Category Archives: New York City

Four Favorite Frank Lloyd Wright Destinations

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House, Taliesin, Taliesin West and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum are just a few of the places to see Wright’s all-American architecture.

Frank Lloyd Wright has been having a big year. Sixty years after his death in 1959, both his life and his architecture continue to fascinate, influence and inspire.  So much so that the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently named a group of his great works World Heritage Sites.* Spanning 50 years of Frank Lloyd Wright’s career, these buildings represent the first modern architecture designation in the U.S. on the prestigious list.  

Here, I cover one of my favorite Wright sites, the Allen House in Wichita, Kansas, and three of the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the UNESCO list —Taliesin in Wisconsin, Taliesin West in Arizona, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.   The prolific architect built more than 400 buildings so you can find examples of his work all across the country.  There’s even a fantastic Wright-designed gas station in Cloquet, Minnesota. But to really enjoy the experience, I recommend a little reading to”find Mr. Wright” before you visit his buildings.

Reading the Wright Stuff

Even if you’re not an architecture buff or a design maven, you should add a Frank Lloyd Wright site to your itinerary when you’e traveling—for two reasons.  First, Wright’s Prairie Style is considered the first uniquely American style of architecture.  Before Wright, prominent American architects followed the more ornate style of European designers, like the Beaux-Arts style that dominated the “White City” buildings and monuments at the Chicago World’s Fair.  Wright hated that. Instead of piling on the classical embellishments, he sought to make buildings blend with the landscape. 

Interior of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House in Wichita, Kansas

If your house has an open floor plan, wide expanses of windows or an attached garage, you can thank Frank.  These are his among many ideas that were considered radical at the time but are common now.  Wright embraced new technologies, designs and materials ,to push the boundaries of architecture, sometimes resulting in failure or really expensive repairs for those trying to maintain his buildings. If you talk to people who live in Frank Lloyd Wright houses, you’ll seldom hear stories of cozy comfort.  They’re drafty.  And take a look some of the angular furniture and you’ll see why form doesn’t always follow function.  Nonetheless, he had a huge impact that continues today. and most of the currently trendy mid-century modern style bears a remarkable resemblance to Wright’s designs. To better understand his design philosophy see, The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright by Neil Levine.

The second reason to visit Wright buildings isn’t quite so intellectual.  He was simply a fascinating character.  Not exactly a paragon of virtue, he left his first wife and six children for Mamah Borthwick, the spouse of a client.  That tragic story is the subject of Nancy Horan’s fictionalized work, Loving Frank.  Even his fans admit he was an arrogant self-promoter and a flawed genius.  I suggest Meryle Secrest’s book, Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography by Meryle Secrest for the whole story.   for the whole story.  

Now for some exploration:

Allen House, Wichita, Kansas

exterior of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House in Wichita Kansas

At the Allen House, located in Wichita’s historic College Hill neighborhood, you’ll find all the traits of Wright’s Prairie Style residential architecture in one lovely home . Named after its first owners, newspaper publisher Henry Allen and his wife, Elsie, it was the last of Wright’s famous Prairie Houses.  Outside you’ll see Wright’s distinctive long, low horizontal lines with low-pitched roofs, deep overhangs, and long rows of casement windows.  Explore a bit of the area around Wichita and you that see how that horizontal theme and earth tones of the house match the landscape.

Said Wright, “In organic architecture then, it is quite impossible to consider the building as one thing, its furnishings another and its setting and environment still another,”…“The spirit in which these buildings are conceived sees all these together at work as one thing.” The Allen house is one of the best examples I’ve seen in which spaces open to the outdoors.  And it retains.more than 30 pieces of Wright-designed furniture, all of its original art glass and several new-for-their-time innovations, such as wall-hung toilets and an attached garage.

Taliesin—Spring Green Wisconsin

Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio, Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wisconsin

As a child Wright spent summers on his uncle’s farm in the rolling farmland of southwest Wisconsin’s Driftless Region.  There he witnessed the patterns and rhythms of nature that came to influence his work.  He returned to this valley to build his home and studio called Taliesin (Welsh for “shining brow”) on an 800-acre estate outside Spring Green.  Wright said of the area, “I meant to live, if I could, an unconventional life. I turned to this hill in the Valley as my grandfather before me had turned to America – as a hope and haven.” 

A view of the valley from Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin

Strolling outside Wright’s home, with its dramatic horizontal lines and limestone construction that seems to rise straight from the land, it’s easy to understand how his architectural philosophy developed.  A house, he said, should be “of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.”  Inside, Wright’s starkly simple interior spaces offer commanding views of the valley.  The tours downplay it, but many stories from Wright’s own life add to the drama of Taliesin as described in Loving Frank.  For example, 1914, while Wright was away, a worker at the estate murdered seven people including Borthwick and her children, and set the house on fire. 

