FLW Tour Around Chicago – Part 5
Today I was able to visit a site that’s been on my list for a long time; Taliesin. It was well worth the 3.5 hour drive up from Chicago.
I had hoped to get on the 4-hour estate tour that included both the Hillside Home and Taliesin itself, with a 1-hour walk in-between that took in the Romeo and Juliet windmill and other parts of the property. I was particularly interested in the windmill as I’d modeled it for SimCity4 a few years ago and was keen to see it in the real world. Unfortunately I left my run too late and missed a spot. I could still do the house and Hillside school tours, but not the walk. The upside was that I didn’t have to be there until 10:45.
Leaving Chicago at 6:30, so as to allow for all possible delays, I had a great run and arrived at about 10:00. Google maps was pretty much on the money. Driving down from Spring Green, I was greeted by a low green valley with forest covered hills bordering the farming land.
Just across the Wisconsin River is the Visitors Centre. This is a Wright-designed building in itself, being built as a restaurant from Wright to schmooze his guests prior to taking them up to the house and studio. Soon enough my House tour started and our guide reminded us of the rules before leading us to the bus. All visitors enter the site via a dedicated bus; there is no private entry to the site.
The entry to the House is a treat, you come off the main road and drive along a winding gravel driveway that passes a waterfall (Wright built) at the end of the man-made lake. The driveway then skirts along below the House that gradually reveals itself perched above you overlooking the valley. The tour bus takes you to the back of the house complex, not the formal entrance at the front of the house.
Our guide fought to explain the layout of the house over the wind that seemed to start as soon as we emerged. A few themes became apparent:
- The House was in a constant state of change (which is a challenge for preservation – what year do you choose to set the restoration against)
- The House is not a clean, crisp and sharp as the houses he built for clients – many wavering lines and rough cut edges, and
- The House was a laboratory for his design ideas and many features of other houses are dotted throughout this one.
As usual, we were allowed to photograph outside, but not inside. So I madly snapped away from the hilltop that is surrounded by buildings on the brow. It’s interesting that standing on the hilltop makes the buildings part of the view with the valley and hills as backdrop. We skirted the house and finally entered into his studio from the formal entrance up a set of stone steps. The design studio was in great condition and exemplified many of the design ideas from other houses, such as low roofs, great changes in space, and custom furniture.
From there we headed into the house part and donned the booties (I haven’t done the booties since the Zimmerman House 2.5 years ago. We were allowed to sit in the lounge and take in the space. This room, like most of the house, is adorned with Japanese and Chinese art and it really works with the stone walls and wood detail. I immediately noticed the music stand for a quartet; the same as in the Zimmerman House. We looked at a number of rooms in the main (second) floor. Unfortunately the third floor is occupied and unsuitable for tours due to fire risks with large groups (narrow stairs). Similarly you couldn’t access the Bird Walk. Also, the main bedroom was being renovated and I can’t recall why we couldn’t see the first floor. However what we did see was very impressive.
After returning to the Visitors Centre and killing a bit more time, it was back on the bus with a different tour guide to see the Hillside Home School. This was a pre-existing building that Wright rebuilt and extended. It’s now the summer home for the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture (they disappear to Taliesin West, in Arizona for the winter months). There are two main parts of the building, the studio at the back and the lounge, dining and theatre rooms at the front. This front section is very reminiscent of other buildings such as the Dana-Thomas House and the Coonley Playhouse. Of note was the Dana room featuring many of the building and site designs, and the theatre.
We did spend a bit of time looking up the hill at, and discussing, the Romeo and Juliet windmill.
I did a bit of walking along the main road to take some more photo’s and then jumped back in my rental Mazda 5 and did the 3.5 hour drive back to Chicago. A very worthwhile drive!