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Frank Lloyd Wright correspondence

Identifier: A0006

Scope and Content Note

The Frank Lloyd Wright correspondence spans the years 1943 to 1959 and documents the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation's (SRGF) relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) through the course of planning and constructing the new Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum building at 1071 Fifth Ave.. The collection consists of letters, telegrams, memoranda, newspaper clippings, transcripts of speeches, and financial records relating to the SRGF. The correspondence is primarily between FLW and trustees of the SRGF including Solomon R. Guggenheim (1943-1949), Harry F. Guggenheim (1950-1959), and long-time trustee and partner of Guggenheim Brothers Mining Company, Albert E. Thiele. Notable correspondence between FLW and the Museum's first two directors Hilla Rebay and James Johnson Sweeney, as well as New York City Building Commissioner Robert Moses is also present. The collection is arranged in two series: Series 1. Correspondence Compiled for Harry F. Guggenheim (1943-1958), previously known as the Frank Lloyd Wright Historical File, was compiled for Harry F. Guggenheim by Ms. Mamie Schweppenheiser in 1958; Series 2. Correspondence Compiled for other Guggenheim Foundation Trustees was complied over time for Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation trustees other than Harry F. Guggenheim and is arranged by subject.

The majority of the records from series one have been digitized and can be viewed in the folder list of the collection's online finding aid. Select records were not digitized due to preservation needs and fragility concerns.


  • 1943-1960 (bulk 1951-1958)

Language of Materials

Collection is primarily in English.


The collection is unrestricted.

Publication Rights:

Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the Manager of the Library and Archives.

Historical Note

Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin on June 8, 1867. His early life remained nomadic and unsettled until his family arrived in Madison, Wisconsin in 1878, where FLW attended Madison High School. He left without graduating in 1885 to work for Allan D. Conover, then the Dean of the University of Wisconsin's Engineering Department. While at the University, FLW spent two semesters studying civil engineering; he was, otherwise, entirely self-taught.

In 1887, FLW moved to Chicago, where he apprenticed with the architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee. One year later, he went to work for the firm of Adler and Sullivan as a draughtsman, directly under Louis Sullivan. While working for Sullivan, FLW met and married Catherine Tobin; the two moved to Oak Park, Illinois where FLW built the house in which they would live for the next twenty years and raise their five children. In 1893, FLW left Adler and Sullivan to open his own firm, which he operated in Chicago before relocating it to the studio he had built adjacent to the Oak Park house.

Over the course of his career, FLW combined a diverse array of formative influences (few of which he would ever acknowledge as such)--19th century Romantic idealism, the writings of Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, Friedrich Froebel's geometric blocks for children, the Arts and Crafts movement, his experience at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 (which introduced him to both pre-Columbian architecture and Japanese art and design), and especially his former employer, Louis Sullivan--into a design vocabulary for what he called "organic architecture." By "organic," FLW did not mean a style that imitated nature, but rather one that creatively reinterpreted nature's principles. Vital to this reinterpretation was maintaining respect for the harmonious relationship between the building site and the materials used in construction as well as between the form and function of the building itself. His attempt to create an indigenous American architecture that echoed the natural environment in abstract forms and to integrate the twin themes of spatial continuity and rigorous, geometric order characterized what came to be known as his "Prairie style" homes. This can be seen clearly in the Darwin D. Martin House in Buffalo, New York (1904) and the Frederick C. Robie House in Oak Park, Illinois (1906), where FLW used over-hung, low-hipped roofs and uninterrupted walls of windows to emphasize the continuous horizontal movement he saw in the vast expanse of the Midwestern landscape.

In 1909, FLW abruptly left for Germany with his mistress Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of a neighbor and client. When they returned in 1911, they moved to Spring Green, Wisconsin, where his mother had given him a portion of his ancestors' land. It was this land upon which he constructed the home and studio he called "Taliesin." The Wrights would live there until 1914, when tragedy stuck: a servant murdered Cheney, her two children, and four others and set fire to the house.

FLW began rebuilding Taliesin almost immediately. Around the same time, he received several larger commissions, including the Midway Gardens in Chicago (1913) and the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (1915). It was in the late 1910s and early 1920s that FLW also began exploring Mayan architecture and experimenting with a construction technique that used a system of mass-produced, patterned concrete blocks ("textile" blocks), the results of which can be seen in a number of houses in and around Los Angeles, California: the Barnsdall Hollyhock House (1917), the Millard House (1923), and the Ennis House (1923) are all examples. Much of the 1920s, however, were characterized by personal difficulties, with a second, failed marriage to Maud Miriam Noel, a new mistress, and a constant struggle to obtain commissions.

