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New Exhibit Looks At Frank Lloyd Wright’s Legacy In San Diego

An image of a home designed by architect Frederick Liebhardt, who studied wit...

Photo by Douglas M. Simmonds

Above: An image of a home designed by architect Frederick Liebhardt, who studied with Wright at Taliesen. It was the home for home for his mother, Louise, and became a coastal retreat from their house on the western slope of Mt. Soledad. Circa 1958-59.

The La Jolla Historical Society opens an exhibit exploring Frank Lloyd Wright's legacy through the work of San Diego architects who studied with him at Taliesin.

It's hard to imagine an architect more well-known or universally admired than Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wright died in 1959 before ever building a home or structure in San Diego. But he spent time here and his legacy can be found throughout the county. That's because in the 1950s, several local architects lived and studied at Wright's Taliesin apprentice program in Spring Green, Wisc., and Scottsdale, Ariz.

The work of five of these architects, Sim Bruce Richards, Loch Crane, Frederick Liebhardt, Vincent Bonini and William Slatton, is on view in the La Jolla Historical Society's new exhibit, "Frank Lloyd Wright’s Legacy in San Diego: The Taliesin Apprentices," which opens Friday and runs through Jan. 17. Each of them lived and/or established their architecture practices in San Diego.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Shannon Crane Wehsener

An image of Loch Crane's home in La Jolla, which he designed. 1962

The show includes architectural drawings and models, photographs, furniture and unique objects all showing the influence of Wright's aesthetic and design principles.

Keith York co-curated the exhibit along with La Jolla Historical Society executive director Heath Fox. York said the show traces some of Wright's signature ideas in the work of these apprentices.

"The use of wood and glass, organic materials or materials from the site, an open plan, and just progressive unique architecture, is exemplified across San Diego from all of these architects," York said.

Architect Sim Bruce Richards studied with Wright then started up a practice in Point Loma.

"There, he lived with what he learned, wrestled with it, and built upon it," York said. "He took from Frank Lloyd Wright a total living experience that included furniture, music, clothing and dance and all the media arts, and approached each of his buildings with Wright's theories in mind."

Aspiring architects could apply to the Taliesin fellowship program but had to pay to study and work at either the Wisconsin or Arizona location. There were no accommodations provided, so many camped in tents and huts for months at a time.

They learned at Wright's side, absorbing his aesthetic principals.

"They would also be drawing and working on site on projects he was commissioned to design," York said.

They were also asked to do much of the domestic and field work required to keep each of the compounds operable.

"He had them wash dishes, pick up after the animals and clean the property," York said.

The exhibit features some of the architects' applications to Taliesin. The fee seemed to have varied, but architect Loch Crane applied in 1941 and paid $1,000 to live and work at Taliesin. Other local architects featured in the show applied right after the war, others brought their pregnant wives to live on site in less than ideal conditions—all to study with Wright.

The name Taliesin is Welsh and means "shining brow." It's the name Wright gave to his Wisconsin home overlooking a river valley.

Wright himself did design two buildings for San Diego, but they were never built. Digital reproductions of Wright's original drawings for the two structures are included in the show. One project was for a cinema that included a movable screen allowing the stage to open up for live shows. The other was for a residence in Spring Valley. Wright did spend time in San Diego and actually married his third wife, Olgivanna, in Rancho Santa Fe in 1928.

His two sons, Lloyd Wright and John Lloyd Wright (the latter lived in Del Mar), did work in San Diego and their output is represented in the exhibit. There are two drawings by Lloyd Wright for structures that were never built.

"They’re quite radical," York said. "I think when people leave the show, that radical design, whether it was built or not, will probably be the residue that they leave the show with."

York said though some of the designs in the show were never built, it's fun to look at them and imagine an alternate built environment for San Diego.

"Frank Lloyd Wright’s Legacy in San Diego: the Taliesin Architects" at the La Jolla Historical Society Wisteria Cottage galleries opens Sept. 26 and runs through Jan. 17, 2016

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