For the past 130 years, Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel has witnessed the city’s changing landscape, Japan’s emergence into a tourism hotbed and makeovers by several architects. Of the final group, one name stands above: the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who 100 years ago this month completed his acclaimed version of the famed hotel.
"From 1913 to 1922, Wright visited and stayed in Japan intermittently for the renewal of the Imperial Hotel as well as for his collection of Japanese art, including ukiyo-e prints," says Imperial Hotel Tokyo Public Relations Manager Iori Hamada.
In 1909, a New York-based Japanese antique dealer, Aisaku Hayashi, became the first general manager of the hotel. From introducing new guest services to the renovation of the deteriorating wooden structure, Hayashi played a pivotal role in the Imperial Hotel’s history. When it came time to begin work on the renovation, Hayashi was also instrumental in bringing in Wright, who he knew from the architect's collection of Japanese woodblock prints.
“In 1916, Hayashi traveled to the United States and entered into a memorandum of agreement that awarded the Imperial Hotel commission to Wright,” says Hamada.
"Wright considered the Imperial Hotel one of his most significant commissions,” explains architectural historian and Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation curator Dr. Jennifer Grey. “It was a major public building and his first international project, inaugurating his global practice, and it was an engineering achievement, surviving the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, proving he could handle jobs of such complexity.
“The Imperial Hotel commission was, in many ways, the capstone of Wright's ongoing interest in Japanese culture."
"When Wright designed the second Imperial Hotel, he endeavored to express the unusual mixture of East and West that increasingly characterized Tokyo in the early 20th century,” Grey says. “The hotel predominantly served international guests, but its historic site across from the Imperial Palace also required sensitivity to Japanese traditions. Wright used Oya stone, a volcanic rock unique to the region (around Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture), in the ornamentation throughout the hotel, making a direct connection to Japanese culture, but he also used masonry construction rather than traditional wood craftsmanship.
“The exuberant ornamentation has been understood in different ways in its relationship to Japanese culture," says Grey. "The plan of the hotel is symmetrical and axial, almost classical, but its forms are modern and abstract. The interior courtyards are designed as Japanese gardens, but the hotel also boasted modern dining and entertainment spaces.”
"The Wright building fulfilled its function as a beacon of cultural exchange,” Hamada says. “It was more than just a lodging facility.”
But with such a drastic change of aesthetics, how did its loyal guests react to Wright's design? Grey says that the initial reaction seems to have been complicated due to the slow construction process caused by both technical and political issues related to the budget and design.
"However, when the (hotel) survived the Great Kanto Earthquake relatively unscathed, popular opinion was generally favorable, and Wright's Imperial Hotel was, like its predecessor, popular with locals and foreigners alike.”
Due to wartime damages and a postwar increase in lodgers that necessitated a greater number of guest rooms, Wright’s design saw its end in February 1968. Today, the Wright-designed Imperial Hotel's central entrance is located at the Meiji Mura Open Air Museum in Aichi Prefecture. Aside from the relocated facade, the third-generation Imperial Hotel's Old Imperial Bar still features Wright's mural and Oya stone relief above the fireplace, and the bar counter wall showcases terra cotta that was used during the initial construction.
In March 2021, the hotel announced plans to embark on the fourth renovation of the Imperial Hotel. Moving on from a Wright design made international headlines and raised a few eyebrows, but the architect chosen for the project — Paris-based Tsuyoshi Tane of Atelier Tsuyoshi Tane Architects — states that the goal is not to modernize but to regain the legacy of its origin.
Of course, you can also learn more about the remarkable history of Wright's Imperial Hotel in the newest Journal of Organic Architecture + Design available to order here.
For the lover of American modernism, perhaps the only thing better than one Frank Lloyd Wright house coming on the market is two Frank Lloyd Wright houses coming on the market. As reported by Craine’s Chicago Business, a Dutch couple currently living in Toronto are planning to list two Usonian homes they own in a single sale. The properties are located near Kalamazoo, Michigan, in an exclusive neighborhood known as The Acres, which is home to only five houses—four of which were designed by Wright.
According to Craine’s, the couple purchased their first home in the neighborhood, known as the Samuel and Dorothy Eppstein House, in 2016 while looking for an interesting weekend getaway. They took precise care in restoring the property to its original state and enjoyed the process so much that they scooped up the home next door, known as the Eric and Pat Pratt House, when it became available a few years later. Both homes feature long in-line floor plans and are made from concrete blocks and mahogany. Inside, the properties feature many classic Wright details including his signature red floors, ample windows, and wood built-ins. The Pratt House also includes a tall central mass made from textile blocks, which the owners said “light up like lanterns from within.” Each home is about 2,200 square feet.
