The sequel to Oak Park is here. After fleeing Illinois under less than congenial circumstances and travelling to Europe to escape scandal, Frank Lloyd Wright returned to his roots in Spring Green, Wis., in 1911.
Intimately familiar to Mr. Wright and important in his development as a cutting-edge architect, Spring Green and Taliesin, his estate/school, offered both sanctuary in his personal life and inspiration for his resurrected career.
The Getaway Guys explored Taliesin in the fall of 2008. A number of different tours are available at reasonable cost, despite Alan’s aversion to spending money.
Unlike the guides of 20 years ago, when the Guys visited independently, today’s guides no longer try to turn a visit into an involuntary religious experience. Down-to-earth, factual and absent the former irrational reverence for Mr. Wright, today’s tours are well organized and highly informative.
Unlike the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, where tours are typically full and tightly scheduled in a much smaller space, Taliesin is a large complex, less susceptible to crowding and more relaxed.
While touring Taliesin, a visitor must put aside popular falderal about the life and work of this charismatic and eccentric artist. Frank Lloyd Wright was a visionary and, like most visionaries thrust into the public eye, he was often known more for his well publicized personal style than his insights into innovative architecture.
Unlike the legions of hard-core devotees who flock to FLW sites like lemmings, Neil and Alan are not fanatics about the man or his work. Both think it is unique and interesting, and both agree that the more they see of it, the more interesting it becomes.
Both experienced home rehabbers, the Getaway Guys see problems with structural elements where others may not and therefore their enthusiasm for Mr. Wright’s architecture is somewhat tempered by personal thoughts about never-ending repair jobs caused by construction oddities.
At his Wisconsin Taliesin (there is a Scottsdale, Arizona Taliesin, too) rehabilitation is ongoing and in full view.
Thought to be difficult to work with, Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings had a reputation for leaky roofs and other defects. As is evident at Taliesin (and other Wright landmarks), his innovation and daring may have pushed some of his chosen materials beyond their limits, thereby causing some of the problems later associated with his work.
On a crisp autumn day Neil and Alan took the two-hour Highlights Tour, which included an in-depth look at Hillside (the School/Studio) and Taliesin (the residence).
Mr. Wright built the Hillside Home School in 1902 for his aunts, who ran the girls’ boarding school. In 1932 he converted Hillside into a school of architecture, expanding the original structure to include an impressive drafting studio; in 1952, he added a theater for musical and theatrical performances. Hillside thereby became a base for his architectural practice.
Shortly after his return to Wisconsin in 1911, he also began construction of Taliesin, an ongoing project that continued until his death in 1959.
Heavily damaged by fire on two occasions, the residence today is a hybrid structure and a case study of Wright’s thinking over a number of decades. Both the Hillside complex and Taliesin are beginning to show the ravages of time.
In spite of this, both offer fascinating insights into the work of this controversial icon of American architecture. Despite their proclivity to disagree about most things, neither Guy could find anything to argue about except the food in the Riverview Terrace Café. Alan thought it was terrific; Neil thought it could be a little less healthy.
Taliesin Preservation, Inc., a non-profit established in 1991 to oversee and maintain this important piece of American history, does an excellent job and deserves all the support it can get.
The combined visitors center, bookstore and restaurant (1953), where tours begin, is also a F.L. Wright creation.
The bookstore is filled with Wright-related materials (reproduction furniture and decorative objects) and a good supply of books about other architects.
The Riverview Terrace Cafe serves light fare reasonably priced, despite its monopoly on eating anywhere near Taliesin. Situated among the rolling hills of western Wisconsin and definitely unspoiled by sprawl (urban or otherwise), Spring Green/Taliesin is not hard to get to and makes for a delightful day or weekend trip from Chicago.
If travel for a weekend is possible between June and early October, the Getaway Guys suggest a performance at the American Players Theater, near Spring Green. Pressed for time, they regret not having done so themselves.
If serious theater is not one’s cup of tea, the Guys suggest blending in an excursion to not-far-away Baraboo and the fascinating World Circus Museum, as they did.
For serious evening fare, check out the Del-Bar Restaurant between Baraboo and Wisconsin Dells. The ambience is very congenial, the food great, the service very attentive and the prices are to Alan’s liking. The Guys give it five stars/.
Editor’s Note: Neil and Alan maintain a free website, www.getaway-chicago.com, that features nearby destinations often overlooked, but genuinely interesting and well worth the trip.