Fallingwater letter on auction block
A temperamental Frank Lloyd Wright threatened to walk away from his iconic Fallingwater house just four months into its construction over changes his contractor made.
A two-page, typed letter dated Aug. 29, 1936, sheds new light on what was already known to be a rocky relationship between Wright, who would come to be regarded as one of the country's finest architects, and his second contractor on the Laurel Highlands home, Walter J. Hall.
RR Auction of Amherst, N.H., is auctioning the letter and an original blueprint of the home commissioned in 1935 by Edgar J. Kaufmann, owner of the former Kaufmann's department store. Bidding opened on Friday at $1,000.
Andy Masich, president and CEO of the Sen. John Heinz History Center in the Strip District, said the letter is "certainly an important historical piece relating to Fallingwater, which is arguably one of the most important pieces of American architecture."
The blueprint features a profile view of the back of the main house and the sloping hill to the guesthouse. It includes handwritten notes believed to be written by Wright.
In the letter, Wright blamed Hall for meddling with his design and threatened to quit the project: "It is only fair to say to you directly that you will either fish or cut bait or I will. I am willing to quit if I must but unwilling to go with my eyes open into the failure of my work," Wright wrote. "I have not built one hundred and ninety of the world's important buildings without knowing the look of the thing when it turns up on the job. Failure, I mean, by way of treacherous interference."
The documents are an insight into Wright's often hot-and-cold personality, said Al Tannler, historical collections director at the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.
"By all accounts, Frank Lloyd Wright could be very charming, but he could also be very difficult," Tannler said. "At the time this commission came, though, he was having trouble. He went into a slump in the '20s; he had been bypassed by all kinds of people. But in some ways I find it hard to imagine he would have pulled out."
The completion of Fallingwater in 1939 signaled the end of Wright's slump, Tannler said. The building was almost immediately recognized for its design.
Edgar Kaufmann Jr. donated the property to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1963, which opened it to the public a year later. In 2008, "Smithsonian" magazine named Fallingwater on its list of "28 Places to See Before You Die."
Bobby Livingston, vice president of RR Auction, estimated the letter and blueprint would sell for about $25,000 or more when bidding ends at 7 p.m. on June 20. He wouldn't say where the documents came from, only that they were acquired independently.
The online auction can be found at http://rrauction.com . The item number is 537.