If the olive grove-dotted hills of Tuscany don’t work out, there’s always the Ozarks.
ambitious, crazy expensive plan “romantic solution” of relocating an endangered Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home from New Jersey to a sleepy Tuscan village failed to pan out, the owners of the lovingly preserved 1954 Usonian-style home that has been repeatedly battered by floodwaters from the Millstone River have settled on another relocation scheme. They’re sending it off to northwest Arkansas.
While Bentonville, Ark., doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Fiesole, Italy, owners Lawrence and Sharon Tarantino — the couple are both architects and award-winning Wright restoration experts — have been trying for some time now to save the home from future flooding, flooding that they believe will only intensify with climate change.
“The flooding has become worse over the past few years, and we realized that the only alternative to save the house was to move it,” Sharon Tarantino explained to the New York Times back in February when the failed Italy relocation plan first came to light.
While it’s not clear what happened with the whole risk-filled (costs, economics, the complex logistics involved with disassembling a historic home, shipping it to Europe, and then painstakingly rebuilding it) Tuscany scenario, Bentonville's Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has stepped up to the plate and purchased the home, known as the Bachman Wilson House, along with all of its furniture and fixtures, with plans to disassemble the home, truck it across the country, and reassemble it on the museum’s 120-acre campus — a campus that's presumably nowhere near a flood-prone river.
Once reassembled and ready to go at its new Arkansas site, the three-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot Bachman Wilson House will “be available for study as well as for limited programming and tours,” according to an announcement from the museum.
And if Bentonville is starting to ring a bell, it’s because the city of 28,000 is global HQ for Walmart. As for the 2-year-old Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, it was founded by billionaire Walmart heiress Alice Walton and contains numerous pieces from the Walton family’s private collection. General admission to the museum, located just north of downtown “Vendorville,” is free, courtesy of the world’s largest retailer. Prior to the opening of Crystal Bridges, a world-class art museum that "celebrates the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art with the beauty of nature," the biggest draw in town was the old-fashioned soda fountain at the Walmart Museum on Main Street.
Says Rod Bigelow, executive director of Crystal Bridges:
We’re honored to be able to preserve and share this significant example of American architecture, as Frank Lloyd Wright’s work embodies our own mission of celebrating art and nature. The Usonian concept was intended to provide access to architectural quality for all families, which melds well with our philosophy of welcoming all to view American masterworks in our natural setting.
Lawrence and Sharon Tarantino, who obviously love the Bachman Wilson House dearly and want only the best for it (after all, they’ve spent a huge chunk of change restoring it flood after flood), will be involved with the entire moving process. Arkansas-based J.B. Hunt Transport will provide transportation services, free of charge.
A specialized contractor will be secured for the methodical process of dismantling the house, under the supervision of the Tarantinos, for moving to Arkansas where it will be reconstructed to Frank Lloyd Wright’s original specifications. The Tarantinos will oversee the packing of every building component, built-in furnishings and furniture, which will be carefully loaded into container trucks, transported and reconstructed on site.
Once the decision was made to move the house, many opportunities presented themselves to us. It became clear that there could be no better opportunity for the preservation of this important work of Frank Lloyd Wright than to secure its future stewardship in perpetuity at a public institution with a mission of celebrating American art and architecture, on a site offering the proper setting, and with the capability of providing for its future maintenance and preservation, all of which Crystal Bridges offers.
It's an interesting change of plans to be sure as Frank Lloyd Wright and Walmart aren’t usually uttered in the same breath, but both parties involved — the Tarantinos and Crystal Bridges — seem very much on the same, preservation- and education-minded page. And it’s certainly a new reason to visit Bentonville, a modern company town that the Washington Post describes as being in the throes of a “cultural renaissance.”
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