The Work and Influence of Frank Lloyd Wright in Dallas/Ft. Worth Texas
By James Robert Watson, PhD, January 1984; updated: 1988, 2012, 2016
Table of Contents
Frank Lloyd Wright
The Prairie Style
Wright's Structures in Dallas/Ft. Worth
The Rockbrook House
The Dallas Theater Center
The Indian Creek House
The Wrightian Style in Dallas/Ft. Worth
Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Arizona) is considered by many to be America's greatest architect. He was certainly influential in his concepts and styles of architecture. This essay discusses the structures that he designed in Dallas/Ft. Worth, structures in the North Texas area that are designed in the Wrightian style, and three concepts of architecture: organic architecture, transitions, and the Prairie Style, that he developed and with which he made an indelible mark on the history and direction of architecture.
Frank Lloyd Wright started not with a style, but with an idea. Architecture is primarily an idea - an idea about life, nature, and environment. Architecture represents a wide range of values that have a very direct effect on people's lives. Wright's idea of architecture was a principle he called 'organic architecture', indigenous of the soil, the time, the place, and of man. Humans are part of nature, subject to the laws, rhythms, and mysteries of nature and happiest if they live in harmony with it. Their dwellings should reflect this unity inside and out. In his time, Wright put great faith in technology, but he felt that man must be dramatized, not the machine. Design is an abstraction of nature with its elements in purely geometric terms. The 'box', being unlike an organism in nature, was becoming too rigid a limitation on both man and space. Structure should simply be an organic response to creating space.
He loved architecture as a romantic and prophetic way of life. Architecture is that great living creative spirit from which generation to generation proceeds, persists, and creates, according to the nature of man and his circumstances. Wright liked oriental and primitive cultures because of their unity with nature, where man could feel his life in an organic whole. In the machine, Wright saw the potential to transform the environment in harmony with nature. Instead, he saw the machine separating man from nature. Wright felt that man should deduce laws of procedure that are inherent in all natural growths for use as basic principles for good buildings. Man is a product of such natural laws. Wright's love of nature inclined him to use natural materials for the beauty of their natural pattern and texture. He relied generally on pre-industrial, non-synthetic materials, and, in this sense, his buildings came closest to developing a sense of tradition.
Designing a building as an organic entity, it was necessary for building and furniture to be in harmony. Wright was thorough in his concepts of design for a particular project. He would often insist on designing not only the building, but also the furniture, flatware, floor coverings, and light fixtures. he used the same principles of organic shape and line - these items should be of the house itself, never just resting upon or within it. Wright stated that the meaning of ornament was the imagination providing a natural pattern to the structure itself. Organic architecture demanded a unity of the ornament with the building, the furnishings, and the site. Wright considered his buildings living organisms in which all was unified in an architectural whole. If a building is conceived in its organic sense, then all ornamentation is conceived as of the very structure itself.
An organic structure defines and prophecies life, it grows along with those who use it, states an idea about a social reality, and is as unified and economical as nature itself. A building can only be functional, Wright insisted, when it is integrated with the environment and formed with respect to the nature of the materials according to purpose and method so as to become a living entity. Organic architecture is more easily described than defined, just as Wright's buildings are more easily experienced than explained. Wright's architecture is holistic, almost Zen-like - the result of working with the exterior to express the nature of the interior.
As Wright controlled the structure and every integral part within, so he also liked to control one's perception of the total structure and its immediate surroundings. When one is standing within one of Wright's structures, he/she is, knowingly or not, experiencing what Wright wanted the participant to experience. It is important for the transition from where one is to where one will be to be smooth and unobtrusive. For example, in a movie theater, one is sitting in a large, well lit space talking with neighbors, and often listening to music. Within a matter of minutes, the entire environment will change - the lights, the music, the colors, the focus of the audience, and the conversation. To make the transition from environment A to environment B takes only a few minutes, but it is effective in that after the environmental changes and the previews of upcoming attractions, one is ready to watch the movie. That transition is important to allow each member of the audience to leave their individual realm and get to the controlled realm of the movie.
Wright did the same thing with his buildings. He takes the user, upon approach to the structure, and leads them into the building. One is allowed, even required, to experience the essence of the structure before even getting inside. No matter where one is coming from, the effect has been completed and Wright's structure has worked its magic by the time one is inside. It could be as dramatic and awesome as driving up to the Marin County Civic Center north of San Francisco or walking up to the Guggenheim Museum in New York City or as subtle as searching for the front door of a house in Chicago or a theater in Dallas.
