Wright in Your Own Backyard

This weekend the Museum will open Line and Form: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Wasmuth Portfolio, an exhibition drawn from a monograph of prints based on drawings produced by the architect and his studio that is widely recognized as one of the most important architectural publications of the 20th century. Having already gained prominence for a number of innovative residential projects in Chicago, Wright collaborated with a German printer in 1910 to create and distribute the portfolio to promote his work to a larger audience in the U.S. and abroad. The portfolio helped establish Frank Lloyd Wright’s reputation, and he went on to a long and prolific career as the century’s most iconic American architect.

As Frank Lloyd Wright’s reputation grew in the decades following the publication of the Wasmuth portfolio, the city of Dallas burgeoned as well; it is no wonder that Dallas’s civic and artistic leaders would look to the foremost American modernist architect to put his stamp on this growing, forward-thinking city.

In 1934 Stanley Marcus – the legendary Dallas stylemaker and retailer – and his wife began plans to build a house for their family in East Dallas, near White Rock Lake. As Mr. Marcus wrote in his autobiography, Minding the Store, the search began with architects based on the East Coast, as “modern architecture had not been discovered in Dallas up to that point.” After interviewing several prominent architects, the Marcuses met with Frank Lloyd Wright to seek his advice on potential candidates; Wright responded, “Why take the imitation while you can still get the original? I’ll do your house.” Unfortunately, the project was never completed with Wright’s designs; the notoriously temperamental architect was fired from the project, and the house was eventually completed by a Dallas-based architect, Roscoe DeWitt.

On Saturday I’m looking forward to attending the Legacies Dallas History Conference and especially to hearing Charles Marshall’s lecture When Frank Met Stanley: Frank Lloyd Wright and Stanley Marcus. Also, the Dallas chapter of the American Institute of Architects publishes a great quarterly publication entitled Columns; the Fall 2010 issue includes two articles about the Stanley Marcus house, which you can read online.

The original model for the Marcus House, as designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Marcus House in its final form, designed by Roscoe DeWitt

Despite a rather inauspicious start, Frank Lloyd Wright did receive several important commissions from Dallas clients throughout his career. Perhaps the most notable project to come to fruition was the Kalita Humphreys Theater, which served as the primary home for the Dallas Theater Center for fifty years – from 1959 until 2009, when the company moved to the Arts District and the new Wyly Theater. Although based on earlier, unrealized theatrical designs, the theater was considered to be very innovative, and it expressed the architect’s long and strongly held principles about integrating a building into context, or the “belief that architecture has an inherent relationship with both its site and its time.” The Kalita Humphreys Theater would become one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s last projects, as he passed away just months before its construction was complete. I enjoyed these interviews with members of the Dallas Theater Center company about working in a Frank Lloyd Wright building.

The plan of the Kalita Humphreys Theater. Image from the Hekman Digital Archive.

The Kalita Humphreys Theater

Take a closer look at Wright’s final project the next time you walk or ride on the Katy Trail along Turtle Creek, and explore his early masterpieces through selections of the Wasmuth portfolio, which will be on view at the DMA from January 30 until July 17, 2011.

Lisa Kays is Manager of Adult Programming at the Dallas Museum of Art.


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