Motoring West the Wright Way
Many things Frank Lloyd Wright did intersected with U.S. Route 66 — his own journeys on the famous Mother Road, his buildings that still stand on it and his passion for cars.
The Friends of the Bourbonnais Public Library hosted a special presentation, “Motoring West the Wright Way,” with guest speaker and highway historian, author and tour guide David Clark on Tuesday at the library.
“In a professional career lasting more than seven decades, Frank Lloyd Wright got his kicks and then some in many places, including on Route 66,” Clark said.
Wright was born in Wisconsin. At the age of 20, he moved to Chicago to work as chief draftsperson for the architect firm Adler & Sullivan. While there, he worked on drawings for the 18-story Auditorium Theater Building, which opened in 1889. The multipurpose building, a new concept at that time, served as a hotel, theater and office space. The Auditorium Building, located near Route 66, is now part of Roosevelt University.
During his time at Adler & Sullivan, Wright also worked on the Charnley-Persky House in the Gold Coast area of Chicago. Completed in 1891, the home located near Route 66 is now a museum operated by The Society of Architectural Historians.
One of only two Wright designs directly on Route 66 is the Rookery Building, at Adams (Route 66) and LaSalle streets in Chicago. Built in 1886, Wright was commissioned to remodel the lobby in 1905.
The other is First National Bank of Dwight. According to Route 66 historians, the highway ran along Main Street west of the railroad tracks through Dwight for only one year, 1926. Thus, the 1905 bank building at 122 W. Main St., is the other of the two Wright designs directly on an alignment to Route 66.
In 1889, Wright married Catherine Tobin and, with funding from Louis Sullivan, built a home and studio in Oak Park. It was while living in Oak Park that Wright obtained his first car, a 1909 Stoddard Dayton Model K Roadster. The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, located near Route 66, is operated by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust and is open for tours.
In 1904, Wright was commissioned to design a house for the Cheney family. He worked closely with Mrs. Mamah Cheney very well. Their ongoing scandal made life difficult for them in Oak Park, and Wright began to build a new home and workshop for himself and Mamah and her children.
The home is Taliesin in Spring Green, Wis. In 1914, a servant set fire to the house and murdered Mrs. Cheney, her two young children and two Wright associates with a hatchet as they fled the flames. Wright immediately began to rebuild the house in her honor.
Wright married Miriam Noel in 1924 but began dating Olgivanna Lazovich Hinzenburg, whom he married in 1928.
In the years after World War I, a resurgence in popularity of traditional building designs led to little work and financial difficulties for Wright, Clark said. Also during that time, Wright found it difficult to afford young draftspeople as salaried apprentices because of his lack of steady work.
It was Olgivanna who came up with the idea Wright start a school to obtain assistants to help him while learning instead of paying them, and the Taliesin Fellowship began.
In 1934, Wright accepted an offer to work on a hotel for Dr. Alexander Chandler near Phoenix, Ariz., his first trip west with the Taliesin Fellowship, leading the way in his 1929 Cord Cabriolet.
Two years later, Wright purchased property in Scottsdale, Ariz., and began building Taliesin West. Now the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and archives, it continues today as the site of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.
From that time forward, the migration from Wisconsin to Arizona and back became an annual caravan, Clark said.
“These trips led by Wright often used portions of Route 66,” Clark said. “During each trip west, the group would often take side trips to see things such as the Grand Canyon, and they visited California often.”
Wright had a passion for the automobile and, among others, owned a 1953 Chevy Suburban and 1955 Chevy Nomad station wagon, both used on the caravan trips west and on the Taliesen properties to move people around the property.
Wright also owned a 1940 Lincoln Continental, which he had modified specifically for him with features including no back window. Wright quipped he drove looking forward, and a rear window was unnecessary.
Later in life, Wright designed a series of concepts of suburban development united under the term Broadacre City, a perfect model suburb for people who own cars. While that “city” never was built, parts of his concept design were used at a gas station in Cloquet, Minn.
Brand new cars were showcased spinning round on a turntable Wright designed for Hoffman Auto Showroom in New York. Wright also was famous for designing the Guggenheim Museum.
His idea was for visitors to take the elevator to the top of the museum and walk the ramp all the way down. That architectural marvel led to his design of the John Hancock Center parking garage.
At the time of his death in 1959, Wright had designed more than 1,000 structures, of which 532 were completed. Locally, Wright designed the B. Harley Bradley House, 701 S. Harrison Ave., Kankakee in 1900 for B. Harley and Anna Hickox Bradley. The home was next door to Anna’s brother’s house.
The B. Harley Bradley House is open for tours. For more information, go to wrightinkankakee.org.
Clark is author of “Exploring Route 66 in Chicagoland,” “Route 66 in Chicago” and “The Roads that Lead to Lincoln.” Clark also hosts walking and tasting tours. The next Talk a Walk on the 66 side is at 12:30 p.m. March 23 at Union Station in Chicago. For more information, go to eventbrite.com/e/take-a-walk-on-the-66-side-food-for-the-road-tickets-56309283583.