‘Starry’ night tour presents Wright landmark in impressive way

Photo courtesy of Judith Bromley.

Beyond the rush of the populous Phoenix metropolis, stands Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece. There is beauty to the silence that surrounds Taliesin West, Wright’s former home. The grand residence covers 620 acres of land at the base of the McDowell Mountains. While various tours are conducted throughout the year, the Night Lights tours, offered in the fall and spring, present an enchanting way to discover Taliesin West.

Architect Michael Rust, a knowledgeable and amicable man from a small town in Wisconsin, is a guide on the Night Lights Tour. Rust explains to guests the basic history of the home’s construction before leading them through Taliesin West. He peppers the tour with fun facts and jokes that keep listeners entertained and informed.

Once the tour officially begins and nightfall replaces the sunset, guests’ gazes linger on the enchanting panoramic views of the city. Building lights in the distance gather together to create a long stretch of glittering stars. Taliesin West is perched on its own hill making the magnificent sights of the desert and the city visible in every direction.

The first stop on the tour is Frank Lloyd Wright’s office. People ducked as they enter the room due to the entrance’s low ceilings. Unfortunately, the low ceilings appeared to be a recurring theme. A few steel fans struggle to keep people cool, as Rust points out architectural characteristics. Rectangular redwood beams grace the ceilings, and the walls had rocks embedded in them. Wright believed buildings should be built of primarily natural materials.

After a quick stop by the drafting room, the group was led past a lit breezeway into the dining area. Guests were treated to a mix of lemonade and ice tea, water and brewed tropical tea. Some nibbled on shortbread and peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, while Rust talked about his experiences as an apprentice at the Frank Lloyd Wright program.

Despite the prestige of being associated with Wright, the apprentices were not treated with lavish living quarters. Apprentices constructed their own tents in the middle of the desert. It was not unusual to find wildlife like javelinas and rattlesnakes wandering uncomfortably close to the apprentices. In the earlier days, they were expected to obtain water from local ranchers in the city.

The next location during the tour reminds people that contrary to the apprentices, Mr. and Mrs. Wright lived luxuriously. The dimly lit living room was previously a lively place for the rich and famous to sip cocktails. On Saturday nights, celebrities and clients were invited to enjoy an elegant evening of dinner, apprentices’ performances and a film at the home’s theater.

A dark dragon sculpture, spewing flames out of its mouth, was a beacon of the event’s starting location.

In the middle of the room there was a piano humbly resting. In order to keep up with the desert theme, a cowhide was draped over the top of it. Wright’s father would play Beethoven songs for him on a piano until he fell asleep. Wright was able to imitate the pieces almost flawlessly without any prior musical training.

The grand finale of the tour is the Taliesin European-style cabaret theater. A dramatic winding walkway leads to the stunning theater. Lights swept around the ceiling in large circles and slanted rows stand before a large screen. Built in the early 1950s, the theater prides upon sloping textural walls to prevent echoes and crevices in the walls that naturally project sound.

Taliesin West has existed for approximately 75 years and the delightful landmark is still a fascinating place to visit. Architects and other employees continue to improve and restore the Wright’s former home.

Wright’s motto in life beautifully sums up his work as well as the employees’ goal: “I’m not looking where I’ve been, I’m looking where I’m going.”

The tours run through Friday evenings in October and tickets are $25-$35. Ticket funds go to the restoration of organic architecture. For more information, please visit events.azcentral.com.

 

Reach the reporter at lrogoff@asu.edu