An established procedure for winning an argument is to go where the other is standing (figuratively), take him by the hand, and lead him to where you want him to be - a process of going from there to here. This is precisely what Frank Lloyd Wright does with his structures in their space. He takes us by the hand and leads us to where he wants us to be.
The Prairie Style
The third major contribution and influence from Frank Lloyd Wright was his development and leadership of a movement called the Prairie Style, lasting from 1899 to 1919. This was one of America's most successful attempts to achieve a national style of architecture. Architects of the Prairie Style were headquartered in the Midwest - primarily Chicago and Wright's studio in suburban Oak Park. Influenced by the shingle Style, commercial architecture in Chicago, and the English Arts & Crafts movement; its biggest contributions to design were the layout, traffic flow, and textural appearances of homes throughout the Midwest. Previously, the American middle class home was a small-scale imitation of the English country house: small rooms, hallways, back stairs, servant's quarters, and butler's pantry. With industrialization and urbanization, however, came the change from homeowners as producers of goods to consumers of goods. Wright's response to this shift was to make the kitchen an efficient workshop and to gather the family around the hearth, as if to provide a central location to hold the family together.
Wright wrote in 1908 that the natural beauty of the Midwest prairie should be recognized and accentuated, resulting in gently sloping roofs, low proportions, quiet sky lines, suppressed heavy-set chimneys, sheltering overhangs, low terraces, and out-reaching walls enclosing private gardens. Other characteristics of the Prairie Style:
• Large central fireplaces
• Prominent, low, and wide chimneys
• Built-in furniture
• Natural materials
• Earth colors
• Leaded-glass windows
• Horizontal bands in the structure and in banks of windows
• Open flowing floor plans
• Raised central blocks with flanking wings
• Projecting eaves
• Hidden front doors
• Wide steps.
These elements provided a strong transition from the surrounding environment to the interior of the structure. The prairie homes became artistic organisms developing in space, conforming to and enhancing the setting, and fulfilling the function of a family home.
Even though Wright proclaimed that he created the Prairie Style, it was indeed a school or movement with contributions from many architects. Wright was so prolific, controversial, innovative, and powerful that he is generally given credit for the entire movement. The Prairie Style was popular until World War I when technology and the machine age caused it to be almost forgotten. It experienced a slight revival in the 1950s when it became the basis for split level and ranch houses.
Wright's structures in Dallas/Ft. Worth: Proposed projects
Stanley Marcus house
In 1935, Stanley Marcus, of the Neiman Marcus specialty store, bought a site in north Dallas for his new house. He knew he wanted it to be very contemporary but he didn't know who should design it. He went to Taliesin in Wisconsin to consult with Mr. Wright. Wright had designed several contemporary houses in California, the Imperial Hotel in Japan, and the Midway Gardens in Chicago. In 1935 he was just beginning his romantic experimental style that would surface later in the Guggenheim Museum, Fallingwater, and the Marin County civic center. Wright's expertise was probably well known to Marcus. Marcus had someone in mind like Richard Neutra and he asked Wright who he would suggest. Wright, characteristically, replied that Marcus should not settle for a substitute while the master was still available. Wright got the commission.
Wright visited the site in Dallas and was given a budget of $40,000 with which to work (worth about $2,000,000 in 2005). After sessions with Marcus in Dallas and Taliesin, Wright's final plan came in at a cost of $140,000. The two men wrestled with changes and cost adjustments, but could not come to an agreement. The plan was dropped and Marcus hired a Dallas architect to design his contemporary home for $40,000.
Rogers Lacy Hotel
Wright returned to Dallas in 1946 to design a hotel to be located on the corner of Commerce and Ervay streets in downtown Dallas. The commission was for $12 million and that was significant to Wright - it would be his first multimillion dollar commission in this country. The money was from Rogers Lacy, a Dallas oilman previously from Longview, Texas. The structure was to be a boldly cantilevered steel tower 47 stories tall, which would have made it the tallest building west of the Mississippi. The exterior was to be covered with diamond-shaped glass panels arranged in a fish scale pattern. This type of construction can be seem today on the Wrightian style Public Health Building on University Drive in Ft. Worth. The most striking feature of the hotel would have been its floor to roof atrium in the center surrounded on the first few floors by shops and restaurants. Mr. Lacy died before the working drawings were finished and Wright eventually had to sue Lacy's estate to recover his $50,000 fee.
The project survives, however, in the work of the modern architect John Portman. Portman has acknowledged incorporating the atrium concept from the Rogers Lacy Hotel project into his own Hyatt Regency hotels.
