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One Wright Pilgrimage

Visit southwestern Pennsylvania to see a series of very different Wright houses, including the architect’s residential masterpiece.
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Fallingwater, Wright house

Settled into its site, Fallingwater glows on an autumn evening. 

Oak Park, Taliesin East and West, and Buffalo are on every Frank Lloyd Wright pilgrim’s itinerary. For something extra—including period accommodations—add a trip to this area 90 minutes from Pittsburgh. Here are high points of the Wright houses, beginning with the holy grail of residential architecture:

waterfall at Wright house

This is the most famous aspect of the residence and its waterfall. 

FALLINGWATER 

Wright house living room

The large living room has separate areas for music, study, conversation, and dining. 

After they check in, visitors to the house proceed along a wooded path to a fork in the road. The trail on the left leads to the edge of Bear Run’s rocky, splashing flow. A clearing opens, and there it is: the money shot of one of the most famous houses in the world, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1935–38 Fallingwater. The view never fails to move and impress pilgrims who come by the millions. Seen from across- and downstream, the house shows off the sheer audacity and irresistible desirability of perching above a waterfall. Any other design would have been banal, beside the point.

When you walk your guests towards your summer home, Frank Lloyd Wright told his clients, this is the path to take. The clients were Pittsburgh department-store owners Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann, whose son, Edgar Kaufmann Jr., led them to Wright. In 1963, Edgar bequeathed the house to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. For schedules, tour reservations, etc., go to fallingwater.org

Kentuck Knob, Wright house

Kentuck Knob, designed on a hexagonal module, is built of sandstone and red cypress. 

KENTUCK KNOB 

Pennsylvania dairy-company owners I.N. and Bernadine Hagan became friends of the Kaufmanns. The Hagans loved their friends’ house Fallingwater, and yearned for a Wright house of their own, albeit on a smaller scale. In 1956, then 86-year-old Wright designed a one-storey, crescent-shaped Usonian house for the Hagans. Recessed into the southern side of Kentuck Knob’s 2,050-foot peak, the house of red cypress, glass, and native sandstone curls around a west-facing courtyard, blending into the contours of the land. The name Kentuck Knob is credited to an 18th-century local man who intended to move to Kentucky but reconsidered.

The Hagans lived here for almost 30 years. In 1986, Lord Palumbo of London, England, bought the property as a vacation home and, since 1996, has balanced occupancy with a public tour program. Lord Palumbo is also an art collector who has added a sculpture meadow with work by artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, Harry Bertoia, Claes Oldenburg, Ray Smith, Michael Warren, and Sir Anthony Caro. Found-art pieces include red British telephone boxes and a large, upright concrete slab from the Berlin Wall. From the house or visitor’s center, a walking path in the woods leads to the meadow. More at kentuckknob.com

Duncan House, Frank Lloyd Wright house

The Duncan House is at Polymath Park.

POLYMATH PARK 

Polymath Park is a more indirect offspring of Fallingwater. Architect Peter Berndtson, a Wright protégée, designed a pair of vacation houses for the Blums and the Balters, who, like the Kaufmanns, were artistically-inclined Jewish families from Pittsburgh. Berndtson’s two designs, completed in 1963 and 1965, were to be augmented by a resort development that never happened. Tom and Heather Papinchak purchased the property from the original owners in 2004. Tom had headed up a construction company.

In 2006, the Papinchaks bought the 1957 Duncan House, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses (designed to be prefabricated). Built in Lisle, Illinois, the house was in danger of demolition and was salvaged by a small group of Wright enthusiasts from Johnstown (Penn.) and by the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy. Dismantled piece by piece, the house was moved 600 miles to a place near the Balter and Blum houses, to become part of the “resort” Berndtson might have intended. The compound, aptly named Polymath Park, offers meals and overnight lodging. See polymathpark.com

Wright Overnight
Polymath Park’s Heather Papinchak laughs, “This project found us.” She and husband Tom bring together their passions for historic preservation, hospitality, and Frank Lloyd Wright. They preserve history by making the three historic houses on the property (Balter, Blum, and Duncan) available for overnight stays, and also house tours, some with meals included. Nearby, the Wright-inspired, award-winning Treetops Restaurant completes the immersive experience. For dates, rates, and more, go to franklloydwrightovernight.net; treetopsrestaurant.net

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