About five years ago, the only structure in Oregon designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, a single-family home in suburban Charbonneau called the Gordon House, was threatened with demolition. A couple had bought the home not even knowing who Wright was, and had planned to raze the home so they could build a McMansion there.
Ultimately the Gordon House was moved to the Oregon Garden near Silverton. It was a compromise at best, considering that Wright's design had been very site-specific, with views of Mt. Hood and the adjacent Willamette. But the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy and AIA/Portland (where I worked at the time) worked very hard to preserve this Oregon architectural treasure.
Now, however, the Gordon House's future seems tenuous again. No ignoramus is threatening to tear it down this time. But the Oregon Garden, its host, is in trouble. An editorial in today's Oregonian says, "It's a reality as plain as dirt: The Oregon Garden is a bust...Swamped with $8 million in debt and unable to make payroll, the horticultural showcase is being forced into receivership."
Certainly the Oregon Garden will say all the right things about how they will right the ship and that we needn't worry about the Gordon House. But considering the importance of the building, our only building from America's most renowned architect, it's not being alarmist to exhibit concern over what would happen to the Gordon House should the Oregon Garden close.
Although I don't question for one second the decision to move the Gordon House to the Oregon Garden in early 2001--it would have been demolished otherwise, and the OG seemed like a very nice location at the time--it's too bad the Wright-designed house is located far outside the Portland area. Because this house is not just a relic that happened to be designed by a big name: It could and should provide a lesson in home design to countless home designers (notice I'm not saying "architects" - less than 10% of single family homes come from real ones) and home buyers. There is no garish foyer, no paper-thin walls. The Gordon House leads you through its entryway into a double-height living area like a theatrical experience. And its simple but gorgeous materials, particularly the autumn-hued woods that Wright so loved, are absolutely timeless.
As the Oregon Garden rallies to resuscitate itself, keep an eye on the Gordon House. We don't want to let this gem be tarnished again.
by Brian Libby, 2005
Published with permission of Portland Architecture