Wright resurfaced in DFW when Mrs. Ann Windfohr, an heir to the Ft. Worth Burnett fortune, commissioned Wright to design her new home in the Ft. Worth island suburb of Westover Hills. Wright visited the site in 1949 and began working on plans for the house. At some point between then and the final plan, the two had a severe difference of opinion. It seems that Mrs. Windfohr was as stubborn and obstinate as Mr. Wright and the association was ended. Mrs. Windfohr subsequently divorced Mr. Windfohr, married Charles Tandy, and hired IM Pei to design her house on the same site.
Wright's structures in Dallas/Ft. Worth: Completed projects
The Rockbrook House
Wright returned to Dallas/Ft. Worth to begin work on the Gillin house on Rockbrook Drive in Dallas, near Northwest Highway and Inwood Road. This project, his fourth in DFW, would be the first one to be built in the area. The house, according to Wright, was to be one of the finest examples of residential organic architecture and one of the world's most beautiful homes. Designed for the John Gillin family, the house was designed in 1950, construction was started in 1953, and it was completed in 1958. It was Wright's last home constructed before his death.
The home was designed in response to his client's enormous Texas architectural appetite, the Southwest climate, and its site of seven acres overlooking a creek. Elements drawn from a 70 year career can be found in this home. The acute angles of 60 and 120 degrees give intimacy to the rooms with ample light-filled space and volume that is unusual for a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home. Long horizontal walls of native stone and horizontal bands of windows converge to create a dramatic entry under a hexagonal copper dome. A module of equilateral parallelograms is organized around a massive angular fireplace. Angled geometric shapes are found in the roof, the elevation and the details of the house. Rockbrook draws more on his Arizona houses and Arizona Biltmore Hotel than the Midwestern homes he designed early in the century. This home, with an abundance of stone and brick, a concrete roof and copper detailing has survived well.
The house is in a triangular theme with the plan a 120 degree axial layout, similar to the angular plan of Taliesin West near Phoenix. The triangles provide organic unity with each line being 30, 60, or 120 degrees. There are triangular skylights throughout the house to admit natural sunlight and help bring the outdoors in. Typical of Wright and the Prairie Style, there is much open space in the public rooms and many of the cabinets are built-ins. The ceiling is carved cypress and the woodwork and floors are teak. There is a fireplace in each of the four bedrooms and in the living room.
Once inside the front gate, the front door is easy to find, unlike in Wright's earlier houses. The front steps are wide and in the rear, the terrace steps gently to the land which continues the slope to the creek. The house is wide and low with a gently pitched roof similar to the one on the Unitarian Church in Madison, Wisconsin. In the center, at the intersection of the two wings, is a cupola to define this as the focal point - the starting point of the house. This cupola sits directly over the living room, the main room of the house.
The supporting structure is steel with glass and stone walls. Wright specified that each stone surface was to be uncut and left in its natural state. Where the floors are not teak, Wright used terrazzo to complement the stone walls. The exterior stone work is quite similar to the exterior of Taliesin East. Wright designed much of the furniture in the original home. The dining table is a large parallelogram capable of seating 14. Wright also designed an angular serving bar and work island in the kitchen.
The house of 11,000 square feet is a combination of Wright's early Oak park Prairie Style homes and his more modern romantic period. The triangular theme, long axial layout, and materials are modern while the low profile, strong horizontals, low wide steps, and details are from the Prairie Style.
The Dallas Theater Center
Frank Lloyd Wright claimed that all his buildings united form and function, that all expressed and sustained the idea of the social nature of the activity they served. The Dallas Theater Center was about the idea of stage production. Given all the relevant conditions of the commission, this theater, Wright felt, had found its only appropriate form - another architect's solution would have been totally wrong. These statements may be due, in part, to Wright's overdeveloped ego, but sometimes his work succeeded enough to make this theory plausible. His design for the theater is magnificent with its dramatic line, form, and site orientation. An architect hired to remodel and renovate the theater states that even though the structure doesn't always function well as a theater, he was continually surprised at how well most of the building works most of the time.
The origins of the theater can be traced back to the 1930s when Wright first played with the triangle and hexagon as modules for floor plans. He first sketched the basic concepts for the theater in 1932 and labeled the project The New Theater Project. Wright was a dramatist. He built auditoriums at both Taliesin East and West and encouraged performances at each site. This attitude probably led to his sketching a complete theater facility before ever being hired to build such a project. From 1936-1946, he played with the circular theme, first in the Johnson Wax buildings in Racine, Wisconsin, and later at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. His New Theater Project was pulled off the shelf and developed into a working plan when Wright was hired in 1948 to design a theater for Hartford, Connecticut. The Hartford group had problems raising the necessary financing (Wright was not cheap) so the theater plans went back up on the shelf.