Taliesin West—Scottsdale, Arizona

Angles on the exterior of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona

The rugged desert foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, Arizona, are a stark to the lush rolling hills of Wisconsin.   Yet, after several bouts of illness, Wright built Taliesin West for greater winter comfort.  He called it his desert laboratory with buildings that were largely experimental and always changing and expanding.  Taliesin West grew to include a drafting studio, dining facilities, two theaters, a workshop, Wright’s office and private living quarters, and residences for apprentices and staff.   Each building is connected through a series of walkways, terraces, pools and gardens that meld with the surroundings. 

Still experimenting with geometric shapes and volumes, Wright designed much of the interior furniture and decorations.  He convinced young architecture students to not only pay for a Taliesin apprenticeship but also to build some of the furniture and appear in plays in the Taliesin West theater.  Taliesin West is now the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the School of Architecture at Taliesin where you can see students at their drafting tables..

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum—New York City

exterior of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York city designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, New York by Architect Frank Lloyd Wright (Photo by David Heald, courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Wright’s last building celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2019.  It opened in 1959, the year he died.  It’s a complete departure from his Prairie Style days  of the Allen House and shows the evolution his thinking over a long career.  With the Guggenheim, the low-slung buildings with sharp angles and earth tones are gone, replaced by soaring circular white spaces. At the time, critical opinions varied from “the most beautiful building in America . . . never for a minute dominating the pictures being shown,” to “less a museum than it is a monument to Frank Lloyd Wright.”

After a three-year restoration of its interior, the Guggenheim reopened to great acclaim. Now  the entire Wright building is open to the public for the first time with spaces that had been used for storage and offices converted into galleries. As a capper to his long career, it seems just fine that the Guggenheim is a monument to Frank Lloyd Wright and his “unconventional life.”

The circular interior of the Guggenheim Museum stands in stark contrast to Frank Lloyd Wright’s early work at the Allen House. (Photo by David Heald, courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation)

* The Frank Lloyd Wright buildings listed as UNESCO World Heritiage Sites are Unity Temple (Oak Park, IL), Frederick C. Robie House (Chicago, IL), Hollyhock House (Los Angeles, CA), Fallingwater (Mill Run, PA), Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House (Madison, WI), Taliesin West (Scottsdale, AZ), and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York, NY).

Fabulous Holiday Windows in New York City

Architecture was the theme of this window at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City.
Architecture was the theme of this window at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City.

It’s the time of year when retailers ramp up for the holidays with ornate holiday displays.  Nowhere in the U.S. is the holiday decor more fantastic than in New York City.  And, in New York you’ll find the most fabulous of all in the windows of Bergdorf Goodman.

I’ve been lucky enough for the last several years to be in New York during the holiday season.  The corner of 5th and 58th is always my first destination to see what wonders they’ve come up with for the year. (I also enjoy touring the wonders inside the store, but window gazing is much more economical.)

Fabulously ornate windows at Bergdorf Goodman. The subject of this window: Literature. How many authors can you find.
Fabulously ornate windows at Bergdorf Goodman. The subject of this window: Literature. How many authors can you find?

The theme for last year’s windows was the arts, including architecture, theater, painting, music, and my favorite, literature–all absolutely and delightfully over the top. The Creators Project blog has an article about last year’s windows.

If you go this year, send me a picture of Bergdorf’s windows.  And, be sure to read about my literary walking tour of mid-town Manhattan.

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Graffiti at 5 Pointz New York City

The ultimate in self-expression: Graffiti in the Five Points section of New York City.
Vandalism or self expression? Graffiti in Queens, NYC

This week’s photo challenge is express yourself.  While some call it vandalism, there’s no more in-your-face, larger than life form of self-expression than graffiti.  For the past 20 years, the mecca of that gritty urban art form has been 5 Pointz, a dilapidated  factory complex in Queens, New York City.

Founded as the Phun Phactory in 1993, it was designed as a place for street artists to legally practice their craft. Here, aerosol-can Picassos made the derelict buildings beautiful and gained worldwide fame.

Sadly, the buildings were recently demolished to make way for yet more shiny high-rise apartment buildings.

New: From the Ashes of the World Trade Center

 

The new One World Trade Center rises over lower Manhattan.
The new One World Trade Center rises over lower Manhattan. The final component of the skyscraper, its glowing spire, made the building’s height 1,776 feet, tallest in the Western Hemisphere.

Who doesn’t feel like they know just about everything there is to know about 9/11? We’ve seen the video tapes of planes crashing into the World Trade Center on September, 2001 countless times and viewed special reports and documentaries without end. Yet, when I stepped into the new National September 11 Memorial Museum I found that there actually was more to learn, but more importantly, to remember.

