Chasing Frank Lloyd Wright: Oak Park Walking Tour

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.

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.

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.

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Small Town America: Dunbar, PA

We’re often looking for the “alternate route” to where ever it is we’re going. Sometime the journey is more interesting than the destination. So, on October 12 we found ourselves in the town of Dunbar, Pennsylvania. Dunbar is about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh, a small town that is part of what in it’s heyday was producing coal and coke. Now it’s a sleepy little town trying to reinvent itself. But like many small towns, it’s people have a story to tell.
We heard one of those stories when we parked the car and started walking around town. It took about three minutes for one of the locals, Mike Bell, to recognize us as tourists. Mike, being a member of the Dunbar Historical Society was happy to tell us about his town.
Mike, our tour guide in Dunbar, PA.
Mike Bell telling us about his experiences growing up in Dunbar
Mike gave us a walking tour of Dunbar and he opened up Dunbar Historical Society facility to share some of the local history. The facility is housed in the what used to be the Post Office, put in service in 1907. As with most of the folks in Dunbar, Mike grew up here. He can recall delivering meat to the meat market, setting pins and the bowling alley and riding the trolley. The trolley is long gone as are many of the business that Mike knew growing up. Mikes stories captivated us until it was time for us to go. Part of the intrigue of traveling off the beaten track is the opportunity to hear stories. It’s the stories that tie us together.
There was also a glass works here, Pennsylvania Wire Glass Company, which produced wire reinforced glass up until the mid-1950s. Some of the glass from that plant has brought some local fame to Dunbar.
Seated Torso by  Pascal
Seated Torso by Pascal
The Historical Society now has on display a glass sculpture produced by the artist Suzanne Pascal. In 1961 Pascal learned about the the shuttered glass works and purchased enough glass for a lifetime’s work. One of those pieces was a 4000 pound chunk of glass which she fashioned into “Seated Torso.” Pascal gained some notoriety worldwide and her work became quite valuable. This piece was purchased in 1994 for $3 million by billionaire John Kluge, who at the time was considered one of the richest men in America.
The piece is currently valued at $3.5 million, and was donated to the town of Dunbar by Donald Trump in 2015. Trump obtained the piece when he purchased the Kluge estate after Kluge died. Trump had plans to turn the estate into a winery and he decided to find a new home for the piece. Trump discovered that the glass had it’s origins in Dunbar and decided to donate the piece o the town. Needless to say, the town had to raise $11,000 to ship the piece and raise additional money to build an annex on the historical society building to display it.
The town is also trying to bring back interest in the local history with a reconstructed coke oven that now sits in the park across from the Post Office. The hills around the town and this part of Pennsylvania are dotted with the ruins of old coke ovens. Mike told us about some of the challenges of building the oven, since that skill has been long forgotten. We could easily have spent more time in this small town, but having listened to Mike’s stories it was time to head for our next destination.

Chasing Frank Lloyd Wright: October 15

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Today marks the end of our two week trip through the mid-west chasing Frank Lloyd Wright. Our travels have taken us from the Oak Park region of Chicago to Pittsburgh driving through parts of four states: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. This afternoon we board the plane for our return flight to San Francisco.  For the past few days we’ve been wandering the small towns of the Laurel Heights region of Southwest Pennsylvania, including the towns of Dunbar, Connellsville and Dawson. There is so much to discover in small town America. More on some of those adventures in up-coming posts. Yesterday our adventures took us to the Cathedral of Knowledge on the University of Pittsburgh campus and to the top of  Mt. Washington by way of the incline. The view from the top is probably the best view of the city and the three rivers.  The temple of knowledge has a number of rooms decorated to represent different countries of the world. We spent a good two hours exploring some of the rooms, which are open to the public on certain days. Being Sunday classes were not in session. At the visitor information station on the first floor you can obtain a key and an audio tour to visit many of the rooms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chasing Frank Lloyd Wright: October 11

We arrived at Falling Water this morning for our 8:30 tour. The site is an eight minute drive from our B&B in Ohiopyle. This is small-town rural America by-the-way. Our innkeeper, Conrad has pigs, chickens and guinea hens. A rooster is crowing as I write this and the freight train is rumbling along the river. We stopped at the Ohiopyle Bakery for coffee and muffins on the way to Falling Water. We also got sandwiches for lunch, although the visitor center at Falling Water has a cafe.

