New biography, "Plagued By Fire: The dreams and furies of Frank Lloyd Wright" – Crain’s Chicago Business

Posted: October 3, 2019 at 11:44 am

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Frank Lloyd Wright, almost as famous for his ego and for flouting his eras moral code as for his buildings, is the subject of a new biography, whose author says he wanted to scrape away the refuse of Wrights arrogance and illuminate the fundamental decency at the bottom.

He wanted the money, he wanted the fame; he was a reprobate and an adulterer, said Paul Hendrickson, whose Plagued By Fire: The Dreams and Furies of Frank Lloyd Wright, is out this month. But I dont think its possible to look at the buildings without feeling there must have been a fundamental soulfulness in this guy.

The book opens with the notoriousfire and murders at Wrights Spring Green, Wis., home and studio, Taliesin, in August 1914, when a worker who disapproved of Wright's lifestyle killed Wrights inamorata, her two children and four others while the architect was in Chicago at his Midway Gardens project. Its evidence, Hendrickson told Crains, that although he mocked the middle-class values he came from, he never could escape them.

But while other writers portray Wright as moving on from the tragedy with little self-awareness, in Hendricksons view he was mindful, ever making amends in some way. One way of making amends, Hendrickson suggests in the book, was Wrights embrace of affordable housing designs, his Usonian homes, such as the one Wright designedin Rockford for a disabled World War II veteran using his state and federal funding for paralyzed veterans.

It's "a wrong-headed misperception," Hendrickson writes in the book, "that the stainless steel armature of Frank Lloyd Wright's ego and arrogance allowed him to ride through the world for nearly a century without pain or remorse. He was always looking behind, however surreptitiously."

Hendrickson, who grew up down the street from Wrights B. Harley Bradley house in Kankakee and went on to work for the Washington Post and write several biographies,will speak at the Oak Park Public Library on Oct. 8 and the Robie House in Hyde Park on Oct. 9. He spoke to Crains in advance of the visit.

Crains: So Wright got into affordable housing as a way to make amends for the tragedy at Taliesin?Hendrickson: He made his reputation building large Prairie Style homes for wealthy clients. He sought these commissions avidly. (After Taliesin) he wanted to build beautiful structures for mankind that would enhance the domestic quality of life. He comes up with these beautiful spare, utilitarian Usonian houses, affordable housing for the working American man and wife. That suggests something deep and fundamental about who he was.

In West Pullman, theresa Wright house that has been for sale since April 2017. Its now priced at about three-quarters what it last sold for, in 2005. This is going on all over Chicago and the suburbs: Wright housesoften prove very hard to sell. If we admire his work so much, why is this happening?I think it has something to do with the upkeep and maintenance of these buildings, the expectation that youll always be doing it, and it may have to do with having passersby knocking on your door or standing on your sidewalk looking in the windows.

Many of those houses were bought a few decades ago during a resurgence of interest in Wright, and rehabbed by people who loved them. Are we less interested in Wright than we used to be?I wonder about that, too, and I dont think so. Im not saying so to unsubtly promote my book. There was an earlier wave that swept him into real estate fashion. It was powerful to say, I live in a Frank Lloyd Wright house, and now it may be a little less so.

But I think Wright worked his way into the cultural imagination of America. He becomes like Elvis or Hemingway, hes evergreen, theres always going to be an appetite for Frank Lloyd Wright stories.

The interest is there for novels and biographies and plays, but that may be a separate question from, "Do you want to buy and live in one of these houses?"

Wright demands a lot of you. He wants you to be a guest in his house. He was building for clients, but also for Frank Lloyd Wright. In the same way, the Guggenheim is a great building, but it is not a great museum for looking at art. You payphysically, emotionally and financiallyto live in one of his houses.

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New biography, "Plagued By Fire: The dreams and furies of Frank Lloyd Wright" - Crain's Chicago Business

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October 3rd, 2019 at 11:44 am

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