Interested in becoming a steward of a Wright-designed Usonian in Iowa? You're in luck! The Alsop House, designed in 1947 and completed in 1951, one of only seven Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian houses in Iowa, is now offered for sale.
In 1947, two young families from the small Iowa town of Oskaloosa approached Frank Lloyd Wright asking if he might consider designing houses for them. Wright agreed, resulting in the creation of the Carroll Alsop house and the neighboring Lamberson house. Both were overseen by apprentice John deKoven Hill, and constructed by builder Jim De Reus.
The more spacious of the two, the Alsop House features four bedrooms in 2300 square feet, nestled into the side of a South and East facing hillside, maximizing views and solar gain. The enclosed space is determined by a simple L-shaped plan built around an atypical 5’ square module. Only the primary bedroom (featuring a second fireplace) deviates from the rectilinear design. The expansive and open living/dining area is divided by a dramatic cantilevered fireplace that is surrounded by glass walls, rather than positioned near the workspace masonry core as seen in most Usonian houses. The material palette consists of red brick, Cherokee-red tinted concrete floors, red tidewater cypress board and sunk batten walls, and plaster ceilings. Another dramatic feature is its large cantilevered carport. Though designed in the 1940s, this is a house that in countless ways anticipates Wright’s later ‘50s works and midcentury modernism.
Included in the sale is the Wright-designed furniture original to the house: three modular dining tables, eight dining/side chairs, and four square tables, all in fine vintage condition with lovely patina. In the 1980s, the original in floor heating was converted to forced air, and AC was added. At the same time, the original wood windows were replaced with the current white windows. A buyer planning a thorough restoration would want to consider the project of returning the windows to Wright’s specifications.
The Alsop House is being offered as a private sale and is not formally listed on the market. All offers will be reviewed – property to be sold as-is. Visit The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy's "Wright on the Market" listings page to learn more and put in an offer.
A new book by Joseph M. Siry offers a new analysis of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Siry puts the mechanical engineering of four of Wright’s landmark buildings – the Larkin Building, the SC Johnson Administration Building and Research Tower, and the Rogers Lacy Hotel – in a broader context of American architecture.
Siry, who teaches art history at Wesleyan University, has just published his fifth book, Air-Conditioning in Modern American Architecture, 1890-1970 (University Park: The Penn State University Press;, 2021). His previous Wright books are Beth Sholom Synagogue: Frank Lloyd Wright and Modern Religious Architecture (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012) and Unity Temple – Frank Lloyd Wright and Architecture for Liberal Religion (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996). Read Mark Hertzberg's review of this book by clicking here.
Explore another Frank Lloyd Wright design that never came to be, through its history and the incomparable "photorealistic renderings" of David Romero. This design was for a sports center and resort commissioned by a wealthy eccentric businessman, Huntington Hartford, and unfortunately this incredible design, destined for the Hollywood Hills, was never built.
Huntington Hartford was born into money. His grandfather George Huntington Hartford, for whom he was named, founded the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, which came to be known as A&P, the most successful grocery retailer of its time. His grandfather died when “Hunt,” as he was known, was six, leaving him an annual income of $1.5 million beginning in 1917. Hartford used his fortune throughout his lifetime as a collector of sorts: he collected art, real estate, naming rights, and, most of all, people. In 1947, when he decided to develop his Beverly Hills estate into a resort and sports center for the rich and famous, he sought to add “The World’s Greatest Architect” to his collection.
The dramatic Frank Lloyd Wright design for the Sports Club was inspired by a somber memorial built outside of the Garden Room, the personal living room at Taliesin West in Arizona. After the Wrights’ pregnant daughter Svetlana and her son Daniel were killed in an automobile accident in 1946, Wright designed the memorial consisting of three steel disks placed atop the points of a triangular pedestal. He always saw the memorial, still on display at Taliesin West today, as an architectural work, and used it as the inspiration for the Sports Club.
This otherworldly project was never to be. As he did throughout his life, when his interest met a challenge, Huntington Hartford moved on. In this case, the challenge came from his Hollywood neighbors who protested the resort, and a community board that refused to grant him a zoning variance. Read the entire article and scroll through David Romero’s “Photorealistic Renderings” of the Huntington Hartford Play Resort and Sports Club by clicking here.
The next owner of the Kaufmann House in Palm Springs will need $20 million and, as previous stewards attest, a passion for preservation.
Many preservationists say we owe a great debt of gratitude to Nelda and Joe Linsk. Without them, the Kaufmann house, architect Richard Neutra’s 1946 desert masterpiece built for department store heir and philanthropist Edgar Kaufmann, would no longer exist except in the black-and-white photographs taken by Julius Shulman. The glass, steel, and wood creation that architect, historian, and author Alan Hess calls “one of the half dozen most important modern houses in the world” would probably have gone the way of the wrecking ball if Neutra and the Kaufmanns hadn’t sited it so far out of town. Brent Harris, who has owned the home since 1993, points out that at the time the Linsks bought the home, the preservation of important residential architecture was almost nonexistent.
