Picture of Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright 1954

Frank Lloyd Wright, who would have celebrated his 150th on June 8th, is widely considered to be the father of modern architecture. Architecture and art destinations around the country were paying homage to him the week of his birthday, and in some cases, even longer.

On June 8th, I had the opportunity to tour the David & Gladys Wright House located in Arcadia. Of course I took pictures (https://www.facebook.com/DesignersCircle/) and decided to share some of the facts about Frank Lloyd Wright, the man, a quirky individual with a difficult personality, whose complex life was filled with scandal and tragedy.

Here are a few things you might not know about this architectural icon:

Early Education

Frank Lloyd Wright was home schooled until the age of 11. In 1885, the year Wright graduated from public high school in Madison, his parents divorced and his father moved away, never to be heard from again.

That year, Wright enrolled at the University of Wisconsin at Madison to study civil engineering. In order to pay his tuition and help support his family, he worked for the dean of the engineering department. After the first semester, he became more interested in architecture and dropped out of the University.

Relationships & Family

Wright & wife Olga at Taliesin

Wright & Olga at Taliesin

Wright’s love life was famously scandalous. He married his first wife, Catherine Lee Tobin, in 1889, when she was 18.  Catherine gave birth to six children with Wright, but in 1909, he left her for Martha “Mamah” Cheney, the wife of one of Wright’s clients, who came to live with him at Taliesin, Wright’s famous Wisconsin home.

In 1914, Mamah was murdered, along with two of her children and four others, by a deranged cook at Taliesin while Wright was away in Chicago.  The cook locked the dining room with the family inside it, set the house afire, and picked off anyone trying to escape with an axe.

Six months after the murder, Miriam Noel, a wealthy divorcee whose money helped to restore the damaged house, became Wright’s lover and moved in to Taliesin. 

In 1922, Wright’s divorce from Catherine, his first wife, became final and married Miriam.   Miriam left him five months later, and started divorce proceedings that dragged on for years.

In 1924, Wright met 26-year-old Olgivanna Lazovich Hinzenberg, a student of “sacred dance,” at the ballet in Chicago.  A year later she joined Wright, 57 years old and  bore him a daughter in 1925. They were married in 1928, and remained so until the end of Wright’s life in 1959.

Note:  Additional information about Frank Lloyd Wright’s relationships & family may be found at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art blog, http://crystalbridges.org/blog/little-know-facts-about-frank-lloyd-wright/, published by Linda DeBerry.

Fiscal responsibility was not Frank Lloyd Wright’s strong suit.

He was constantly on the brink of financial ruin, due in large part to reckless spending habits to support his finer tastes, including expensive suits and fast cars. His first car, a Model K Stoddard-Dayton roadster, was the same model that had won the first automobile race, held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909. Some of his last cars in the 1950s included four Volkswagens and a Chevrolet Nomad wagon along with flashy Jaguar Mark VII. He owned some 50 cars between 1909 and his death.

Interesting Tidbits

Wright designed some of his own clothing. His fashion sense was unique and he usually wore expensive suits, flowing neckties, and capes.

In 1956 Wright appeared on What’s My Line? as a Mystery Guest. What’s My Line? asked its panelists to establish the line of work of its notable guests through a series of yes-or-no questions. Wright, 89, was having a hard time hearing the panel’s questions, —but rose to the occasion with a few crotchety zingers, answering that his job “unfortunately” included dealing with law.

Frank Lloyd Wright never retired, but worked until his death in Phoenix, Arizona, at the age of 91. After the death of his third wife, Olgivanna in 1985, it was learned that her dying wish had been that Wright, she, and her daughter by her first marriage all be cremated and buried together in a memorial garden being built at Taliesin West. Wright’s body had lain for over 25 years in the Lloyd-Jones cemetery, near Taliesin in Wisconsin. Against the wishes of  family members as well as the Wisconsin legislature, Wright’s remains were removed from his grave by members of the Taliesin Fellowship, cremated and sent to Scottsdale where they were interred in the memorial garden. Today, the original gravesite in Wisconsin, while empty, is still marked with Wright’s name.

A long list of complaints including leaking roofs, weak foundations, and drainage problems plagued many of his commissions, but Wright considered these issues the price to pay for innovation. This attitude is perfectly captured in an anecdote from Herbert Johnson, one of his clients, who called Wright during a dinner party to report a leak on his head. Wright replied by simply suggesting he move his chair over.

Wright is credited with saying, “An architect’s most useful tools are an eraser at the drafting board, and a wrecking bar at the site.”

Nancy is the Founder/Editor of DesignersCircleHQ.com and a certified kitchen designer, www.NancyHugo.com.  You can contact her at Nancy@NancyHugo.com.