May 7, 2019 2 pm. We are at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art touring an exhibit “The Sea Ranch.” The exhibit ends on June 2, so if you are a fan of architecture and California modernism this exhibit is worth seeing.
Sea Ranch is a development on the California Coast about 100 miles north of San Francisco. Architect and planner Al Boeke envisioned a community that would preserve the area’s natural beauty. Boeke hired landscape architect Lawrence Halprin to create the master plan which grew to encompass 10 miles of the Sonoma County coastline. The development is considered a beacon of modernism on the Northern California coast. The first building was completed in 1965 and the development was envisioned as a progressive, inclusive community, guided by the idealistic principles of good design, economy of space, and harmony with the natural environment.
The design guidelines require that the buildings become part of the landscape. Exteriors are unpainted wood or muted stains and the roofs lack overhanging eaves.
We found the exhibit to be quite interesting with many photos and drawings and some of Lawrence Halprin’s original notes and photos by Morley Baer .
At the moment there are some 1800 homes in the development with many of them serving as vacation rentals.
On October 2 we arrived in Chicago to start our “Chasing Frank Lloyd Wright” tour. We spent our first few days in Oak Park, on foot. We took Uber from the Airport to our B&B, staying at an AirBnB listed as “Victorian Gem in Heart of FLW District,” on the corner of Forest Ave and Superior. A lovely place to stay and close to many FLW houses. There are about two dozen of Wright’s houses within walking distance. We managed to visit a few. First and foremost is Wright’s house on the corner of Forest and Chicago, a block from where we were staying. Build in 1889.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s House in Oak Park.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park house.
Dining room. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park house.
Bedroom detail. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park house.
Bedroom. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park house.
Bath. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park house.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park house.
We visited this house as part of a tour offered through the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Photos were permitted on the tour, so I used my little Sony RX100 to capture some handheld images. Next door to the house is Wright’s studio, built in 1897.
And a short walk around town will take you to a number of Wright designed houses. These houses are all privately owned and not open for tours, although you can walk the neighborhood to view them and you can take photos from the sidewalk.
Frank W. Thomas House.
Arthur Heurtley House
Nathan G. Moore House. 1895. Remodeled 1920
Edward R. Hills House. 1906. (Originally build in 1876, relocated and remodeled by FLW in 1906.
Laura Gale House. 1909.
Robert P. Parker House. 1892.
The Parker house, built in 1892, is one of Wright’s “bootleg” homes, one of several commissions Wright took under the table while working for Sullivan & Adler. Sullivan eventually dismissed Wright for his transgressions.
If you happen to have the opportunity to visit Oak Park and you are looking for a self-guided tour check our this link on Curbed. There are also a few phone apps you can use. A search on the iPhone comes up with a Oak Park walking tour with the title “Frank Lloyd Wright Tour.” I didn’t discover this until recently, but I’d certainly give it a try. We used a printed guide we found in our room at our Airbnb. There’s also an app called the “Wright Guide,” which includes a comprehensive list of FLW projects. A must for any Frank Lloyd Wright Fan.
And of course there is the Unity Temple which is one of Wright’s most famous projects; a ten minute walk from Frank Lloyd Wright’s house. Keep in mind this is a operating place of worship. Visitors are welcome and photos are permitted, but you’ll want to check ahead to make sure you time your visit when you have access. We visited the temple as part of a paid, guided tour. I also returned to the Temple in the evening because I wanted to photograph it at dusk.
Our day started out with a walk across town to pick up a rental car for the next part of our journey. We had a light rain, but not enough to deter us from a walk. Along the way we crossed to Continental Divide, a high point from which water on the west side of the divide flows to the Mississippi and water to the east flows to the Great Lakes, with the exception of the Chicago River which had the direction of it’s flow reversed with a little help from the City of Chicago and some creative engineering in 1900.
Once we picked up the car we were off to Kankakee, Illinois to see the B. Harley Bradley House, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs. The house sits on the bank of the Kankakee River, a very peaceful setting among majestic trees. But first it was breakfast at the Courageous Bakery & Cafe. Excellent food and good coffee. It’s about an hour and a half drive from Oak Park to Kankakee. The route we took was on highways, with grey skies and occasional light rain. Not much to see along the drive.
We had a very personalized tour with just two of us and the docent. By now we’re beginning to understand the language of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture; his sense of the connection to nature, organic architecture, with the housed rising up out of the landscape like sturdy trees or rocks, the use of vertical lines and the overhanging eves.
Designed in 1900, this is one of Wright’s first Prairie style houses, With the style emphasizing a plain composition, a low horizontal aspect and low pitched roof with overhanging eaves. We were originally scheduled for a 1 pm tour, but we arrived a bit before noon, and were able to get an early start. We spent about an hour and a half in the house, and when we finished the tour at 1:30 we were ready for lunch. We headed downtown and had lunch at Rigo’s Place, one of the restaurants recommended by our tour leader. Just outside the restaurant we admired the murals painted on several of the buildings.
After lunch we weren’t quite ready to leave. We wanted to explore the river a bit, so we went back to the Bradley House and took a tour up and down the river on a little electric Duffy boat.
Living room of Frank Lloyd Wright’s house at Taliesin West
Our travels took us to Taliesin West today. We had purchased tickets ahead of time since we were planning on being in Phoenix today for a family reunion. We booked the “Details Tour,” which was a two hour tour covering some of the details of the architecture. Photos are permitted on this tour, so it as a treat to capture photos with my little Sony RX100.
Frank Lloyd Wright established Taliesin West in 1937 as his winter home and school in the desert. Today it is the main campus of the School of Architecture at Taliesin. I was surprised to find that the buildings seem to be a bit rough hewn, which seems appropriate since the location was a laboratory for design and experimentation and much of the facilities were built by Frank Lloyd Wright’s students. The location was very remote at the time it was built and the design reflects Wright’s love of nature and philosophy about how design should interact with nature.
For anybody interested in architecture, design and nature this tour is a must.