words and photos by Scot Zimmerman
A battle for preservation is an expression I hear, but I have learned first hand how often there are winners and losers in the efforts to save buildings. The term battle is appropriate. In January of this year, the Lockridge Medical Clinic in Whitefish, Montana, was bulldozed to make room for a shopping center in spite of a dramatic last minute fundraising effort to save the building.
The Lockridge Medical Clinic was the only remaining building in Montana designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The preservationists contacted me for photos I made early in the 1990s when the building was in use as offices. Then the proud occupants invited me in to make photos. Originally there had been a globe half inside the building, but that had already been removed when I made the photos.
There had been other modifications, but it was still unmistakably a Frank Lloyd Wright building. The original fireplace with its curved bricks was still in place unaltered in the lobby.
There were happier outcomes to for two other Frank Lloyd Wright projects. In both cases, the preservationists contacted me for photos for their efforts. The first is the Gordon home in Wilsonville, Oregon. I called on Mrs. Gordon in the early 90s, and she spent a day with me while I made photos telling me about her life in the home.
The Gordon House was scheduled to be demolished and the property developed when preservationists got involved. The home was eventually moved to the Oregon Gardens in Silverton, Oregon, where it is used as an event center.
The David Wright home in Phoenix had a similar happy outcome when it faced being demolished. The home is special in many ways: Frank Lloyd Wright designed it for his son David and his wife, and the home features the round spiraling forms that he would use in later work.
I have to admit that this home was a challenge to access for photos. Numerous acquaintances, including longtime Wright associate Wes Peters, tried to broker my access to the home. At that time the Wrights were approaching 100 years old and in poor health. They refused. In the end, I photographed exteriors of the home from the public right away. Others had similar challenges making pictures, and because there were few somewhat recent photos, mine were among those used in outreach efforts to gain attention to its impending demolition.
A neighbor, Zach Rawling, stepped forward and privately purchased the 2,500-square-foot home. He donated it to the Taliesen School of Architecture, the school founded by Frank Lloyd Wright, with the view that the home’s architecture would continue to inspire.
There’s a lot of lessons with these three projects: how easy it is to lose important buildings that document the aesthetics and creativity of a time and the work of a dynamic figure who many call a genius, and how these stories can be reversed by people who care. For me and for those interested in taking pictures of buildings, there is a message in how photos that might not feel significant at the time can later be important and help make a difference.
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