The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, an international organization that seeks to preserve, maintain and educate the public about all existing structures by the iconic American architect, will be holding its national conference in Cincinnati next year.
It will occur Sept. 22-26 at the Netherland Plaza hotel downtown, with some 300-500 expected to attend. The announcement was made during a recent symposium on Wright at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton Country, sponsored by Architectural Foundation of Cincinnati.
On the face of it, it may seem odd for Cincinnati to be selected. There are only three Wright homes here, none open to the public: the Boulter House in Clifton, the Boswell House in Indian Hill and the Tonkens House in Amberley. (A fourth, a recently constructed “legacy” home in Clifton, was built from plans Wright developed in his lifetime.)
But Wright, who lived from 1867-1959, had his busiest decade in the 1950s and that’s when the three Cincinnati homes were built. All three are examples of Wright’s Usonian period, a Modernist, relatively open style he developed during the Depression to control costs and allow for a freer and more democratic style of living.
And it turns out Wright gave one of his most important speeches about the Depression’s challenges to American home ownership in Cincinnati, at the very Netherland Plaza where the Conservancy will be meeting next year.
He was speaking to 600 members of the National Association of Real Estate Boards on June 30, 1932, and predicted the era of the skyscraper would pass in favor of a movement to the country, where homes would be on one-acre lots. The lecture was called “Lower Construction Costs for Homes.”
At the recent symposium, moderator Mary Ellen Goeke read from the speech. Janet Groeber, owner of the Boulter House and a local co-chair for next year’s convention, later provided me with excerpts to quote. “I do not believe that this is a Depression,” Wright said. “I believe that we are at the end of an epoch, and I believe that unless real estate men put their ears to their own ground and get this message — decentralization, reintegration, organic architecture, the use of our other resources — we are faced with a very serious situation.”
But there is another important reason why the Conservancy is meeting here — it is near Springfield, Ohio, home of Wright’s Westcott House, the only Ohio example of his earlier, horizontally-oriented Prairie-style homes. It was designed in 1906 and built in 1908 for an early auto baron but had become apartments in the 1940s and was ready to collapse in 2000. Then the Conservancy bought it and turned it over to a local non-profit foundation. It took five years and $5.3 million, but it opened to the public in 2005 and now attracts 12,000 visitors annually.
“This was a very important project for the Conservancy — it was the first time it used a new revolving fund to step in and save a building if there was an emergency,” says Marta Wojcik, the Westcott’s curator of preservation as well as the upcoming convention’s other co-chair.
Interestingly, she said one lively topic at Conservancy conventions now is whether there are too many Wright homes opening to the public. There are now more than 20, including an Ohio Usonian home in Oberlin.
“There are great benefits — education and promoting good design,” Wojcik says. “But these homes were built to be private residences.”
Visit www.savewright.org for more details on the convention.
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