The second phase of FLW's career began in 1928 with his marriage to Olgivanna Lazovich. In 1932, FLW opened Taliesin as an architectural fellowship. Thirty apprentices came to live with the Wrights, in what was vigorously promoted as an ideal, self-sustaining community of apprentices and architects who would learn and practice the philosophy of organic architecture by sharing in architectural work, building construction, and the related arts (which often included tending the Taliesin farm). During this time--when he was already approaching seventy years old--FLW received two major commissions, for which he produced two of the most important buildings of his career: Fallingwater, for Edgar J. Kaufmann in Bear Run, Pennsylvania (1935), and the Johnson Wax Company administrative building in Racine, Wisconsin (1936). Beginning in 1936 and continuing until his death in 1959, FLW also devoted himself to what he called "Usonian" houses--modest, moderately-priced, single-story homes of brick, wood, and glass, designed to provide comfort and high quality architecture to clients with limited budgets.

In 1937, FLW moved his fellowship from Wisconsin to Phoenix, Arizona, where he built a new complex, Taliesin West. He would spend the last twenty years of his life there. Taliesin West typifies the kind of geometric experimentation that would define the last (and most productive) phase of his career, wherein he would design buildings that mixed shapes (triangles, circles, squares, rectangles) and materials (concrete, plaster, masonry) for both domestic and non-domestic structures.

FLW was seventy-five when Hilla Rebay (HR) first contacted him about designing a museum to house Solomon R. Guggenheim's (SRG) growing collection of non-objective paintings. FLW was instantly eager to work for SRG when HR proposed the idea in June of 1943. FLW had specific ideas on the form the museum should take; in December of that year, he wrote HR, "I am so full of ideas for our Museum that I am likely to blow up or commit suicide unless I can let them out on paper. That building ought to show how to show a painting." From the beginning FLW was involved in every aspect of the new Museum, from its location to the proper way to display its non-objective paintings. The building, formed as a cast concrete spiral with a continuous, cantilevered ramp, combined many of the structural, spatial, and expressive ideas FLW had explored throughout his career into a single, integrated, sculptural entity that is itself a work of non-objective art. The building opened on October 21, 1959 to enormous crowds, but the design remained controversial: critics complained that it threatened to overwhelm the paintings it contained, that the curving walls of the spiral were inappropriate for the display of art, and that the lighting--the design relied heavily on natural light from the glass dome atop the building and a narrow glass band running along the exterior wall--was inadequate.

On April 9, 1959 at the age of ninety-two, FLW died at his home in Phoenix. In all, he designed 1141 works, including houses, offices, churches, schools, libraries, and museums. Of that total, 532 resulted in completed structures, 409 of which still stand.

