I want to book a tour…

© Mark Hertzberg (2022)

You plan your Frank Lloyd Wright tour. You reserve tickets on-line. You tour. You shop for souvenirs in the gift shop. You post to social media. You go home. Then it’s on to planning the next Wright visit.

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But a lot of strategizing and work behind the scenes went into your one or two-hour visit. It takes a lot of planning and, of course, money, to steward a public Wright site. Wright tourism has been redefined in the two years since the world and the World of Wright were enveloped by the pandemic. Virtual visits, something almost unheard of two years ago, are now common.

LR Wright tourists 006.jpgWright tourists are on a self-guided audio tour in Oak Park in 2005.

Are tours being monetized to pay staff and help maintain the property? What is the best way to enhance the visitors’ experiences while maintaining the integrity of the site? Is the site accessible to people with disabilities? If not, how can that be accomplished? What needs to done, now, to offer remote access to Wright sites?

LR Wright Tourism 014.jpgThe Hardy House, Racine, in 2013: weather can always be a wrinkle in travel plans.

The biennial Wright Sites Directors’ Summit co-sponsored by the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy addresses questions like that. The 2020 meeting was to be held at Wingspread March 16, just as the world shut down. It was, of course, canceled. The event returned to Wingspread on March 14 this year, with 32 organizations and sites represented in person, and two remotely. The theme was Building On Our Strengths(One of the participating organizations was the National Endowment for the Arts, founded at a Johnson Foundation conference at Wingspread).

This was the first Summit that Mary Beth Peterson, Board Vice President and Director of Tours and Volunteers at the Laurent House in Rockford, Illinois has attended in person. I asked her for her thoughts about the conference. Her enthusiastic review follows these photographs of one of the work sessions.

 

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Amanda Thurmann-Ward gives conferees a tour of Wingspread.

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LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 010.jpgAnna Kaplan, Graycliff, Derby (Buffalo), N.Y.

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 013.jpgMike Lilek, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Burnham Block, Milwaukee

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 015.jpgDave Zaleski, Wyoming Valley School Cultural Center; Carrie Rodamaker, Taliesin

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 016.jpgGregory Wittkopp from Cranbrook (Smith House), Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 018.jpgKaren Ettelson, Glencoe, Illinois Historical Society (Sherman Booth Cottage)

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 019.jpgAhnquajj Kahmanne, Frank Lloyd Wright Trust (Chicago, Oak Park)

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 024.jpgLibby Jordan, Rosenbaum House, Florence, Alabama

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 025.jpgMary Beth Peterson, Laurent House, Rockford, left; Libby Garrison, Marin County Civic Center; and Tami Stanko, Affleck House, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 031.jpgKathryn Hund, Cedar Rock State Park, Lowell and Agnes Walter Estate, Quasqueton, Iowa, left; Peggy Bang, Wright on the Park, Mason City, Iowa; and Heidi Ruehle, Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, Oak Park

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 036.jpgTiffany Wade, Price Tower, Bartlesville, Oklahoma

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 041.jpgVivien Lasken from Fabyan Villa, Geneva, Illinois, left; Tiffany Wade, Price Tower; Kathryn Hund, Cedar Rock State Park, Lowell and Agnes Walter Estate, Quasqueton and, foreground, Ahnquajj Kahmanne, Frank Lloyd Wright Trust

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 043.jpgStuart Graff, President and CEO, Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 046.jpgZaleski, left; Rodamaker; Graff; Don Dekker, Meyer May House, Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Marta Wojcik, Westcott House, Springfield, Ohio

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LR 2022 Wright Sites Directors Conference 051.jpgBob Bohlmann, Bradley House, Kankakee, Illinois, left; Justin Gunther, Fallingwater; Barbara Gordon, Executive Director, Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy; and March Schweitzer, Unitarian Meeting House, Madison

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LR W & L Jacobs 1 002.jpgVolunteer docent James Wardrip, center, tells visitors about Jacobs 1 in Madison.

Links for the sponsors of the Summit:

https://www.johnsonfdn.org

https://franklloydwright.org

https://savewright.org

This year was my first year to attend – in person – the Wright Site Directors Summit Meeting at Wingspread. I did have the opportunity to attend virtually in 2021. The meeting far exceeded my expectations on all accounts. It was my first time to stay at the retreat center at Wingspread. From the moment I arrived, I felt that I was at a 5-star resort. The rooms were large with a breathtaking view of the landscape, a comfy bed with the finest of linens, and a spotless bathroom filled with spa-like bath products. The staff were all friendly and accommodating and everywhere I looked I was greeted with surprising amenities such as a kitchenette full of complementary drinks and snacks of all kinds – yes to Oreos as a bedtime snack! The living room area of the retreat center offered a large fireplace with an evening fire, books of all genres to enjoy – if only there had been more time – a bar for evening socialization with new friends, and a beautiful eating area with three walls of windows looking out onto the serene landscape at Wingspread. This meeting was my first time to tour Wingspread and the opportunity to enjoy fine dining in its Great Hall each evening was a particular highlight of my stay with each meal being my favorite meal. For all these reasons, I left wishing for one more day to relax and enjoy it all.

