Frank Lloyd Wright is widely considered to be America’s greatest architect and one of its most significant artists. In a remarkable career spanning over seventy years, he created over 1,000 designs, 500 of which were realized. Sadly, nearly 20% of his executed works have been destroyed because of fire, neglect or development.
In 1985, a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, while attempting to restore the Darwin Martin House (then owned by SUNY), conceived the idea of a Wright building owners’ conference. Shortly after, a conference geared towards directors of publicly-accessible Wright buildings was held. This initial conference confirmed the need for a larger organization to include Wright homeowners as part of a total conservation effort.
By the time of the 1987 conference, a crisis was occurring in the Wright decorative art marketplace. The demand for Wright furniture and artifacts had reached unprecedented prices. Windows, furniture and architectural ornamentation were appearing on the market and were being gobbled up by deep-pocketed dealers and collectors. At this time there was a vigorous move to establish a dynamic organization, dedicated to conservation, education, and the protection of Wright’s remaining architectural heritage. It was suggested that this new organization be open to everyone, not just property owners. The seeds were planted for the Conservancy.
In 1989, at the annual meeting at Wingspread (Herbert Johnson Sr. House, Racine, WI), the decision was made to formalize the meetings and to create a non-profit organization, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. In 1990, the first official Conservancy conference was held at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Since the Conservancy’s formation, its constituency has grown to include thousands of members and supporters worldwide. Membership is open to anyone interested in Wright, including architects, scholars, preservationists, architecture buffs, artisans and, especially, Wright building owners.
Although many Wright structures are designated National Historic Landmarks or are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, such designation does not guarantee that these structures are not threatened due to homeowner disinterest and/or encroaching development. Other structures present preservation challenges beyond the financial means of their owners, placing a premium on the Conservancy’s efforts as the only preservation organization concerned solely with the entire body of Wright’s work.
The establishment of the Conservancy’s Lewis-Haines Revolving Fund in 2000, through the very generous contribution of a Wright homeowner, has stimulated the Conservancy’s ability to become more active and aggressive in the rescue of endangered structures. The Conservancy has played an integral role in the saving of a number of houses, including Auldbrass Plantation (1940, Yemassee, SC), the Allen Friedman House (1956, Bannockburn, IL) the Goetsch-Winckler House (1939, Okemos, MI), the Gordon House (1956, Wilsonville, OR), the Westcott House (1904, Springfield, OH), the Glasner House (1905, Glencoe, IL) and the Duncan House (1957, Lisle, IL).