ShareThis Page

Fallingwater letter on auction block

| Wednesday, May 30, 2012, 7:58 p.m.

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.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.