In 1954, Mrs. Beatrice Handel noted the lack of a good educational and performing theater group in her new hometown of Dallas. She gathered some friends, Lanham Deal, Robert Stecker, and John Rosenfield, who shared her concern to solve this problem. They determined that the city needed a facility that would accommodate children's, teenage, and adult programs in performing arts as well as a professional repertory company. The group hired Paul Baker of Baylor University to organize the theater and the educational programs and serve as the first director The objective for the theater was expanded to include a workshop for the Baylor University Graduate School of Drama and a laboratory for experimental theater in staging, lights, sound, and film.
The next step was to get a site for the new theater. Henry S. Miller, a Dallas realtor, helped the new group obtain a site along the banks of Turtle Creek in the Oak Lawn area of Dallas. The land was owned by Sylvan Baer who donated the site providing he could have some say on how the land was to be used.
Frank Lloyd Wright had already worked on several residential and commercial projects in Dallas by this time. One can probably safely assume that his work was well known by civic leaders in Dallas. The drama critic for The Dallas Morning News, John Rosenfield, knew Wright and offered to call him with the prospect of designing the new theater. Wright was very receptive since he had already designed a theater that seemed to fit the needs of the Dallas group. In typical Wright fashion, he stated that he would have to see the site. While poking around the wooded and hilly creek banks, he told Mrs. Handel that he gets his ideas from the natural environment of a site. He was soon hired to design the new Dallas Theater Center.
The design and construction of the theater cost over 1 million dollars (in 1950s dollars) which was raised by private donations. The Dallas City Council and Parks Department assisted in the development of the theater. Wright visited Dallas several times to check on the progress of the theater. On one such visit he helped calm the nerves of the owners concerning the structural safety of a concrete cylinder that would be cantilevered from one half of its circular base. He was successful and the structure was finished without problem. There were some complications with Mr. Baer, the landowner, and some changes in the design and layout of the building that Mr. Baker felt compromised the initial concepts of the theater; but the Dallas Theater Center was completed in 1959, a few months after the death of Frank Lloyd Wright. The associated architects for the project were William Wesley Peters who had become the President and Chief Architect of Taliesin Associated Architects and Kelly Oliver and David George, students of Mr. Wright at Taliesin.
The Dallas Theater Center displays many of the characteristic strengths and weaknesses of Wright's work. It is a boldly sculptural building that accommodates itself to a difficult sloping site. Wright succeeded in having the structure become part of the site. He felt that no structure should be on a hill or on anything - it should be of the hill, belonging to it, so that the hill and the structure could live together. Wright probably expected revisions and additions to be made to the theater. he did feel that his structures should be able to grow and adapt as the needs of the tenant grew and changed. He had designed additions and renovations to several of his earlier structures. Wright also made numerous revisions to his home and studio in Oak Park and to each of the Taliesin compounds in Wisconsin and Arizona. Wright's concern with the additions would be that they be designed by he himself or at least by one of his students.
The facility was enlarged in 1969. The Architect was William Wesley Peters and the Associate Architect was Kelly Oliver. Additions included enlarging the lobby, extending and adding to the second floor to create a rehearsal hall and more office space. From 1969 to 1983, David George was the theater architect. Only minor changes were made during this period. In 1983 and early 1984, more substantial changes were completed. Some of the weaknesses of the original structure were being overcome:
• The slope of the auditorium was altered to provide better sightlines. Previously, the gradual slope and height of the stage required theatergoers to shift in their seats to maintain a better view of the stage. Auditorium seating was reduced from the original 440 seats to 416.
• The lobby was enlarged yet again. It was just not adequate for intermission crowds. In the Northeast, theater crowds were not used to large lobbies and maybe Wright could get by with a small lobby in Hartford, but this was the wide open spaces of Texas - and Texans demanded more breathing room.
• Interior walls were repainted in the original colors that Wright had specified.
• A second, more intimate, theater was built in the basement. Originally, the basement was intended for a rehearsal hall and scenery and prop workshops. During construction, Wright moved the mechanical equipment from a detached building to the basement, thereby taking up much of the space. In 1983, a rehearsal hall had been added to the new second floor wing and the scenery shop was moved to a satellite theater in the Downtown Dallas Arts District. The basement now had adequate room for another theater which allowed the theater center to offer more shows, sell more tickets, and make more money. The architect for this renovation was Art Rogers, who, while not a student of Wright's, did respect the integrity and philosophy of his work. Rogers had worked with Baker on a new theater at Trinity university and was well versed in the needs of theater design. The design for the theater at Trinity won Rogers an award from the American Institute of Architects.