Hess says the brilliance of Neutra’s work was that “it was a steel and glass house that used those materials so expressively, but it was also the setting. It was the contrast between those ultra-modern, man-made materials and then the spectacular, rugged raw nature of this mountain rising behind. It symbolized that mankind could [not only] live in a desert, but live in a beautiful way, make the desert bloom. The desert became habitable because of modern technology like steel and glass.
Realizing the need to make changes in order to extend the home's habitability, the Linsks hired Architect William Cody. Nelda recounted, "When Neutra came down one day to visit us … he loved what Cody did. He said, ‘I approve. I love it." Eventually, Nelda and Joe tired of the maintenance and staffing required to care for the place. “We wanted to be able to travel,” she says. “We wanted something low maintenance that we could just lock up and go.”
Having acquired her real estate license and a desk at Edie Adams Realty, Nelda brokered a deal with San Diego Chargers owner Eugene Klein. When Klein decided to sell, she made the deal with Barry Manilow to purchase it. When Manilow decided to move on, she sold the property to Brent and Beth Harris.
Brent is an investment manager and his former wife, Beth, is an architect and preservationist. Together and separately, they have owned the property for 27 years. Last October, he quietly listed the property with Gerard Bisignano of Vista Sotheby’s. Bisignano, who has years of experience brokering architecturally significant properties, says he increased exposure of the house since the holidays and attracted the attention of high-profile, highly qualified, architecture-savvy buyers. If it sells for the asking price, it will almost double the highest amount paid for a property in Palm Springs: $13 million for Bob Hope’s John Lautner-designed Southridge house.
It is impossible to describe the impact of the Harris’ ownership of the Kaufmann house, both in terms of its restoration and preservation as well as its impact economically and culturally for Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley. Harris says that when he and Beth first looked at the property in 1990, they weren’t particularly interested in acquiring a desert house; they were more architectural tourists. At the time, Beth was studying for her doctorate in architecture at University of California, Los Angeles under Thomas Hines, who wrote the definitive biography of Richard Neutra, according to Hess.
“I didn’t buy it for a year and a half,” Harris says. “It wasn’t until really digging into the Neutra files at UCLA, after seeing it again in February ’92, that [we realized] the full extent of what it was.” The Harrises studied rarely seen photographs, as well as Neutra’s meticulously drawn plans. They finally decided to buy the house, but as Harris quickly points out, that didn’t include plans for a five-year restoration. After living in the house for a while, the Harrises continued their research, which led them to Shulman. The photographer, then in his 80s, was still living in his Raphael Soriano house in the Hollywood Hills. “He had all these pictures from every possible angle, and all well done, of the house that showed you how to put it back together,” Brent says. “It just kind of stoked the mind.”
So much so that the Harrises contacted the Santa Monica architectural firm Marmol Radziner, which had restored Neutra’s Kun residence. “After we hired Marmol Radziner, there was more of the possibility of doing this crazy project. I say crazy because modernism was largely unknown. Palm Springs sunk to a sad place in the early ’90s. No one was buying properties, let alone restoring a modern house. Modern houses are kind of meant to be used, enjoyed, and disposed of.”
The house’s architectural and historical significance raises an interesting question: Should the property continue to pass through private hands or would it be better preserved for future generations if it was bought by an institution with the means to purchase and maintain it? Palm Springs Art Museum owns the iconic Frey House II, after all. Janice Lyle, director at Sunnylands Center & Gardens and the art museum’s former executive director, says, “When I look at preservation, I would say that there are many appropriate ways to preserve modern architecture, and they do not all push you in the direction of public ownership. I think that [the Kaufmann] house actually can thrive as a lived-in house. In my personal opinion, the best way to save the house is to have individuals who are completely committed to the idea of the importance of the house and to keep it alive by living in it.”
Brent Harris agrees. For almost three decades, he’s cared for one of the Coachella Valley’s greatest treasures, and now, he says, “It’s time for a new steward.” Read the entire article and see the photos here.
Music will fill the grounds of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Graycliff estate come early June. The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is teaming up with Graycliff for an outdoor concert benefiting both organizations.
The in-person June 3 event will feature a chamber group of BPO musicians. The performance will happen on the lakeside of Graycliff’s main house. Tickets cost $150 or $125 for BPO 2020-2021 season subscribers and Graycliff members.
The cost of admission includes admission, wine/beer, a gourmet snack box by Osteria 166, a pair of Graycliff tour coupons and a newly released BPO concert CD. Attendees will have access to a cocktail hour, one-hour concert and time for a self-guided twilight tour of the outside grounds at Graycliff. More here.