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A 75th Anniversary for an American Icon

July 28, 2011

A new book and series of events commemorate Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.

By Alexandra Polier

Fallingwater
Photo © Michael Tavani, with permission of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

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Each year 160,000 visitors travel to Pennsylvania’s scenic Laurel Highlands to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and to pay homage to America’s most celebrated architect.

Thanks to an impeccable restoration completed in 2002 by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (which obtained Fallingwater from the owner Edgar Kaufmann Jr. in 1963), the house appears in near-perfect condition, and tours regale visitors with such entertaining details as which rooms Albert Einstein and artist Frida Khalo slept in during their visits to estate. As a testament to Fallingwater’s prominence in American history, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently nominated the site for inclusion in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. 

July marks the 75th anniversary of Fallingwater’s groundbreaking— a landmark birthday commemorated in a new book and a series of events. If you’ve never been to Fallingwater, now might be just the time to go.

* Rizzoli has just published Fallingwater, a 382-page volume with stunning new color photography by Christopher Little commissioned especially for the book. Edited by Lynda Waggoner, the tome captures the much-loved masterpiece following its recent restoration and includes insightful essays detailing the estate’s history, structure, and collections. It also includes an analysis of Fallingwater’s restoration and how a seemingly unsolvable problem—to stabilize the sagging main cantilever—was overcome through modern engineering.

In one particularly notable essay, David G. De Long, author and architecture professor at the University of Pennsylvania, describes the tumultuous marriage of Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann juxtaposed against the dramatic backdrop of Fallingwater. Based on thousands of letters and papers recently acquired from Edgar Kaufmann Jr.’s estate, the piece depicts Mrs. Kaufmann’s overdose (and possible suicide) in her room at Fallingwater in 1952.

* To cover the estate’s $5.3 million in annual operational costs, the conservancy is continuously raising money. This year, it is inviting patrons to contribute $500 to $10,000 to “adopt” a window or set of windows. The Window Legacy Fund donations will help fund the installation of new glass that will better protect the home’s interiors from heat, sunlight, and UV radiation. Donors will receive a commemorative piece of old glass and a drawing of the house, all set within a frame.

* An exhibition on the history of the Kaufmann family and their legendary enterprise is on view at the Fallingwater visitor center. Presented by Macy’s, which bought the department store in 2006, “Kaufmann's: Pittsburgh Purveyor of Culture” includes rare merchandise from Kaufmann’s flagship showroom and photos of the legendary department store. The show closes August 28.

* A 75th anniversary gala will be held at Fallingwater on September 17, with Lord and Lady Palumbo serving as honorary chairs of the event. Starting at 6 p.m., attendees will enjoy cocktails in the house while contemporary dancers act as “living sculptures,” followed by an outdoor dinner. The evening will conclude with a light- and-sound show presented by multimedia artist Luftwerk.

During the event, two exhibitions will be on view at the visitor center: “Kaufmann’s: Meet Me Under the Clock,” featuring vintage artifacts from the legendary store, and “Design Competition: New Cottages at Fallingwater,” which will showcase proposals by six architecture firms for energy-efficient dwellings to be constructed near the estate. Tickets for the gala are $400 per person.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on August 9, 2011.

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