The Acres, also known as Galesburg Country Homes, was devised by a group of scientists from the Upjohn pharmaceutical company, who purchased the land in 1947 and approached Wright to design a collection of community homes. The famed architected agreed and sketched out 21 houses on round one-acre sites. Ultimately, only four of the properties were built, and a fifth home on the land was designed by a Taliesin fellow, Francis “Will” Willsey. In 2004, the neighborhood was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The pair of homes are listed together for $4.5 million. According to Craine’s, the couple purchased each one for about $400,000, though put in much more for the renovation costs, which included updating all the appliances and adding new roofs. The price may be enticing for some—after all, a single Wright home in California is currently on the market for $3.825 million. Another one in Connecticut is asking $8 million, though it is significantly bigger, with 7,000 square feet.
The two Acre homes for sale are direct neighbors, though because of the large plot sizes, are separated by about two acres of land. According to the current owners, the homes could make a good vacation retreat for an extended family, offering a total of five bedrooms and two kitchens. The sale is represented by Victoria Krause Schutte of @Properties Christie’s International Real Estate and Fred Taber of Jaqua Realtors.
“These homes are restored with an eye for detail, and exactly as they were designed to be – they are art pieces as much as they are living spaces,” Schutte said in a statement. “This is an incredibly unique opportunity to own a piece of architectural history and become a custodian of Frank Lloyd Wright’s extraordinary vision.”
The Kalo Foundation invites everyone to peek into the history of architecture at a tour offering open houses and notable historic places in Park Ridge from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 1. A limited number of tickets will be sold.
Beginning Sept. 1, tickets can be purchased online at www.kalofoundation.org and in person with cash or check only at Maine Township Town Hall, 1700 Ballard Rd., Park Ridge, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Visitors will “time-travel” through the doors of four significant places: the Raffle House, a Cedar Court cottage designed by internationally known architect Barry Byrne, the home and studio of world renowned artist Alfonso Iannelli, and the building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr. as a church.
At Kalo’s headquarters in the Iannelli Studios, visitors will walk through the rooms occupied by artists who enhanced Park Ridge and the world. Original floorboards and nails in the upstairs go back 140-150 years. The house and studio (originally a blacksmith shop and home), were part of the Penny and Meacham brickyard, and connected by the Iannellis in 1919.
Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr.’s Good Shepherd Church now serves the community as the Maine Township Town Hall. Visitors will see the tend-setting ascending lines of the central space and understand how it integrates the built space with the landscape.
Graycliff is partnering with the Niagara Frontier Orchid Society (NFOS) to host a live plant exhibition inside the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed main house on Oct 7-9, 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm! Indigenous Peoples’ Day Weekend, is your chance to get inside the first floor of the main house on a self-guided tour to view the Orchid Show.
This installation of live plants ties in well with Graycliff’s history as the property was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for Isabelle Martin, an avid lover of flowers. Isabelle’s fondness for flowers is reflected in both the design of the main house (there is a special sink that supported her floral arranging hobby), and the design of the gardens and grounds, which were detailed by landscape design architect Ellen Biddle Shipman.
The Racine Heritage Museum will welcome Tim Samuelson to the Racine Heritage Museum, 701 Main St., in Downtown Racine, Wisconsin, on Sept. 20 for its annual meeting.
Samuelson is the Cultural Historian Emeritus of the City of Chicago and will serve as the guest speaker at the event.
The annual meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. and will conclude at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The event is free and open to the public. Please note that the Racine Heritage Museum is not ADA-accessible.
The museum’s latest exhibit, “Wright Before the ‘Lloyd,'” which was curated by Samuelson, features several pieces from Wright.
Samuelson will offer insights into the famous architect before he designed well-known structures in the area such as Wingspread and the Johnson Wax Administration building. He will also share stories of the work he has accomplished throughout his career to salvage and collect what remains of Frank Lloyd Wright’s earliest works.
According to the RHM, “Wright Before the ‘Lloyd'” showcases the man who would become Frank Lloyd Wright and the personal and professional relationships that shaped him at a time when he was known simply as Frank L. Wright. Architectural salvage pieces, drawings and images from Samuelson’s collection are featured in this exhibit that runs through December 2024.