Monday, October 26, 2009

Frank Lloyd Wright's only accessible house to become a museum

From WREX-TV in Illinois:

ROCKFORD, Ill. -- Thousands of people drive down Spring Brook Road in Rockford every day, but most don't realize the historic gem hidden off the side of the road.

There's only one Frank Lloyd Wright house in Rockford (pictured), and it's the only one like it in the world because it was designed to be accessible for the handicapped. Now the home's original owner and a group of Wright enthusiasts want to turn this treasure into a museum.

This is Kenneth Laurent, a disabled veteran from World War II. In 1948, while still in a VA hospital, he and his wife, Phyllis, wrote a letter to Wright wondering if the famous architect would design a special home for him and his disability.

Wright's reply? Come up to Taliesen and we'll talk.

"He was pacing around as we were talking to him, apparently designing a house in his brain," Kenneth remembers.

Wright designed the sight lines to be viewed from four feet off the ground, Kenneth's height in the wheelchair. He also designed the furniture using the same tidewater cypress.

He charged the Laurents 10 percent of the construction budget, which came in under $30,000.

"He let me do the bookkeeping," Kenneth says. "He never sent me a bill."

Wright came to the house twice, calling it one of his favorites. It's been featured in many books, and the Laurents have opened their door to tourists, including groups from Japan.

But at the age of 90 Kenneth says it's time to move on. He and Phyllis are moving to a retirement community. But he doesn't want to sell the home to just anybody. That's where Jerry Heinzeroth comes in.

"It's the singular and only house that Frank Lloyd Wright ever designed for a handicapped person's accessibility," he says.

Heinzeroth and a nonprofit group of advisers want to preserve the house as a museum. To do that, they're trying to raise $2 million.

"We need to think about preserving the things that are unique to our town," Heinzeroth says. "This particular house is the only like it in the world."

Linda Wagner, director of Falling Water - Wright's most famous home - will visit Rockford on Wednesday to tour the house and speak with civic leaders about the effort.