Saturday, October 13, 2012

Frank Lloyd Wright: The Rosenbaum House

After reading Loving Frank, a historically imagined novel by Nancy Horan (2007), I have become very interested in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, the preeminent American architect.

(The book tells the story of Mamah Borthwick and her illicit love affair with Wright amidst the public shame they experienced in early twentieth century America. This fictional account,  told from a new perspective -- that of the little known Mamah -- is based on research conducted by first time novelist, Horan.) 

So I thought it was about time to make a visit to the only house in Alabama designed and built by Wright, and the only one in the southeast open to the public. It is located a mere 30-minute drive from where I live.

The front of the house faces the river; the back faces the street, providing more privacy and a beautiful view from each room of the house. Credit:
The house was built for newlyweds Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum of Florence, Ala., in 1939. He was a businessman who owned several movie theaters and an English professor at the University of North Alabama (then Florence State College) in that town.

During Wright's storied career, he designed 1,000 structures in both the U.S. and Europe. His architectural style was designing structures in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture.

Wright was a leader of the Prairie School movement of architecture and he developed the concept of the Usonian home, his unique vision for urban planning in the United States. The Rosenbaum house is built in the Usonian style (named for the United State of America) and was offered as a low-cost home for middle income families. Wright’s concept was that a young family could build their own home, fulfilling the American dream of home ownership.

The house was constructed on a two-acre site, given to the Rosenbaums by his father, who lived across the street. It is very near downtown Florence and faces the Tennessee River. It has been reported that the Rosenbaums paid $12,000 for the house’s construction (I do not know if that included Wright's fee).

The house originally contained 1,540 square feet, but when the Rosenbaum household grew to include four sons, the family asked Wright to design an addition. In 1948, 1,084 square feet were added, providing a new kitchen, a guest bedroom, storage space and a dormitory for the boys. This seamless addition clearly shows Wright’s concept of a Usonian house that could grow with the family as it grew.

I absolutely love this house -- its common sense design, the use of natural and local materials, its simplicity, its quality. There are far too many details I learned about the house to share here, but below are some of my pictures:

Standing in the living room, looking toward the back entrance of the house.

A view from the living room into Mr. Rosenbaum's sitting room. 

The front side of the living room is lined with glass doors.
Mrs. Rosenbaum was an accomplished pianist.

The dining area. The table runner was woven by Mrs. Rosenbaum.

Another view of the dining area.

.Bookshelves span the entire length of the living room

Most of the furniture was either designed by Wright or had to meet with his approval before it could be incorporated into a home he built!

Mrs. Rosenbaum's weaving room.

Items woven by Mrs. Rosenbaum hang in the weaving room.

Mrs. Rosenbaum's loom in the weaving room.

A photograph of Mrs. Rosenbaum taken in the 1930's before she married Stanley Rosenbaum and moved to Florence. She was a model in New York.

Some of Mrs. Rosenbaum's clothes and hats still hang in the master bedroom closet.

On Mrs. Rosenbaum's dressing table her perfume , a pair of gloves and other personal items are displayed. This scent  apparently is a discontinued Dior fragrance, "Diorella."

The guest bedroom.

The tiny kitchen that Mrs. Rosenbaum never liked because it was so small. It's about the size of a modern-day walk-in closet.

Storage space is built into the walls.

A Japanese garden was built when the addition to the house was made in 1948.

The Rosenbaum family.

Stanley Rosenbaum owned the Princess theater in Florence, as well as three other theaters in the Tri-Cities (Florence, Sheffield and Tuscumbia, Ala.) I remember going to this movie theater when I was a child. It was demolished many years ago.

Mr. Metcalf, our knowledgeable guide, who conducts tours of the Rosenbaum House. He provided many anecdotal stories about the house and its residents.

Tour completed and relaxing a bit at Becky's house are Edith, left, Becky and me.