Located underground in the heart of the World Trade Center site, the museum tells the story of what happened on 9/11, including the events at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the story of Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania. The exhibition explores the background leading up to the events and examines their aftermath and continuing implications.

In Foundation Hall,  the "Last Column," stands 36-feet high and is covered with mementos, memorial inscriptions, and missing posters placed there by ironworkers, rescue workers and others.
In Foundation Hall, the “Last Column,” stands 36-feet high and is covered with mementos, memorial inscriptions, and missing posters placed there by ironworkers, rescue workers and others.

Even though we’ve seen them so many times, when those video clips and films of what led up to the attack played in the museum the people watching them with me all had the same reaction: “Oh my God.” There are video taped stories from people who were there, displays of artifacts ranging from fire trucks and twisted metal beams to personal objects of people working in the towers that day (really personal things like shoes and purses), papers that rained down, and a portion of one of the stairways from which survivors escaped the building.

The National 9/11 Museum at ground zero in New York City is underground with entry adjacent to a portion of staircase from one of the World Trade Center towers.
The National 9/11 Museum at ground zero in New York City is underground with entry adjacent to a portion of staircase from one of the World Trade Center towers.

As one would expect in such an emotionally and politically charged situation, many parts of the museum have been controversial. Some people object to the the way one exhibit connects Islam and terrorism and the simple fact of tourists gawking at what is essentially hallowed ground offends some of the families. Nonetheless, I felt like the curators struck the right balance.

Many survivors of the attack on the World Trade Center and their families are very involved with the museum and give tours and talks at the complex. I felt lucky to be there for a presentation by an NYPD officer who was on site that day and a young woman whose father died trying to get people out of one of the towers. Their stories made it all very personal. Not a dry eye in the house.

I left the museum to stroll around the 9/11 Memorial outside with its two square waterfalls surrounded by the names of those lost in the attacks. The newly opened One World Trade Center–the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere and the fourth tallest building in the world–towers, symbolically, over it all.  I’m sappy enough to feel proud of the way the city and the country has moved on, but still remembers.

If you go: Admission, $24 for adults. Go to 911memorial.org to reserve tickets, download the free 9/11 app to enhance your tour and for directions. images-1

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Read up: As usual, I recommend a bit of reading before you go which adds immensely to enhance your experience. And, as usual, I recommend fiction books for their ability to layer events and emotions to create a story that is almost more real than non-fiction. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close– Jonathan Safran Foer, Falling Man, Don DeLillo. For nonfiction, check out an anthology of New Yorker articles,  After 9/11– edited by David Remnick.

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A Flea Grows in Brooklyn (Sorry, I Couldn’t Help Myself): Fashion, Food, and Reading Among the Hipsters

SONY DSCFrannie Nolan, the heroine of Betty Smith classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, just wouldn’t recognize the place. The book opens in 1912 and is set in the (then) tenement-filled Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg. It was a place to get away from.

Now Brooklyn is “IT.”  People flock to Brooklyn for its trendy shops, restaurants, and entertainment. They may make fun of Brooklyn’s hipster aesthetic, but can’t resist those skinny jeans, ironic glasses, scarves and all the other accoutrements of Brooklyn hipsterdom. The style conscious from places such as Stockholm, London, and Paris look to Brooklyn for inspiration. And, if that weren’t enough, Girls, the hit HBO show based on the lives of four post-college friends trying to make it in the big city, sort of a poor girl’s “Sex in the City,” has begun to prompt the show’s fans to go on Girls tours of Brooklyn locations featured in the show.

You don’t have to be a hipster or a Girls fan to have fun in Brooklyn, but when you SONY DSCwalk around places like Brooklyn Flea, you may be inspired to join in the fun.  At the very least, you’ll feel compelled to scrounge through your parents’ old clothes (think Mad Men era) or retrieve a few old dresses or flannel shirts from that box you were getting ready to send to Goodwill. This is no ordinary flea market.  The merchandise is mostly vintage or DIY and displayed in a way that makes it look as classy, and much more interesting, than Fifth Avenue fare.   You’ll find cool jewelry made of repurposed zippers or typewriter keys, dresses that would make Betty Draper envious, and re-claimed-repurposed-recycled furniture. In winter the flea takes place in the former Williamsburg Savings Bank at One Hanson Place, where vendors sell their wares from teller’s windows and the zodiac mosaics on the ceiling make it worth the trip, even if you’re not a shopper.  But during warm weather (April through Thanksgiving,), the market takes place outdoors: on Saturdays in Fort Greene and on Sundays in Williamsburg.

