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Max Weinberg Praises Frank Lloyd Wright at Unity Temple

By Lee Bey
September 7, 2012
Max Weinberg at Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple
Photo © Lee Bey
The longtime drummer for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, Max Weinberg, speaks at Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois.

A few years ago, Max Weinberg showed up unannounced at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, hoping to get a look inside.

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"It was on a Sunday and the building was closed and there was a maintenance person outside that I just berated to let me in," Weinberg said. "Then I dropped this bomb: 'I'm in this band...'"

Not just any band. For almost 40 years, drummer “Mighty” Max Weinberg has pounded out rock history as the rhythmic backbone of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. And as it turns out, he is a huge Frank Lloyd Wright fan.

Weinberg, who was in Chicago for a pair of Springsteen concerts performed at Wrigley Field, had an easier time visiting Unity Temple on Thursday. He was invited by the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation and took the podium to speak to an audience of 200 donors and devotees in the sanctuary of Wright's concrete, right-angled masterpiece.

Emily Roth, executive director of the foundation was pleased by Weinberg's appearance. "I knew he was a Wright fan," she said. "I didn't know how deep his knowledge goes. Max is really well informed and clearly deeply committed to preservation."

In an audience question and answer session, Weinberg said he fell in love with Wright's architecture as a kid, when a cousin arranged for him to go inside the Guggenheim Museum—with a hard hat—while it was still under construction in the late 1950s.

"I remember running down those ramps," he said. And he was hooked.

Since then, Weinberg said he has visited scores of Wright buildings and had befriended their owners—often getting them great Springsteen tickets in exchange for having a look around. With his own band, the Max Weinberg 7, he has performed at Taliesin, Wright’s Wisconsin homestead.

"People describe my drumming as architectural," he said. "I don't get out there and flail. I think about it."

Weinberg also said he is a "friend of the Wrightian preservation movement," and wants to see Wright buildings saved and repurposed—included on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of endangered historic sites in 2009, Unity Temple is currently undergoing a major renovation. Going a step further, Weinberg also said that he wants to see the architect's unrealized designs built, particularly Wright's Mile-High “Illinois” tower.

"Let's dust off the Mile-High building," he said. "You take something that was absolute fantasy—and today, there is the technology to do it."

He also praised the Museum of Modern Art's recent planned acquisition of Wright's archives. "It's a movement in the right direction because they have the resources," he said.

Weinberg compared Wright's ability to reinvent himself during a long career to that of Springsteen's.

"And in my view Frank Lloyd Wright was—and is—the Bruce Springsteen of architecture."

Lee Bey is architecture contributor for Chicago public radio station WBEZ and its website, wbez.org. He is also executive director of the Chicago Central Area Committee, a Chicago civic group.

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