We signed up for the in-depth tour which starts at 8:30. Photography is permitted on the in-depth tour but not on the standard tour. Those photos are on my laptop at the moment and I’ll need to find a good WiFi connection before I can share them.

The house was built for the Kaufmanns, of Kaufmann’s Department Store fame. When they selected the site little did they know that they would be living with the waterfall rather than looking at it. Wright’s desire was for the waterfall to become “an integral part” of their everyday lives.

The House, built in 1936, is a marvel of architectural design, with its cantilevered platforms extending out over the water.

Falling Water is owned by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Open for tours daily except Wednesday.

Tues Oct 9. Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Out the door and in the car at 7:30 for a return visit to Blue Hen Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. At a bend in the Cuyahoga River I caught a glimps of the rising sun reflecting off the water, with a misty fog lingering in the bottom lands. No place to stop and I was intent on getting to the falls with the soft morning light. I could easily spend a week here with all the gorgeous scenery. But that might have to be another trip. Yesterday we did a three mile hike from Blue Hen Falls to Buttermilk Falls, through the woods and alone a creek, hiking through tall hardwood forest and moss covered rocks. Photographing the Falls was a challenge with people continually walking into my composition and a bit of harsh light. Today I had the woods and the falls to myself and I enjoyed basking in the peace and solitude.

Blue Hen Falls (10/8/18 boa iPhone. More to follow)

After my sojourn I returned to our B&B where we brewed a pot of coffee and had breakfast. Then we managed a three mile hike on the Ledges Loop trail, walking past some fascinating sandstone cliffs, with large blocks of sandstone forming ledges, again with moss, ferns and trees, some of the trees showing a bit of fall color.

Ledges Trail

Now we’re on the road again heading to Ohiopyle and back to our theme of chasing Frank Lloyd Wright.

Chasing Frank Lloyd Wright: October 6

October 6, 2018. Our day started with breakfast at the Courageous Bakery. On a Saturday morning it’s a busy place. I can see why. Delicious food, and a great menu. After the better part of a week eating rich food I went with the oatmeal: steel cut oats, house made granola, fresh blueberries, brown sugar, wildflower honey, touch of cream. My standard breakfast is oatmeal, so this was like comfort food. A good bowl of oatmeal keeps me satisfied until lunch.

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After breakfast we thought we’d have a leisurely drive to West Lafayette, Indiana. We didn’t account for crossing a time zone though, which took an hour out of our day.  With a quick stop at a road side rest, we grabbed the bread, cheese, salami and fruit we had, and ate on the road arriving at Samara House just in time for our 2 PM tour.

The Samara House is one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s later designs, and much different in many ways than his earlier Prairie School designs. This is one of his Usonian Designs.

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When we arrived at the house, we parked and had to hunt a bit for the front door. As with most of Wright’s houses, he wants to lead you on a journey to find the front entrance.

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Later we thought it might be fun to tour the campus of Purdue University, which is also in West Lafayette. Not knowing our way around though, and being a Saturday, we stopped at the Greyhouse Coffee and Supply to regroup. We ducked into the doorway just as a torrential downpour let loose.

Back on the road, the rain gave way to a rainbow and we decided to get off the main highway and look for an opportunity to photograph some of the countryside.

Our final destination for the day was Elwood, a small town of about 8400. We had reservations for a lovely B&B in an old Victorian house. Once settled in we were off to dinner at the Tin Plate Restaurant.

tjp_1916_3460We split an order of a pulled pork sandwich and wings, both listed as the house specialties. Good food, but the local knowledge seems to favor the tenderloin.

 

Chasing Frank Lloyd Wright: October 5

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.

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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.

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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.tjp_1916_3284

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.

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