Another problem in the structure is the lack of space backstage for moving and storing scenery and props. Wright's stubbornness led him to design the theater according to how he thought drama should be presented. He wanted the structure to be as much a part of the play as the action in the play.
The theater is an organic structure. The surrounding rock is white, as is the theater. The few windows are arranged in a thin horizontal band providing some detail and ornament and creating a sense of human scale. One does not, however, feel much sense of human scale upon approaching the building from the drive or parking areas. Except in winter when there are no leaves on the trees along the creek bank, the theater is fairly well hidden. It is not until one drives up the curving drive that the theater comes into view and takes on its dominant position against the slight hill. The entire structure is poured-in-place concrete encasing steel rebar framing. The dominant forms are the large cylinder over the stage, two flanking circular wings, the parallelogram windows, and the bare wall planes.
As with most of Wright's buildings, the transition from city street and city life to sitting in a theater is well orchestrated. The first sight of the theater is foreboding and massive. The angles, color, and masses all help identify the building as a large structure belonging in an urban area. As one parks and walks up the drive to the entrance, the masses get smaller until one reaches the end of the drive. To get to the front door, which is now in view for the first time since arrival, one must walk past the building, past the white angular masses, past the round ramp well, and past the tall cylinder that is the 'hearth' of the structure. Upon turning the corner of a low wall to advance towards the front door, one notices, maybe unconsciously, that the scale has gradually changed. The entry doors are in a wall that has a fairly low ceiling and that ceiling is supported by rather thin tapering gold columns with slight detailing in the top third. These columns are used only at the entrance where the theatergoer must come in direct contact with them. Even though the building is huge and massive, wherever one must come in contact with it, it is smaller and easier to handle. Continuing inside, the lobby ceiling is still rather low as the lobby curves around one of the two ramp wells to the main entrance to the auditorium. One entire wall of the lobby is topped with a band of truncated parallelogram windows that were seen from the outside. The shape of the windows approximates the shape of the theater in plan. Upon entering the auditorium, the ceiling soars above allowing one to view the entire space. The most obvious feature in here is the round stage and the half cylinder visible above the stage. One's attention is directed towards the stage - where the action will be that once came to see.
Since leaving the car, one has experienced a transition from outdoors to indoors, from grand scale to human scale, from minimal detail to intimate detail, and from sculptural forms to practical forms. These transitions are strong examples of Wright's genius. The form and layout of the structure has dictated our exact movement from city to stage.
The Indian Creek House
In the Westover Hills suburb within Ft. Worth are houses designed by IM Pei and Paul Rudolph. Frank Lloyd Wright was familiar with this area as he had earlier explored a site for Mrs. Windfohr, a potential client, a couple of blocks away. The house on Indian Creek was not designed by Wright but is included here because it was designed by William Wesley Peters who, upon Wright's death, became the Chief Architect of the Taliesin Fellowship. Wes Peters was more than just a student of Wright's - he was the very essence and embodiment of Wright. The house was finished in 1983 and sits on one and a half acres atop a hill overlooking the street and valley below.
The structure of the house is steel and concrete block covered with ashlar stone, wood trim, and a copper roof similar to those used on the Rockbrook house and the Unitarian Church in Madison WI. There are 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, a central raised dining area, living area, kitchen and breakfast nook, master bedroom and bath, and garage on the entry level. Below, dug into the hill is a game room, utility room, a fourth bedroom, and a large wine cellar with a dumbwaiter to transport wine directly to the kitchen above.
The plan is similar to the Rockbrook house in that it is a 120 degree V shape with the triangle as the unifying geometric element. Triangular skylights allow natural lighting. The triangular living room sits in the joint of the two bedroom wings and in front of the massive stone fireplace and chimney that rise above the roof line to form the visual hearth of the house. This is a Wright trademark from early in his career. The rooms on the main level vary in level, with the living room being the lowest and the dining room being higher to allow diners to see over the living room to the view outside. The exterior walls of the living room are entirely of glass and the floor continues outside to form a terrace. The bedrooms are quite small (the whole house, including garage, is only about 3,200 square feet) but the arrangement of rooms with living spaces seems comfortable. The grounds have been left in their natural state and the driveway paving has triangular forms and is of aggregate stone paving to blend with the rocks on the site. The only major aspect of the house that does not speak strongly of Wright is the unusually large and enclosed foyer inside the front door. This may have been included by request of the owners - it is more traditional in Texas housing.