The Rosenbaums were the sole owners and occupants of the house until 1999, when she moved to a nursing home (he died during the 1980s). The house had reached a critical stage, due to delayed maintenance; years of leaking roofs had damaged the joists, ceilings, walls and exterior trim. Termites had also taken their toll and cored many of the walls.

The City of Florence purchased the house and developed a plan to save it, using a capital improvements account funded by a one-cent sales tax. $750,000 was spent by the city on the house's restoration. Dozens of volunteers and professionals contributed to the restoration and without this major effort the house might have been lost. This treasure, meticulously preserved, is now a museum, open to the public for this city and the world.

The more I read about Wright's work, the more I am fascinated with his architecture. Please do yourself a favor and look him up on the Internet to read more about his work. There also are web pages on the Rosenbaum house. But perhaps you already know a great deal more than I did about this great architect! I obviously had heard of him but had never studied up on him.

And I highly recommend the book, Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan!

Hoping your weekend is perfect!



  1. So far, my weekend has been terrific. My mother and one of my cousins are crazy for his houses, but I can't imagine living in one. Like that tiny kitchen, they can feel confining. I think his public buildings are wonderful. My son started his career as an accountant working in one of his building that looks carved out of a hill. (Hard to describe unless you've seen it.) And his stained glass really wows me.

  2. Exciting to have one of Frank Lloyd Wright's houses nearby and open to see! He is an icon in Modernism. I am familiar with Falling Water which regularly pops on on documentaries, and the Guggenheim, of course. But nice to see one of his houses while disappointed in the kitchen - what was he thinking?? Recently a house was built near us following his style and principles. It has been fascinating watching it emerge - very much grounded in its environment, and with lots of the stained wood features I see in the house you visited. Looks like a great day out.

  3. Enjoyed your photo tour. In 1957, amid some controversy, Frank Lloyd Wright was selected to design the nearby Marin County Civic Center. The Center is located in San Rafael, CA just across the Bay from us. I've toured the Center but not for ages. I'm wondering if it is the building Beryl mentioned, sound like it could be.

    I will see if my library has a copy of the book available.


  4. Thank you for this post. I´ll have to do my homework on F.L.W.
    Delightful pictures of the interior the house. Quite minimalistic in style. All the wood used is calming, I could imagine this frightening some, as the general impression is quite dark.
    I think, that this should be seen in person, before giving an opinion.
    Very interesting to visit interiors like the one shown!

  5. FLW was a modernist,how was the house heated to prevent all that beautiful wood work from warping,did he have a special method?
    No clutter to detract from the wood,and view from that stunning glass window.
    Slightly surprised by a Japanese garden in 1948!

    Thank you for this interseting post + the photos.Ida

  6. Beryl, from what I've learned, FLW designed his structures to feel open and non-confining and he made to structure adapt with the landscape, thus the one you mention being built into a hill?

    Patricia, our tour guide said he called the kitchen a "work space," not part of the living space, and made it small so the person working there could still participate in activities going on in the remainder of the house. Obviously, he FLW)didn't cook meals, else would know that tiny "work space" would drive the cook crazy. Was glad to know that Mrs. Rosenbaum finally got her "real" kitchen with the remodel!

    Thanks, Darla. Don't know if I'll ever get the opportunity to visit other FLW buildings, but am going to look for a picture book at the library.

    Mette, minimalist was the first thing that popped in my mind! Yes, lots of darkish wood but so much light from glass doors and skylights (don't know how would be on a cloudy day). Practically all the light is track lighting. There were a few lamps in BRs but think those would have been placed more recently.

    Ida, the heating system is a hot water boiler with pipes running under the floor, which is concrete. All the wood, both inside and out, is Cypress -- quite resistant to water since the Cypress tree grows standing in water. The wood on the house is quite beautiful. Glass doors were quite stunning. Ditto on Japanese garden back in 1948; specially designed by a landscape architect whose name I can't recall.


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