Gordon House

Silverton, Oregon



The facts about the Gordon House are accessible elsewhere on the web, so just quickly: this is the only official Frank Lloyd Wright design in Oregon, commissioned in 1957 and built in 1963. FLW died in 1959.

It was first erected on a site overlooking the Willamette River. Construction was coordinated with the former Taliesin apprentice Burton Goodrich, working in the Portland area.

After Evelyn Gordon's death in 1997, the unsympathetic new buyers, let's call them the "Smiths", took out a demolition permit. In the face of a righteous uproar created by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, the "Smiths" gave any would-be rescuers about three months to clear the house off their property. It was partly moved 25 miles on trucks, and partly re-constructed, on this site at the Oregon Garden in Silverton. Goodrich, over 80, was involved again. Lovely spot and not too far out of the way.

Size of 2,133 square feet, made of concrete block and western red cedar, two stories, three bedrooms, three bathrooms, categorized as "Usonian" (meaning, essentially, nothing much more than "middle-income").




Wright is overanalyzed, I think, in hopes of recapturing and explaining that shock of discovery that makes the clock stop and your armhair stand on end. Yes, you get that shock here. It's easy to forget how much fun these spaces are.



The lateness and relatively small size of the design doesn't signal anything bad. Wright took small commissions all the way through -- there was always room for that.

Mr. Gordon was a "gentleman farmer" and Mrs. Gordon evidently struggled all her life with art-student habits and symptoms. The house they commissioned was probably her idea (just a guess) and contains the many familiar Wright tricks on display: manipulations of scale, blurring of inside and outside, floor-to-ceiling windows, horizontal emphasis, broad overhangs, cleverly integrated storage, concrete floors with radiant heating, use of a construction module (7-foot squares here) and a bit of handcut, abstract, ornamental fretwork for visual flavor.



Frankly, the house is a little addled.

It wouldn't be a Wright house without the practical problems. Naturally, it's expensive heating all that single-pane window area. There's the problem of replacing the boiler for the radiant heating system (they're having to have a small one custom-built), a lack of ventilation, etc.

But the problems go a little deeper. Shockingly, there's a basement. The service core, the solar plexus of the T-shaped floorplan, is to your immediate left as you enter the front door and it's kind of a cramped spatial mess. For instance the "back door" is about six or seven feet away from the "front door" on the same exterior wall. Upstairs there's the biggest bathroom I've ever seen in a Wright house, and the more storage I've ever seen in a Wright house.

The original builder, Ed Strandberg, worked from incomplete engineering drawings and had to make a few things up as he went along.




All that said, there's at least one amazing moment in the house -- the kitchen skylight. Wright's kitchens are predictably small. He usually wanted to "keep the mess of the open kitchen out of sight", which he half-way accomplishes here by making the open doorway from the kitchen to the great room comically narrow. And he usually wanted height in the kitchen so the "heat and odors would rise". In the floorplan it's not even described as a kitchen, it's a "workspace".

Here the small square one-person kitchen is vertically terminated by a shelf on all four walls, and above the shelf..... is another room, the same size as the kitchen, but with only blank walls and a ceiling fan near the top, an inaccessible ghost room for your mind to occupy, like the spirit double of the room you're standing in.

Even in muffled and/or addled form, it's refreshing to let Frank play with your mind.

This house is open to the public and has reasonable hours and the $10 goes towards its continuing maintenance and renovation, so use these notes as a guide for your own experience, or not. But go if you can.





Copyright 2009 Walt Lockley. All rights reserved.