The Wrightian Style in Dallas/Ft. Worth
Frank Lloyd Wright was concerned about educating others, especially in his particular style of organic architecture. The drafting room of his Oak Park studio was full of students and associates. The Taliesin Fellowship was organized as an educational institution. That Wright had numerous young people seeking to learn from him was a testimony to his genius and importance as an architect. Some of those students may have moved to the North Texas area - there is much work in the area that is of strong Wrightian style. At Wright's funeral, there were several in attendance from Texas. In the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, there was probably a great deal of publicity about Wright. He visited the area in 1935, 1946, 1949, 1950, 1956, 1957, and his last recorded visit in April of 1958 (he died in April, 1959). Wright was good at keeping his name in front of the public, due, in part, to his controversial designs, but also to his reputation as a great architect. He was very prolific, having designed more than 700 structures. As a result, people in North Texas had a great deal of exposure to him and his work. He had been commissioned to design four area projects by 1950. He brought some of his students with him as associate architects and it seems likely that others would have come on their own due to the receptive climate toward Wright in the area. Other architects would certainly have studied his work and philosophies, although never having met or worked with him.
There are several structures in Dallas/Ft. Worth that show strong influence from Wright's work. One measure of a great architect is how he influences the design community with his style, philosophies, and innovations. Although Wright's designs might have some weaknesses, imitation is still a sincere form of respect.
5000 Swiss Avenue at Collett
Swiss Avenue in East Dallas was developed in 1905 with strict regulations on cost and size of the houses to be built on the street. The particular style and design of a house, however, was open to the wishes of the owners. Some residents built their homes in Wright's Prairie Style which was popular in the Midwest from 1900 to about 1925. Several houses on Swiss show Prairie influences - gently pitched roofs, broad terraces, and ornamental details at the tops of columns and stair railings. The most pronounced example, however, is a large two-story house on the corner of Swiss and Collett. Wrightian features include:
• Hidden front door requiring a visitor to experience the house before ever entering
• Horizontally pointed brick mortar which further creates the strong horizontal lines
• Leaded glass windows with typical Wrightian geometric designs
• Centrally located low and wide chimney
• Horizontal bands of concrete that cap the brick walls
• Wide terraces
The overall effect creates a large house that hugs the ground and looks secure and warm, just as Wright displayed in his prairie houses in Illinois, Minnesota, and the Midwest.
5381 Nakoma at Greenway Boulevard
There are several Wrightian influences seen in the houses on Greenway Boulevard north of Mockingbird Lane in Dallas. Most notable are the houses at 5380 Wenonah, 5381 Waneta, and the strong example at 5381 Nakoma. This house shows different periods of Wright - there are Prairie Style touches similar to the houses built from 1939-1950 and similarities to Wrights' later romantic, more massive style. The house was designed by Howard Meyer, a Dallas architect. Meyer was first influenced by the Bauhaus and Le Corbusier whom he had met while studying in Europe. Meyer then worked for the same architectural firm in New York City that Wright used in the mid-1940s as his headquarters while working on preliminary designs for the Guggenheim Museum. Wright and Meyer became friendly acquaintances. In 1950, after moving to Dallas, Meyer was hired to design the Nakoma house by Mrs. Lipshey who was formerly Miss Zale of the jewelry store family. Construction on the house began the following year and was completed in 1952. Although Meyer was primarily a residential architect, he later designed the 3525 Turtle Creek apartment tower across from the Dallas Theater Center and helped with the design of Temple Emanu-El in north Dallas. In the 1980s, Meyer taught Basic Architecture at El Centro College in downtown Dallas.
The house changed hands several times and consequentially was altered quite a bit from the original design. The owners in 1983, Mr. and Mrs. James Clark, hired Meyer to restore the house to its original luster. They succeeded. The interior became a literal museum of contemporary design - furniture by Le Corbusier, Saarinen, and Mies van der Rohe, and engravings by Josef Albers.