When you’re shopped out, I suggest wandering the Williamsburg neighborhood where you’ll find great restaurants (the Vietnamese restaurant An Nhau works well for a group and has a great patio in back), outrageous chocolate and incomparable people-watching. A walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan offers views of the skyline, the Statue of Liberty, and a sense of walking through the city’s history. If you’re looking for a more formal tour, Big Onion tours offers several walking tours of Brooklyn neighborhoods.

Can’t make it to Brooklyn any time soon? The borough has a literary heritage that’s as distinctive as the rest of its culture so there are plenty of books that will make you feel like you know the place before you even leave the L Train. But break out some eccentric-looking clothes–maybe a spangly dress, or a raccoon hat–before you settle in to read them. Here are a few:

Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

David McCullough, The Great Bridge, non-fiction about building the famous Brooklyn Bridge and This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann fiction about tunneling beneath the East River to create another Brooklyn-Manhattan connection.

Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude.

Colm Toibin, Brooklyn

Paule Marshall, Brown Girl, Brownstones

Paula Fox, Desperate Characters.

Red Rooster: A Taste of Harlem with a Chaser of Gospel Music

SONY DSCMy family and I enjoyed a tasty brunch on Sunday at Red Rooster in Harlem. Named after a legendary Harlem speakeasy, it’s one of chef Marcus Samuelson’s restaurants and has been a huge hit since it opened (on Lenox Ave between 125th and 126th) in 2010. While the food is stellar, the restaurant has higher goals: “We aim to play a role in the future of Harlem, by hiring our family of staff from within the community; inspiring better eating through neighborhood cooking classes; and buying from local purveyors.”

But there’s more at the Rooster.  We headed downstairs to Ginny’s Supper Club where they offer a Gospel Brunch every Sunday. For anyone who is interested in the literature, music and culture of the Harlem Renaissance , Ginny’s is a great place to get a little feel of what that era was like, whether you arrive on Sunday morning or any evening during the week. The Sunday morning entertainment is considerably more wholesome than in speakeasy days:  Gospel for Teens. Check out the group’s impressive and poignant story top-circlethat appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes a couple of years ago. Fortunately, we ate before the show started because otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to sit still long enough to fit a forkful of food into our mouths with all the clapping, dancing, and those kids singing their hearts out.

For better or worse, this section of Harlem escaped much of the demolition of urban renewal and redevelopment, so a lot of the original gorgeous architecture along Lenox Avenue remains. After brunch, we walked down Lenox and into Central Park. This is a great excursion for anyone who would like to skip the typical mid-town tourist scene. And, if you’re thinking of heading to Harlem, take a look at any of the books listed below regarding the Harlem Renaissance and you’ll appreciate the neighborhood even more.

Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man, the complex life of a young African American man in the South and later Harlem.  Winner of the National Book Award.

Langston Hughes, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes and Not Without Laughter, classic works from one of the most famous figures of the Harlem Renaissance.

David Lewis (ed.), The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader. An anthology.

James Baldwin, Go Tell It on The Mountain, a semi-autobiographical story of a young African-American boy in 1930s Harlem.

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Though her story takes place in Florida, Hurston was an important player in the Harlem literary scene.

Laban Carrick Hill, Harlem Stomp! A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance. This is actually aimed at young adults, but the book has been so critically acclaimed, it’s great for any age group.

Walking the High Line, NYC

A couple of weeks ago, I walked the High Line in New York City for the first time since

Billboard art by John Baldessari on the High Line in New York City.

the new section was added.  The High Line is an elevated park that was originally an elevated railroad line, built in the 1930s.  It lifted freight traffic 30 feet above the ground removing dangerous trains from the streets of Manhattan’s  largest industrial district. It went out of use in 1980, but when it was under the threat of demolition, Friends of the High Line worked to preserve it as an elevated park.  So, think railroad bed turned garden. The first section, from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street, opened June 9, 2009. The second section, from West 20th Street to West 30th Street, opened last spring.

I thought it might be dull to walk the High Line in winter, but there’s plenty to enjoy, with winter plantings, art installations, and impressive views of the New York skyline, especially the Empire State Building and the Hudson River.  This time, we got on at 14th Street and walked north to 30th Street.  Along the way there are great restaurants and bars.  We  then wandered through a few of the art galleries that now populate the Chelsea neighborhood in droves. Gallery openings take place on the first Thursday of the month.  To get a glimpse of the New York art scene, read Steve Martin’s Object of Beauty.  It’s not my favorite book, but he knows and describes the New York art scene well. We capped off our walk with lunch at the Chelsea Market.

On an entirely different subject, I had to add a photo of a dog I saw at the holiday market at Union Square, who didn’t seem to be too humiliated to be wearing this outfit.