Finding Frank Lloyd Wright in Phoenix
When it comes to architects, Frank Lloyd Wright is pretty near the top and, luckily, Southern California is home to several structures designed by him. Unfortunately, only one, the Hollyhock House, is open to the public. As a big fan of his, I pretty much exhausted the local supply and started to look further afield for his work. It just so happens that right next door, in Arizona, he was pretty prolific so recently I took a weekend trip to search for Frank Lloyd Wright in Phoenix.
Immediately when I arrived in town I headed for the David & Gladys Wright House. One of Wright’s most unique residences, the house was designed in 1950 for his son and daughter-in-law. The spiral shape raised on columns provides an excellent view of the surrounding landscape and is quite a sight to behold. But, currently, seeing it is no easy feat. David & Gladys lived in the home until their deaths and it then fell into disrepair. Luckily, it was recently purchased by a preservation minded buyer, listed on National Register of Historic Places and is currently undergoing restoration. When I arrived the property was surrounded by fencing but thanks to a convenient opening I was able to take a peek and grab a quick shot.
As soon as I got my pic, I headed over to the Arizona Biltmore to catch the 2pm tour. Opened in 1929, the Biltmore has been hosting presidents, dignitaries, celebrities and everyday folks for nearly a century and I’ve been long wanting to wander its grounds. At the appointed time, I met my guide, Robert, and found that I was the only attendee for my allotted tour. Some might find that awkward but I loved it as it allowed me to have a personalized experience.
Now, here’s where I have to admit that the Biltmore’s connection to Frank Lloyd Wright is tenuous. Before visiting, I was under the impression he had designed the hotel but I soon learned I was wrong. The Biltmore was founded by brothers Warren and Charles McArthur who enlisted their brother, Albert Chase McArthur, to design it. Albert was heavily influenced by Wright and the brothers did pay to use his block design (a situation that did not go well as he did not actually hold the patent to it) but the famed architect had no direct hand in its creation.
To complicate things further, a highlight of the hotel is a Frank Lloyd Wright window entitled “Saguaro Forms and Cactus Flowers” and his sprite statues dot the grounds. Though, if we want to head into the weeds, the window was installed in the 1970’s and is copied from a Wright drawing and the statues were made in the 1980’s using a mold of his original piece. It’s all a bit complicated but does it really matter when everything comes together so beautifully?
If we take out Frank Lloyd Wright entirely, the Biltmore still is an architectural masterpiece that has been beautifully preserved.
The 2300 square foot round Aztec room has an 18-karat gold-leaf ceiling and was originally used as a move theater.
The 7000 square foot Gold Room has the 2nd largest gold gilded ceiling in the world (the Taj Mahal has the largest) and its walls are adorned with original tapestries by Maynard Dixon and his wife, Edith Hamlin.
Then there’s the Mystery Room. This was my very favorite part of the tour. When the hotel opened in 1929, Prohibition was in full swing but every hotel has to have a bar, right? Enter the Mystery Room. From the outside it looks like an ordinary hotel room but once you open the door…
It’s a hidden speakeasy. I love this room so much. It’s so cozy and intimate I could just see myself relaxing on the couch imbibing in some bathtub gin.
I had an amazing tour thanks to Robert’s incredible knowledge of the Biltmore. Since I was the only attendee he showed me some extra stuff and I learned so many fun facts. Did you know Clark Gable loved the Biltmore? Every time he and Carole Lombard visited they would stay in an ordinary room just off the lobby so they could have easy access to the Mystery Room. Gotta love them.
Still not tired of Wright, I woke up bright and early the next morning to tour Taliesen West. While the Biltmore may have loose ties to the architect, Taliesen West is very closely associated with him as it was his personal residence.
In 1937, Wright purchased over 500 acres of Arizona desert in what is now Scottsdale. On this site, he built his winter home using mostly local materials. Rather than stand out, the structure melts into its natural surrounding thanks to its use of local rock and sand.
In addition to his private home the campus also housed the Taliesen Fellowship, a group of apprentices who worked with Wright on the design and construction of his projects, and onsite are a drafting room, meeting rooms, a cafeteria and more.
Of course, I especially enjoyed visiting the residence which includes Wright’s private office…
and living room.
I found the living room particular special because visitors are allowed to sit on the couches and chairs. I couldn’t believe I could not only touch them but actually use them. You can bet I wandered around the room sitting in different spots and my very favorite was the chair next to the fireplace.
At this point I was pretty satisfied with my Frank Lloyd Wright experience by I had one last spot to visit.
Wright loved the Phoenix area but he was disappointed in the state capitol building so he decided to design a new one. Utterly unique and a bit otherworldly the proposed building was topped by a large blue spire. Unfortunately, the powers that be weren’t interested and nothing came of it. That is, until a new shopping center was developed at the corner of Scottsdale Rd. and Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd. Needing a focal point, Wright apprentice Arnold Roy was enlisted to build the proposed spire and, to this day, it remains at the intersection.
My Arizona excursion into the world of Frank Lloyd Wright was utterly fulfilling and I left with a better understanding of the architectural legend. Yet, I didn’t see everything. If you can believe it, the Phoenix area is home to even more Wright structures that I didn’t have time to visit. Looks like another road trip’s in my future.