Volunteers work on the grounds and exterior of Spring House in Tallahassee in 2013. The former home of the Lewis family, the house is Florida’s only built residence designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. (Courtesy of Joy Wallace Dickinson)
Simon and Garfunkel may have memorably sung about saying “so long” to Frank Lloyd Wright, but we certainly haven’t: Popular interest in the famed architect is going strong.
Earlier this spring, Wright expert Tim Totten drew full houses to talks at Winter Park’s Casa Feliz about Wright’s legacy in Florida; audience members traded stories about visits to Wright sites, especially Fallingwater in western Pennsylvania — named by Smithsonian magazine as one of the globe’s must-see spots, right up there with the Pyramids of Giza and the Grand Canyon.
Wright would have been 151 on June 8, 2018 — he was born in 1867, two years after the end of the Civil War. (He died on April 9, 1959, at 91.) Last year, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation planned special programs to celebrate his legacy at 150, and many of those resources are still available online, including the strawberry-jam-laced recipe for his favorite birthday cake — just put “Frank Lloyd Wright” and “birthday” into your favorite search engine, and you should find some fun stuff.
It’s great to visit Fallingwater and other far-flung Wright sites of renown, but we’re also got some great ones right here in Florida, including the state’s capital.
George Lewis of the Lewis State Bank in Tallahassee and his wife, Clifton, met Wright in 1950 in Lakeland and asked him to design a home for their family — which was characterized, they said, by “a lot of children and not much money.”
After Wright agreed, the Lewises found a 5-acre site on the outskirts of Tallahassee, with a natural spring that flows to Lake Jackson — hence the name “Spring House.” Construction began in 1954 on Wright’s “hemicycle” design, with Nils Schweizer, Wright’s representative at Florida Southern College (and later an influential Central Florida architect) acting as Wright’s liaison.
In December 1954, the Lewises moved into the house, where they raised four children and over the years entertained guests ranging from architect Richard Neutra to Dr. Benjamin Spock. The house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. After George Lewis died in 1996, Clifton Lewis and others formed the Spring House Institute to preserve the property as a community resource. She died in 2014.
The Spring House Institute continues work to restore the house — the only built private residence designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Florida. Much work lies ahead, says Byrd Lewis Mashburn, and much public support is needed. She’s grateful for the visitors who come from all over the world to see the house, but it needs plenty of work. No one ever said Wright’s buildings were a snap to maintain.
Currently, Spring House is open to visitors from 2 to 4 p.m. on the second Sunday of each month. The next opportunity is July 8. For more information, visit preservespringhouse.org.
Wright here in Central Florida
Central Floridians have lots of opportunities to visit Frank Lloyd Wright campus at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. It’s open most days for tours (reservations are a good idea). Plus, its history makes for a pretty fascinating story: how a small Florida college with no endowment—during the Great Depression and World War II — not only persuaded Wright to design the campus but also managed to build his designs.
In addition to structures including the gloriously restored 1941 Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, visitors can also take in a new “Usonian” house, built in 2013 from Wright’s 1939 design for an affordable home for the typical American family.
In 2012, the Florida Southern College Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior for being the largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world.
Various tour experiences begin at the Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center, which features a spiffy gift shop. For information, visit www.flsouthern.edu/visitors and click on “Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture,” call 863-680-4597 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Drive time from Orlando: About 75 minutes.
Joy Wallace Dickinson can be reached at email@example.com, FindingJoyinFlorida.com, or by good old-fashioned letter at the Sentinel, 633 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, FL 32801.
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