they could get. All of the walls are built of rocks found on the site. They had one small cement mixer and one generator which ran the mixer. They used wood forms to place the rocks for the walls, and then they poured the mixture of desert sand and a little cement into the forms. After that had dried, they removed the forms, and there was the wall. The complex includes a kitchen, dining hall, private residence for the Wrights, 2 theaters, a drafting room and guest rooms. The fellows lived in tents scattered around the property, and that is still true today. When electricity came, it was installed in the main buildings.
Wright believed that an architect needed to know about the arts, and all the fellows were trained in one or more of the arts such as dance, music, drama, painting etc. Wright, himself, was an accomplished pianist. His wife was also talented and taught many of the art classes. She was also well versed in etiquette and proper protocol which she taught to all of the fellows. When there were important guests, the fellows would take turns being the service people while the rest of the fellows would smooze with the guests. This insured that they all learned the art of dealing with and selling themselves to the people who mattered.
There were regular entertainments in the larger theater and the smaller supper club theater. Many of these were done by the fellows, but after the area became more settled and there were good roads from Phoenix, outside groups such as little theater and symphonies played in the theaters.
Near the end of his life, Wright was called to testify at some trial. He was asked to state his name for the record which he did. When he was asked his occupation, he replied “World’s Greatest Architect”. When his wife asked him why he responded like that, he replied, “I was under oath, I had to tell the truth.” And, he could justify that because when a list of the 100 best buildings built between 1859 and 1959 was published, 14 of them were Wright’s – more than any other architect. And, the number 1 best building was Wright’s Falling Water.
After leaving Taliesin, I visited The Spire which is located in a shopping center not far from Taliesin. It is a scaled down version of the spire which topped the design for an Arizona state capital. When they needed to do a lot of repair on the current capital years ago, he thought they needed a new capital which reflected the nature and landscape of the area. He designed a magnificent building (pro bono) which would have been a vast improvement over what they have. Too bad the government turned it down and repaired the building they had.
I went to Tempe to see the Gammadge Auditorium. This was also designed by Wright. You can tell in one look at it that it is a Wright design.
The final stop for today was the First Christian Church. It is absolutely stunning. It reminds me some of the design he did for the state capital.
After that I headed back to Sue’s. I managed to stay off I-10 by taking surface streets as far north as I could. When I finally had to get on the 101 loop around Phoenix, I was far enough north that the traffic wasn’t too bad. However, when I got off the 101, I was in the wrong lane to make the right turn which I needed to make so I thought, well, I’ll just go around the block. While that sounded like a good idea, let’s just say that you can’t do that in Sun City. I got quite a tour before I was able to get back to where I needed to be!
When I got home, Sue was here. Alice, Sue and I indulged in wine and cheese before having supper. Sue is an excellent cook so we again had a great supper – this time chicken tetrazzini.