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A New Jersey Frank Lloyd Wright house is relocating to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, through an acquisition announced this Wednesday.
The Bachman Wilson House — designed by Wright for Gloria Bachman and Abraham Wilson and built in 1954 — has been in need of a new home for years due to ongoing flooding from the Millstone River that flows by its midcentury structure in Somerset County. While plans to move it to Sagaponack, New York, in 2011 and Florence, Italy, in 2013 fell through, it’s finally found a new resting place in the ever-expanding collections of Crystal Bridges.
According to the museum:
At Crystal Bridges, the Bachman Wilson House will be sited a short distance from the museum along its 3.5 miles of trails, with views overlooking the native woodland setting as well as Crystal Spring, the natural spring from which the museum takes its name. Site preparation will begin this spring, with reconstruction to follow toward a goal of completion in early 2015.
It should be noted that this isn’t one of Wright’s grand showcase homes like Fallingwater or the Robie House. It’s instead one of his later Usonian designs aimed at being more affordable, their name a tribute to democracy through adopting the “US” in “USA.” He designed about 60 of these “middle class” homes — although they were still about twice as expensive as a conventional home of the same size. Crystal Bridges Executive Director Rod Bigelow seems elated at the democratic nature of these Wright buildings, as he explains in the release: “The Usonian concept was intended to provide access to architectural quality for all families, which melds well with our philosophy of welcoming all to view American masterworks in our natural setting.”
Crystal Bridges — opened in 2011 and founded by Alice Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton — has indeed been steadily acquiring these “masterworks,” from Edward Hopper paintings to more controversial stakes in such art as the Stieglitz Collection at Fisk University.
The Bachman Wilson House is one of only four Wright homes in New Jersey. So while one community is gaining an architectural resource that will be incorporated into the museum’s 120 acres for study and special tours, another is losing a bit of their history. Yet despite the loss, it’s likely a relief to many architecture lovers that this home will escape the floods and be available as an accessible resource. The home was purchased by architects Sharon and Lawrence Tarantino in 1988 who spent years restoring its ten-foot-tall plate glass windows, concrete form, wood details, and even furniture meticulously based on archive materials. Now it will all be disassembled and journey to northwest Arkansas.
The acquisition price wasn’t included in the announcement, but the house was on the market for $1.5 million as of last February, the estimated $550,000 for moving included. It joins other historic homes that have made their own museum relocations, from the farmhouses in the Brooklyn Museum to the numerous medieval structures that were cobbled together into the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters. Perhaps more relics of Wright — as they continue to turn up on the market, each with their own difficulties of preservation for the ordinary homeowner — will in the coming years make similar journeys as enough distance passes between original owners and current historic interest. The Metropolitan Museum already has the stunning living room from the Little House in Wayzata, Minnesota, even reconstructing the exterior so it shines in light the same way it once did, although now the sun gleams in from Central Park. So preserving the tone of the original residence is possible, it just remains to be seen how the New Jersey home will fit in with its new Arkansas setting.
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