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.
He adds: "Usonian homes made use of natural materials and deliberately used natural settings and sunlight as architectural elements and for passive solar heating. The use of light and natural materials is a prominent design feature of Crystal Bridges’ own architecture as well, incorporated by our museum’s architect, Moshe Safdie."
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.
Lawrence Tarantino adds his thoughts on the relocation, which, by the way, has the full backing of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and the Borough of Millstone Historic District Commission:
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.
Site work at Crystal Bridges will begin this spring while the reconstruction of the Bachman Wilson House is slated to finish up in early 2015. When that happens, the state of Arkansas will boast its very first Wright-designed building. Over the course of his long and storied career, the iconic American architect designed private residences and other buildings in nearly every state with the heaviest concentrations being in his native Midwest and the Southwest. Arkansas — along with Nevada, Vermont, Georgia, South Dakota and a couple of other states — was not among them, although one of Wright's apprentices, E. Fay Jones, was an Arkansas native who completed numerous significant works, including the famed Thorncrown Chapel, across the Natural State.
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.”
Related on MNN:
- In Arlington, a free historic home with one not-so-small caveat
- Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation faces preservation battle of a different kind
- Yes, Delaware has a Frank Lloyd Wright house (and it's for sale)