For Architectural Digest, by Carrie Hojnicki.
For all the praise Frank Lloyd Wright garnered in his 70-year career, the architect was equally a magnet for controversy in all its forms. With three wives and eight children (seven biological, one adopted), the architect spent much of his adult life racking up sensational, though not untrue, headlines like “SUIT ENDS WRIGHT ROMANCE; Sculptress Who Fled With Architect to Japan Obtains Alimony” (New York Times, 1925) or “ISSUE WARRANT FOR WRIGHT; Architect’s Wife Seeks to Re-enter Their Wisconsin Home” (also New York Times, also 1925), each referring the personal tumult that seemed to follow the architect through much of his adult life.
Scholars have long been tempted to link these fascinating personal dramas to the singular genius of Wright’s work, particularly in how the architect would come to shape 20th-century home life in the U.S. But for all that’s common knowledge about Wright, there are a number of tantalizing details lying just below the surface. In honor of the architect’s forthcoming sesquicentennial, we picked ten little-known facts that offer a glimpse into the architect’s fascinating life.
1. Wright’s childhood nursery was decorated with engravings of English cathedrals.
In his autobiography, Wright discusses how his mother prophesied his future as an architect, decorating his nursery with buildings to encourage this development. She also famously purchased her son a Froebel Gifts block set, and used it heavily in his early childhood education.
2. Wright abandoned his practice for a year in 1909 to run away with Mamah Borthwick Cheney.
First connected when Cheney and her husband Edwin commissioned Wright to build their Oak Park, Illinois, home in 1903, the amorous couple abandoned their spouses, children, and lives (and Wright his practice) in 1909 to spend a year together in Europe before relocating to Taliesin in 1911. This elopement would estrange Wright from several of his children for decades to come.
3. A disgruntled servant carried out a brutal seven-person murder at Wright’s Taliesin estate in 1914.
While Wright was away on business in Chicago, in 1914, a disgruntled servant at Taliesin set the structure’s living quarters on fire before murdering seven of the home’s residents, including Wright’s then-partner, Mamah Borthwick Cheney.
4. Wright was vehemently against the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
Wright was famous for his disdain for other architects, and refused to join the AIA. Even so, the organization awarded the architect its gold medal in 1949.
5. In 1926, Wright was arrested in violation of the Mann Act, a stipulation that made it illegal for men to transport women across state lines for “immoral” purposes.
Though his divorce with second wife Miriam Noel was not yet final, Wright fled to Taliesin in 1926 with Olgivanna Lazovich Hinzenburg, whom he had met at a Russian ballet in Chicago. The charges would later be dropped, and the pair would be formally married in 1928.
6. Wright dabbled in fashion design.
According to Wright biographer David Hanks, the architect designed dresses for his wife Olgivanna and female clients, though little documentation exists around the designs.
7. Richard Neutra briefly worked for Wright.
The Austrian-American Neutra spent a brief stint at Wright’s practice with his friend, architect Rudolph Schindler, before ascending to modernist fame himself.
8. Wright was a prominent dealer in Japanese art.
Until his death in 1959, Wright managed a prosperous business dealing Japanese block prints. It’s been said that at times during his career, Wright earned more from this operation than his architectural practice.
9. The architect’s son John Lloyd Wright invented Lincoln Logs.
Wright’s second eldest son, John Lloyd, followed in his father’s footsteps to a career in architecture, inventing the still-prolific Lincoln Logs in 1916.
10. Wright was an early automobile adopter and a car collector his whole adult life.
Wright is said to have owned more than 50 cars in his adult life, a staggering number considering he was born two decades before the invention of the automobile. His love of cars informed the ramped design of his final project, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
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