The Wright Stuff

No trip to Chicago and Wisconsin is complete without visiting some Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.  This is Wright country.  He was born in Wisconsin and lived much of his life there.  At the age of 22, he married and moved to Oak Park, Ill., a western suburb of Chicago, where he built his first Wright Home and Studiohome.  When he opened his own architectural firm, he expanded the home to include a studio. In addition to the home and studio, there are dozens of Wright-designed and Wright-inspired homes in the surrounding neighborhood.

While I had driven by the home and studio in the past, I had never taken a tour, but that was corrected during my latest trip. The stop is really a must for any Wright fan.  The home became a experiment in architecture in many ways because he made changes based on new ideas, many of which found their ways in future structures.  For example, it was in this studio that the iconic Prairie House design was perfected.  The shining example of this style is the Robie House in downtown Chicago, which the Wright fan might want to combine with a visit to the home and studio.
Unitarian Meeting House

Two churches were also on this trip’s agenda.  The Unitarian Meeting House in Madison was built in 1946.  The church’s organ pipes are highlighted by the beautiful front windows.  Ten years later, Wright designed the Annunciation Church in Annunciation ChurchWauwatosa, north of Milwaukee.  One of Wright’s last commissions, he died two years before the groundbreaking in 1961.

If you have the time, there are plenty of other Wright structures in lower Wisconsin that are definitely worth the trip.  Monona Terrace in Madison serves as the city’s conference center.  Beautifully situated on Lake Monona, this sprawling curvlinear structure had a long journey from blueprint to grand opening.  Wright was selected as the architect for the project in 1954 and completed the last revised design in 1959 shortly before he died; however, due to many setbacks, the building was not actually built until 1997.

To the west of Madison, in Spring Hill, sits the famous Taliesin, Wright’s home for much of his life after he left Oak Park, and the Hillside Studio and Theater, which is located on the same parcel of land.  Nearby is the Unity Church and cemetary where many of Wright’s family are interred;  Wright himself was buried there at one time, but his body was exhumed after his last wife died and their cremated remains were buried together in Arizona at the site of his last home, Taliesin West.  On a side note, actress Anne Baxter (Frank Lloyd Wright’s granddaughter) is also buried there.

North of Madison is the cozy Seth Peterson Cottage in Mirror Lake State Park on Lake Delton.  I have not yet visited this spot (which is available for private rental, by the way), but it will be on the itinerary for the next trip.

By the way, if you make it to Milwaukee to see the Annunciation Church, head south to Racine to view the S.C. Johnson Wax headquarters.  This structure features curves that were unusual for the time and has attracted tourists ever since it was built in 1939.


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