Meyer felt that Wright's house designs were a bit impractical so this house shows the strong influence from Wright with some tweaking by Meyer. The 3,000 square foot house is composed of brick masses and planes, bands of windows, and bands of wood sidings. The brick is red Roman brick as used on the Robie house and is pointed horizontally only. The windows are arranged in bands flowing around corners without interruption. The house shows strong resemblance to Wright's proposals for houses in Broadacre City. Much of the interior wood is birch paneling, imported from Wisconsin, with a few touches of teak. The entire wall across the back of the living and dining areas is glass from floor to ceiling and steps out onto a wide terrace enclosed by a low brick wall. Although the house sits on a half acre lot, the rear looks out onto a wide residential greenbelt. The structure is wood frame with a few steel-enhanced wood beams to span the large living area. The first floor contains the foyer, living, dining, den, and breakfast areas in an open flowing plan and the master bedroom and bath, kitchen, storage, and garage. Room divisions in the main living areas are formed by the massive horizontal brick fireplace, the stairway, and built-in cabinets. Upstairs are three more bedrooms. The strong horizontals are broken by the change in materials from brick to glass to wood paneling. Meyer designed this house using the best elements from Wright, the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier, and the De Stijl movement to create a comfortable, warm, and practical house.
9729 Van Dyke at Peavy Road
Donald Speck, a Dallas architect, designed the house at 9729 Van Dyke near Peavy Road in northeast Dallas. Mr. Speck's son later stated that his father would have certainly admitted the profound influence Frank Lloyd Wright had on his architectural thinking. As a grad student in the School of Architecture at the University of Texas, Donald Speck was among a small group who met Wright and had dinner with him during a campus visit. Throughout his life his zeal for Wright's work was undiminished.
For the Van Dyke house, Speck was hired by the Topper family to build a house for their large family (6 children) that would take full advantage of the view of White Rock lake from the hilltop site. The lot is fairly small so Speck proposed a two-story house. It would be the only two-story house on the street and the Toppers were not pleased with the height. The solution was to tuck a full basement into the hillside. The house was completed in 1960 much to the delight and wonderment of the neighbors. Several years later, Mr. Speck moved to Atlanta. After her husband died and the children had all grown and left home, Mrs. Topper sold the house and moved across the street. The house was altered slightly, and, according to Speck's son, the flow of the house has been reoriented and some of the logic and the appeal of the house has been lost.
The house appears to be only one story even though the basement has a band of windows at the top and the ground is recessed at those windows. That lower level looks out, at the back of the lot, across White Rock Lake to a view of downtown Dallas. The house is clad entirely in white brick with wooden trim on the windows. The house is a triangular plan. Similarities exist between the house and Taliesin West, especially in the exposed eave beams and angles. This house has so many Wrightian characteristics that many people accused Speck of building a copy of a Wright plan, apparently offending Speck.
The similarities to Wright's work suggest elements of the Prairie Style and his later romantic period:
• The triangularly themed plan
• Roman brick with horizontal pointed mortar
• Bands of windows
• Projecting eaves
• Orientation to the site
• Dramatic angles and masses
• Detail and ornamentation
5909 Diamond Oaks Court, Haltom City
Inclusion thanks to Wright fan Mr. Hartman.
Camp Bowie Boulevard, Ft. Worth
The architectural firm of McKee & Kamrath of Houston admits to being fascinated and influenced strongly by Wright. They designed several buildings in Ft. Worth. Two are on Camp Bowie Boulevard: the Champlin Petroleum building and the Commercial Standard Life Insurance Company building at 6421. Commercial Standard was owned by Raymond Buck, a friend of Lyndon Johnson and Amon Carter. The associate architect on this building was Preston Geren, a prominent Ft. Worth architect. The building opened in 1956, changed hands several times, and was 'modernized' in 1981 by the Pierce Partnership of Dallas. Much of the original building and detailing was removed. The building is all poured-in-place concrete with metal window shades, metal horizontal bands and caps, and brick accent walls. Wrightian features:
• Typical Roman brick with horizontal pointing only
• Metal window shades and bands reminiscent of Wright's Price Tower of 1952 In Bartlesville Oklahoma
• Strong horizontals on the one-story wing
• Large cantilevered eave
• Geometric detailing on stair railings
• Ash paneling in hallways
• Band of transom windows running entire length of halls to allow natural lighting and increase feeling of openness
• Ceilings in offices on either side of hall are slanted toward the top of the exterior windows to provide maximum light from the outside
The building sits majestically on its site with the four-story wing running parallel to Camp Bowie Boulevard and set behind a small grove of trees. A one-story wing advances from there to the street ending in a small tower at the base of the projecting triangular point. The building entrance is hidden at the intersection of the two wings. The entry lobby is a smaller scale than the massive building, allowing a graceful transition from street to the interior.
