Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Frank Lloyd Wright's Jewel Box

The greater Bay Area boasts a few private homes by Frank Lloyd Wright -- in Atherton, Palo Alto, Berkeley, and San Anselmo-- but only one major work: The Marin Civic Center in San Rafael. It couldn't be more spectacular, as if a great galactic saucer might launch from the middle of a grand arcade set in the Marin hills beside Highway 101.
There is only one commercial building in downtown San Francisco, however, by the legendary architect. It's at 140 Maiden Lane. Built in 1949 for V.C. Morris as a gift shop, the intriguing structure now houses Xanadu Gallery. It's facade is flat brick, imposing and only lightly detailed. Its portal draws the visitor in with a series of diminishing arches that feel a bit like going down the rabbit hole or into a cave. Once inside, though, the grand show room opens brilliantly, featuring a spiral walkway that echoes the Guggenheim in New York built a decade after this one. As with most Wright buildings, furniture was custom-built for the client's building as a kind of total environment. The Xanadu Gallery has maintained this harmony of design, even if there is a kind of strict discipline, nearly a totalitarian worldview, when the design demands get right down to the napkin holders that MUST be used by the building's inhabitants to strike the right design note. Wright was a notorious control freak. Still, this easily-overlooked jewel box is one of San Francisco's great hidden treasures.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Jewel Box

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