Frank Lloyd Wright, father of American architecture, experienced achievements, sorrows

May 29, 2012

By Sebastian Moraga

Born in 1867, Frank Lloyd Wright had a life of great achievement, sorrow and scandals.

Frank Lloyd Wright

According to Martin Filler, author of “Makers of Modern Architecture,” Frank Lincoln Wright changed his middle name to his mother’s maiden name after his parents divorced.

Wright left his first wife and mother of six of his seven children for the wife of a neighbor. They built a house together in Wisconsin, which a servant later burned down, murdering the woman and six other people.

Wright then remarried. His new wife was addicted to morphine, Filler wrote, and the marriage lasted six months. The woman stalked Wright for years.

Wright’s last wife, Olgivanna Ivanova Lazevich, was described by Filler as “possessive, grandiose, scheming, paranoid and vindictive.” She was also devoted to Wright. Filler credits Lazevich, who married Wright in 1928 and changed her name to Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, with her husband’s comeback in the mid-1930s.

A grandiose man who once referred to humility as “a strange disease,” Wright wrote his autobiography in the third person. When he died in 1959, he held a 27-year grudge against the Museum of Modern Art for giving him a marginal place in a 1932 exhibition.

After his death, Filler writes, Olgivanna made Wright’s work difficult to reproduce, hurting his legacy. When she died in 1985, Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer became director of archives at the Wright Foundation. Pfeiffer raised money to renovate Wright homes, republished Wright’s works and years later put Wright’s entire archive online.

Filler wrote that Wright’s genius resided in his making great design available to all people, making his buildings connect with nature and in using local materials whenever possible, like the cinderblocks from Ellensburg he used for his Sammamish house.

He built the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, designed to withstand Japan’s constant earthquakes. The Imperial Hotel was among the few structures that survived the 1923 quake that ravaged the city and killed thousands of people.

He also built icons of American architecture such as the Falling Water House in Bear Run, Pa., which stands above a waterfall, Chicago’s Midway Gardens and his own homes, Taliesin and Taliesin West, in Wisconsin and Arizona, respectively.

Americans like Wright, Filler wrote, because he reminds them of themselves.

“Like him,” he wrote, “nature-loving, distrustful of entrenched authority, healthily rebellious, suspicious of foreign influences, proudly self-reliant, endlessly resilient and adept at sequential self-reinvention.”

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