Forest Lane, Dallas
A small office building was built for American Investors Life Insurance Company on Forest Lane between Hillcrest and Coit Road in Dallas. That area had not yet been annexed by the City of Dallas so the city has no record of the building's architect. A plaque on the building lists the dedication year as 1952. The building, surrounded by mature trees, was later used for doctor's offices and then by Ross Perot's Electronic Data Systems. When the site was sold and developed as high-end housing, the Wrightian structure was torn down.
The building was similar in appearance to Meyer's Nakoma house with brick masses, wide low steps, and corner windows. The materials were limestone, flagstone on the steps and porch, and wood paneled interior walls. There were low planters inside and out and some Wrightian detailing on the stair railing. The features were characteristic of Wright's houses built in Michigan and the Midwest in the 1940s and similar to Broadacre City housing.
East Northwest Highway, Dallas
The Northlake Doctor's Building at 10405 East Northwest Highway was designed by Hallum & Wrightsman of Dallas and opened in 1966. The four-story concrete structure sits at the front of the lot so there is little chance to make a smooth transition from the busy street; the building has few suggestions of organic qualities of site orientation. There are some strong Wrightian features:
• Exterior facing of brick with bands of recessed windows
• Horizontal concrete bands with concrete caps along the top of the building
• Numerous low terraces and and planters
• Projecting eaves and porticos with large brick columns
The building has some resemblance to the Larkin Building, the early Gale house in Oak Park, the Mason City National Bank of 1909, the Robie House of 1909, and Wright's work in Chicago and Milwaukee in 1915 and 1916.
From Frank Lloyd Wright's period of activity in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area in the 1940s and 50s to the strong stylistic Wrightian influences used by other architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, his work, and his philosophies of organic architecture are easily recognizable in North Texas.
References - Print
• Condit, Carl W. The Chicago School of Architecture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1964
• Dillon, David. Frank Lloyd Wright. Dallas Morning News, August 28, 1983.
• Freudenheim, Susan. Born Again Bauhaus. Texas Homes, July 1983.
• Hanks, David A. The Decorative Designs of Frank Lloyd Wright. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1979.
• Heyer, Paul. Architects on Architecture. New York: Walker Publishing Co, 1978.
• Jacobs, Herbert. Frank Lloyd Wright: America's Greatest Architect. New York: Harcourt Brace & World, 1965.
• Johonnot, Rodney F. The New Edifice of Unity Church. Oak Park, Illinois: The New Unity Church Club, 1906.
• Kalec, Donald G. The Home and Studio of Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park, Illinois, 1889-1911. Oak Park, Illinois: The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, 1982.
• Lauren, Alexis. Taliesin: A Fellowship of Ideas. Attunement, September/October 1983.
• McDevitt, Lorelei Heller. Art & Artisan. Designers West, August 1983.
• Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exhibition notes. New York City, Fall 1983.
• Meyerson, Martin. Face of the Metropolis. New York: Random House, 1963.
• Remington, Roger. Alvin Lustig Remembered. Communication Arts, May/June 1983.
• Rosenfield, Paul. House of Angles. Dallas Times Herald, June 21, 1981.
• Sumner, Alan R. Dallasights: An Anthology of Architecture and Open Spaces. American Institute of Architects, Dallas Chapter, 1978.
• Taylor, Lisa. Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School. Cooper-Hewitt Newsletter, Summer 1983.
• Twombly, Robert C. Frank Lloyd Wright: His Life and His Architecture. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1979.
• Von Eckardt, Wolf. Reassessing the Wright Stuff. Time magazine, September 12 1983.
• Walker, Lester. American Shelter. Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press, 1981.
• Wright, Olgivanna Lloyd. Frank Lloyd Wright: His Life, His Work, His Words. New York: Horizon Press, 1966.
References - Personal interviews
• Bell, Martin. Building Manager, Northlake Doctor's Building, Dallas, Fall 1983.
• Clark, James. Resident of 5381 Nakoma, Dallas, Fall 1983.
• Cusick, Hannah. Dallas Theater Center administrator, Fall 1983.
• Handel, Bea. Founder of the Dallas Theater Center, November 1983.
• Keller, Jack. Building Manager, 7223 Forest Lane, Dallas, Fall 1983.
• McDonald, Laird. Ft. Worth architect, Fall 1983.
• Marcus, Stanley. Former Wright client, Fall 1983.
• Peck, Ken. Building Manager, 6421 Camp Bowie, Ft. Worth, Fall 1983.
• Speck, Jon. Son of the architect Donald Speck, November 2012.
• Topper, Mrs. Original owner of the Van Dyke house, November 1983.