On March 2-5, 2020, the Fellows members of Robinson Gardens explored the architecture and gardens of Scottsdale and Phoenix. The Arizona Biltmore Hotel was our base for the duration of our stay. The architect of record is Arthur Chase McArthur, who with his brother Charles McArthur, opened the hotel in 1929.
Arthur had been a draftsman under Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW), and FLW was the design consultant on the project. We met in the hotel lobby. The in-house historian led us on an architectural tour of the hotel, which ended in the “Mystery Room.” We learned that this room previously served as the Men’s Smoking Room. This was during the American Prohibition (1920 -1930), when it had a secret bar and a special signal from hotel staff who alerted poker players so that they could disperse to their rooms when the police were en route to make surprise inspections.
The next morning, we toured the David and Gladys Wright home and gardens. This home, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, was built in 1950-1952 for his son David and his wife Gladys. They lived there for four decades until they passed away. David lived to be 102 years old and passed away while trimming a grapefruit tree; Gladys died in 2008 at the age of 104.
During the ensuing years, the home fell into disrepair and was scheduled to be demolished. It was rescued within hours of demolition, and it was bought and lovingly restored by Zach Rawling, a young attorney who grew up in the area. Victor Sidy, an architect and former Dean of the FLW School of Architecture, led the design and preservation effort for Zach Rawling and also provided an in-depth tour of the estate.
This home is one of FLW’s most innovative and unusual works of architecture. It is one of the only buildings, aside from the Guggenheim Museum in NYC, that is based on a spiral circular plan. Raised on columns to provide a view of the property’s citrus orchard and surrounding mountains, it looks inward at a plunge pool and shaded garden. The kitchen and the entire house, in large part, had not been altered since its construction, providing a portal into the original design intent and an example of the livability of this organically reminiscent style, unique to FLW.
Next stop was the Price House in Paradise Valley that was built in 1952-54 by Harold Price. Harold had visited FLW at Taliesin West in Scottsdale. The reason for his visit was to commission FLW to build his first and only high rise. It was a 19 story building called “Price Tower,” located in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. After conversion, it is now operated as a hotel.
While working with FLW, Price fell in love with the mild winters in Arizona. He decided to retain FLW to design a winter home for his young family. This would be one FLW’s largest homes; it boasts five en suite bedrooms, a master bedroom and two servants’ bedrooms. It was over 5,000 square feet and served as a winter retreat for the Price family. The home and nine acres are sited in a prime view corridor between two mountains ranges, utilizing “green technology” before it was fashionable.
The unique design of the exterior doors allowed flexibility for the atrium to be completely open or closed to protect the space from wind and inclement weather. It is worth noting the master bedroom has the MOST closet space of any FLW-designed homes. Frank reluctantly gave into multiple requests from the lady of the house and designed an entire wall of closets.
Lunch was in Old Scottsdale. We dined in a private room overlooking a garden at the Herb Box Restaurant. The lunch was innovative and tasty!
Following lunch, we visited a private home and garden in Phoenix. We were greeted and hosted by Brian Kissinger, the former Director of Horticulture at the Phoenix Botanical Gardens.
First, Brain invited us to explore the grounds and home on our own. Later, Brian graciously offered hors d’oeuvres, refreshments (fine Champagne) and sweets during a question and answer period. We discovered that Brian and his partner Todd McCandles purchased this hacienda about 10 years before our visit. The house was originally built for Senator Carl Hayden in the 1920’s. The result of their restorations gave the impression that you were in a hacienda in Guadalajara. The lush landscape, meandering paths and 191 varieties of trees completely captivated one’s imagination. The plant species were chosen because of their exotic appearance, and they were selected from all over the world.
We spent the evening dining al fresco, in the beautiful courtyard restaurant “Virtu,” located in Scottsdale.
Wednesday morning, we gathered early to visit Taliesin West. This was Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home. Spring Green, Wisconsin was Frank’s main home. In the 1920’s, Frank’s doctor recommended he spend winters away from the Wisconsin weather. It was then he discovered Arizona and began to build Taliesin West. It was located on 10,000 acres, and 5,000 acres remain today.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by Fred Prozzillo, the Vice President of Preservation and escorted to Fellow David Dodge’s home located within the acreage of Taliesin West. David joined the FLW Fellowship in 1951. He studied and worked directly under Frank Lloyd Wright until Frank’s death in 1959. Mrs. Wright then took over the Fellowship, and David remained. Mrs. Wright brought the Fellows to Switzerland in 1965. David met his wife Annaliese while in Switzerland, and stayed 10 years. They returned to Taliesin West and built a cottage in 1975, meanwhile making plans for a main house which was completed in 2002. The delightful David Dodge personally toured us through his home explaining its many ingenious and practical details.
The house is uniquely and contextually located to view the valley below. The home’s perimeter is primarily made up of windows, each one framing views of mountains and nature. It is an example of how nature and architecture have intertwined to create a home that could only be located in this special place.
Reluctantly, we took leave of David and his inspirational home to visit and experience the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture Student’s Shelter Program. The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture is a tenant of Taliesin and Taliesin West. The school currently is a three year Masters Program. Students study in Wisconsin during fall and spring and move to Arizona for the winters. The students select and stay in their own Habitat (Shelter). Shelters are primitive and sited in the wilderness of the desert. Many shelters have been recycled, remodeled and added onto throughout the years by the students. These environmentally sensitive shelters are fascinating. The shelters are selected, designed and remodeled immediately when the student arrives at Taliesen. These shelters form the foundation of a critical practice that the students learn immediately upon arrival at the school.
Following a late lunch at an authentic Tex-Mex Restaurant, we returned to the Biltmore to refresh before returning to spend the evening at Taliesin West.
We were greeted by Stuart Graff, the current CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and Michelle Lambert, Director of Development. Michele assisted us greatly to plan many of the week’s activities. Stuart provided an in-depth orientation while we were seated in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Office. We had cocktails at sunset on the “prow” of the property, followed by dinner in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dining Room. After dinner, we made our way to the Cabaret, but not before touring Frank Lloyd Wright and Olgivanna’s private living quarters. The Cabaret provided refreshments, coffees and dessert. We were entertained by one of Scottsdale’s leading jazz trios — WE3, while still under the spell of FLW’S creative genius and his enormous contributions to American architecture.
On our last day, we experienced the beauty and exotic desert plant palette of the Phoenix Botanical Garden, a 140-acre botanical garden founded in 1937. During the docent-led tour, we were told there are over 50,000 varieties of plants, and nearly one-third are native to this area. Our knowledgeable and entertaining docent introduced us to many plant and tree species that we had never seen before.
After returning to the Biltmore for lunch, we checked out, leaving the hotel, forever enriched and inspired by the events experienced on this very special tour of Scottsdale.
Fellows Chair Jeanne Anderson planned this exciting trip along with my help. As an architect and former board member of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, we were able to have exclusive access to FLW specialists, homes, and Taliesen West.
We are already researching and planning our next Fellows’ adventure. Consider joining the Friends of Robinson Gardens as a “Fellow,” so you too can take advantage of the study-travel programs with exclusive accessibility to some of America’s greatest treasures!
Post by Janice Jerde
Friends of Robinson Gardens Board Member and Fellow, Premier Events Committee Member
Photos by Diane Jenkins and one by Bernice Balson