By Mike Butler
Every year, hordes of design fans make the pilgrimage to Taliesin West and take scenic drives around the Valley to glimpse buildings that master architect Frank Lloyd Wright or one of his students had a hand in.
You’re probably related to or friends with one of them. You may chuckle every time you shop at the Promenade or drive past Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard and Scottsdale Road. She or he shifts into tour-guide mode and excitedly recounts the history of the Frank Lloyd Wright Spire.
You know the story, but you feel a sense of pride as a citizen and taxpayer of your forward-thinking city.
Phoenix’s loss – Wright’s towering, futuristic blue icon was rejected as an idea for the State Capitol grounds in the 1950s – became the Airpark’s monumental gain in 2004.
June 8 is the 150th anniversary of Wright’s birth, so the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation is planning several special events at Taliesin West that will appeal to the architect’s longtime fans and newbies alike.
On April 8, the first of three symposia kicked off with a free, four-hour discussion that traced Wright’s influence in Arizona, the Bay Area, the Netherlands and Eastern Europe.
Events also take place at Taliesin in Wisconsin and many other states where Wright had an impact. In New York City, beginning June 12, the Museum of Modern Art will unpack its archives with an exhibition of 450 drawings, models, scrapbooks and other media.
Jeff Goodman, director of marketing and communication for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, says organization members who receive its quarterly magazine will also get the first of a four-issue collector set in June. The basic annual Friend level costs $50 per year and gives you a 10 percent discount in the Taliesin West bookstore, in addition to the magazine.
Upping the donation level to $120 opens the Insider door and a bigger bag of Wright goodies: a pass for two to Taliesin West (good for a year), plus reciprocal benefits at Taliesin, Fallingwater, the Guggenheim and many more. This level can also get you into local events at private homes that Wright built, such as the exemplary Wright and Price houses.
More information about upcoming events can be found at the recently redesigned website franklloydwright.org. In the meantime, here are five FLW footprints in the Airpark and beyond that you can explore.
12621 Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., Scottsdale
One- to three-hour tours at Wright’s winter home and western school of architecture are highly entertaining and informative, and run with military precision. Reservations are strongly recommended.
If you only have an hour to spare, the Panorama tour will whisk you through Wright’s private office, the Kiva and the Cabaret Theater. The 90-minute Insights tour adds the magnificent Garden Room, the Wrights’ private quarters, the Music Pavilion and the students’ drafting studio.
A good follow-up to those is the 45-minute Private Collections tour, which shines a light on selected works from Wright’s personal art collection – fragile Japanese prints, textiles, books and other treasures.
The tour for Wright buffs is the three-hour Behind the Scenes. This tour throws in a stroll to a unique desert site and mid-morning tea and snacks in the colorful dining room.
There’s also a Night Lights tour (date night!), a Garden Walk tour and a unique Desert Shelter tour, where you’re ushered along desert paths to view the clever shelter dorms that students have designed for themselves over the years.
David & Gladys Wright House
5212 E. Exeter Blvd., Phoenix
Built in 1951, Wright designed this circular wonder on two acres in Arcadia for his son David and his wife.
The living quarters and entrance were elevated to take advantage of desert breezes and reached by following a spiral ramp up to the second level. Another winding ramp leads to a rooftop deck and a million-dollar view of Camelback Mountain.
These spiral design elements would reappear in the Guggenheim, completed in 1959.
The concrete structure nearly met the wrecking ball about five years ago, but it was saved by a preservation campaign. Plans are to offer tours soon in such a way that the surrounding neighborhood isn’t disturbed.
Until then, you can take a virtual tour at davidwrighthouse.org.
Harold Price, Sr. House
7211 N. Tatum Blvd., Paradise Valley
Although mammoth at 5,000 square feet – and on nine acres – this private hilltop home was designed by Wright for the multigenerational Price family to enjoy their winter visits.
Price became one of Wright’s dearest patrons in the early 1950s after commissioning the important 19-story, 221-foot Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. It was an innovative skyscraper that combined luxury apartments with Price’s corporate headquarters and other Oklahoma businesses.
The Price House features a central atrium with a fountain, illuminated by a skylight and surrounded by the living room and kitchen. The wings at either end of the building house the five master bedrooms. Two servants’ bedrooms also had their own baths.
Often called the U-Haul House after the moving company’s founding family, the Shoens, acquired it, Price House is frequently rented for Taliesin West events, corporate functions, fundraisers and wedding receptions. Take a video tour by visiting pricehousefoundation.org.
Arizona Biltmore Hotel
2400 E. Missouri Ave., Phoenix
Wright made his first trip to Arizona in 1928 to work as a consultant to the Biltmore’s lead architect, Albert Chase McArthur, who worked under him in Chicago from 1907-1909.
Although Wright meant for his “textile block” style of construction to be structural, McArthur used the patterned, geometric exterior tiles – styled after the trunks of palm trees – as more of a decorative element. In any case, the effect was stunning, and the hotel is a jewel and a landmark to this day.
You can get an impressive, self-guided tour just by walking into the lobby and having a Tequila Sunrise at The Wright Bar. The hotel also offers 90-minute tours three times a week. Call the concierge at 602-955-6600 for information.
In addition to Taliesin West, the Biltmore is where you can channel Wright’s mystical Sprites statues.
ASU Gammage Auditorium
1200 S. Forest Ave., Tempe
Nobody will ever get Gammage mixed up with the Guggenheim, but this iconic Arizona State University focal point on the Tempe campus has a colorful origin story that explains its quirky design.
As luck would have it, President Grady Gammage’s request of Wright for a university auditorium in 1957 coincided with plans that had fallen through on an elaborate opera house that would have been built in Baghdad.
Wright supposedly dusted off that blueprint and simplified it for a college budget. Neither Wright nor Gammage lived to see the project’s completion in 1964. To inquire about a tour, call 480-965-6912.