Of course, the real reason I was there was to learn and to connect with others in the Frank Lloyd Wright world of public sites. This, too, exceeded my expectations. The theme of the Summit Meeting, “Building on Our Strengths,” offered in-depth presentations on board governance, fundraising, identifying government opportunities, programming, and preservation documentation. These are all topics of extreme interest and importance to all of us working as executive directors or lead volunteers for our own Frank Lloyd Wright public site. The material for each session was informative and well presented. In addition to all I learned, I enjoyed connecting in person with so many whom I had only met virtually during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. I immediately felt welcome and at home with these new friends.

As I left the Summit Meeting, I felt extreme gratitude for the opportunity to be there as a representative for the Laurent House and for the time I spent with other like-minded site leaders and friends. I also left in awe of the extreme generosity and hospitality of the Johnson Foundation in offering this tranquil place to the Frank Lloyd Wright public sites community for no cost. My only regret is that I must wait two years to do this again.

Mary Beth Peterson, Board Vice President and Director of Tours and Volunteers,

Laurent House – Rockford, IL

 

 

Wright’s “Little Gem” in Rockford

© Mark Hertzberg (2021)

Excuse me, but did you say that Frank Lloyd Wright referred to a house in Rockford, Illinois as his “little gem?” Rockford, that industrial city 88.8 miles northwest of Chicago? Not in Oak Park or River Forest or Racine or Scottsdale? That’s right, the Ken and Phyllis Laurent House (1949) is indeed in Rockford, a bit off the beaten track when it comes to Wright tourism (bear with me, I have another nearby Wright suggestion for you at the end of this article).

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Although the Turkel House in Detroit had an elevator for Mrs. Turkel who used a wheelchair, this house is the only Wright commission entirely designed for a disabled client. A World War II veteran, Laurent was disabled after back surgery.

The approach to the house is deceptive. We seem to be approaching yet another Usonian home chock full of right angles. The original carport, visible at the end of the brick wall, was enclosed in 1959-1960 by John (Jack) Howe, working from plans by Wright. It became a bedroom, after the Laurents adopted children.

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Instead, Wright’s 1,400 sq. ft. “little gem” is a hemicycle design, with intersecting arcs.

LR Laurent House 10.30.21 098.jpgThe living room and hallway to the master bedroom look out over the backyard and a semi-circular patio, under a semi-circular roof.

LR Laurent House 10.30.21 105.jpgThe master bedroom and its semi-circular aspect are not readily visible from outside. They are truly in a private wing of the house.

Let’s now take a tour of the house as we did in late October, as the guests of our friends Curt and Susan Pruitt and Dave and Barb Lange. I will intersperse some abstract photos to keep things lively. While some of the interior photos were taken from my normal height, 5′ 7″ (coincidentally said to have been Wright’s height), Barb Lange had an excellent suggestion that I also take photos from Ken Laurent’s vantage point, and she offered to push me through the house in a wheelchair. We start in the entry hall, where Mr. Laurent would have laid his hat and gloves after returning home:

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LR Laurent House 10.30.21 028.jpgThe dining room table and part of the kitchen are visible at right.

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A sitting area and a small fireplace – which reminds me of the one in the Keland House in Racine (1954) – are at one end of the dining room:

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I enjoyed photographing the tables and hassocks in this space:

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A long hallway stretches along the windows that face the patio and backyard. Unlike the narrow hallways in many of Wright’s Usonian homes, it was wide enough for Mr. Laurent to easily navigate with his wheelchair. The built-in cabinets would have been within reach for him:

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Mr. Laurent’s desk in the master bedroom. Again, note the cabinets at his level:

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Let us now step outside onto the patio. We can see the hallway banquettes through the windows:

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Remember that I told you about another Wright building nearby? According to Google, the Pettit Memorial Chapel in the Belvidere Cemetery is only 11.4 miles away. Top your day with a visit to, and lunch at, the lovely Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford.

For more information:

https://www.laurenthouse.com

https://andersongardens.org

https://belviderecemetery.com/our-chapel/

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