Biographical / Historical

  • 1867 Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) born in Richland Center, WI on June 8. He is the first child of William Cary Wright and Anna Lloyd Jones Wright.
  • 1869-1877 Wright family moves to McGregor, IA. Subsequent moves take the family to Pawtucket, RI and Weymouth, MA.
  • 1876 Anna Lloyd Wright introduces the "Froebel Kindergarten" training to her son.
  • 1878 The Wright family moves to Madison, WI. FLW spends the summer months at the James Lloyd Jones farm near Spring Green, WI into the 1880s.
  • 1885 FLW's parents divorce and his father leaves Madison. FLW takes a part-time job as a draftsman with Allan D. Conover, University of Wisconsin engineering professor.
  • 1886 FLW attends University of Wisconsin.
  • 1887-1889 FLW leaves Madison for Chicago, finding employment first at the office of Joseph L. Silsbee and eventually with the architectural firm of Adler and Sullivan.
  • 1889 FLW marries Catherine Lee Tobin. Designs his own home in Oak Park, IL.
  • 1890 FLW is assigned all residential design handled by Adler and Sullivan. Birth of Lloyd, first of six children by Catherine.
  • 1892 FLW leaves offices of Adler and Sullivan.
  • 1893 FLW opens his own practice.
  • 1894 First exhibition of FLW's work is held at the Chicago Architectural Club. Daughter Catherine Lloyd Wright is born.
  • 1895 Son David Samuel Wright is born.
  • 1897 FLW moves his office to Steinway Hall, Chicago.
  • 1898 Daughter Frances Lloyd Wright born.
  • 1903 Son Robert Llewellyn Wright born.
  • 1904 FLW's father, William Wright (1825-1904) dies and is buried in small graveyard in Bear Valley near Lone Rock, WI.
  • 1909 FLW leaves his practice and family for Europe accompanied by Mamah Borthwick Cheney.
  • 1910 FLW returns from Europe.
  • 1911 FLW begins building a new home and studio near Spring Green, WI and calls the complex Taliesin.
  • 1912 FLW opens an office in Orchestra Hall, Chicago, IL.
  • 1913 FLW visits Japan to secure commission for the Imperial Hotel and to acquire Japanese prints for American clients.
  • 1914 A servant kills Mamah Cheney her two children and four others, then sets fire to Taliesin. FLW begins after a month to rebuild. The exhibition "Frank Lloyd Wright's work since 1911" is held at the Art Institute of Chicago. FLW meets Miriam Noel whom he later marries.
  • 1916 Contract signed for the Imperial Hotel commission at Taliesin. FLW sails to Japan with Miriam Noel and opens an office in Tokyo.
  • 1922 FLW returns for final time from Japan, opens an office in Los Angeles FLW and Catherine are divorced.
  • 1923 FLW's mother, Anna, dies and is buried in Unity Chapel cemetery. Kanto earthquake demolishes much of Tokyo; Imperial Hotel survives. FLW marries Miriam Noel. Construction begins on the textile block houses in Los Angeles.
  • 1924 FLW separates from Miriam Noel. FLW meets Olga Lazovich (Olgivanna).
  • 1925 Second major fire occurs at Taliesin. Daughter Iovanna born to Wright and Olgivanna. FLW again rebuilds Taliesin, Taliesin III, Spring Green, WI.
  • 1926 The Bank of Wisconsin takes title to Taliesin, due to FLW's indebtedness. FLW and Olgivanna are arrested near Minneapolis for allegedly violating the Mann Act FLW starts work on his autobiography.
  • 1927 FLW and Miriam Noel divorced.
  • 1928 FLW marries Olgivanna at Rancho Santa Fe, California. Wright, Inc. is formed by a group of FLW's friends who obtain title to Taliesin for FLW.
  • 1931 An exhibition of FLW's life work travels to New York City, Amsterdam, Berlin, Frankfurt, Brussels, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Eugene, Oregon, and Chicago.
  • 1932 The Wrights found the Taliesin Fellowship and convert the Hillside Home School buildings at Hillside into the Taliesin Fellowship Complex. "An Autobiography" is published. FLW's work is included in the "International Style Exhibition" at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City.
  • 1934 FLW and apprentices begin construction of a scale model of a section of Broadacre City.
  • 1935 Construction of the Broadacre City model continues at "La Hacienda" in Chandler, AZ; completed model is exhibited at "National Alliance of Arts and Industry Exposition" Rockefeller Center, New York City.
  • 1937 FLW purchases approximately 800 acres of government land near Phoenix, AZ and design and construction of Taliesin West begins.
  • 1940 "The Work of Frank Lloyd Wright," a major retrospective exhibition, is held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City. FLW founds the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
  • 1946 Stepdaughter Svetlana dies in automobile accident on September 30.
  • 1951 FLW and his apprentices design and construct an exhibition of FLW's work entitled "Sixty Years of Living Architecture." It includes models, photomurals, and original drawings. The show opens at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence.
  • 1952 The exhibition "Sixty Years of Living Architecture" travels from Florence to Zurich, Paris, Munich, and Rotterdam.
  • 1953 The exhibition "Sixty Years of Living Architecture" is on view in Mexico City and at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
  • 1954 The exhibition "Sixty Years of Living Architecture" concludes its run at FLW's Hollyhock House in Los Angeles.
  • 1955 FLW opens office and residence in New York City, "Taliesin East," at the Plaza Hotel.
  • 1957 FLW is invited to Baghdad, Iraq, where he is asked to design a cultural center to include and opera house, two museums, and a post office and telecommunications building.
  • 1959 FLW dies on April 9 in Arizona. Services, officiated by the minister of the Madison Unitarian Society, are held on April 12 at Taliesin near Spring Green.

Biographical / Historical

  • 1891 House for James Charnley, Chicago, IL.
  • 1893 Japanese Temple for World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, IL.
  • 1902 House for Susan Lawrence Dana, Springfield, IL.
  • 1903 Larkin Company Administration Building, Buffalo, NY (demolished).
  • 1904 House for Darwin D. Martin, Buffalo, NY. Unity Temple, Oak Park, IL.
  • 1905 Lawrence Memorial Library, Dana House, Springfield, IL. Rookery Building, Interior Remodeling, Chicago, IL.
  • 1906 House for Frederick C. Robie, Chicago, IL.
  • 1908 House for Isabel Roberts, River Forest, IL.
  • 1913 Midway Gardens, Chicago, IL (demolished).
  • 1914 Taliesin II, Spring Green, WI.
  • 1916 Imperial Hotel (1915) Tokyo, Japan (demolished; entrance lobby reconstructed in 1976 in Meiji Village). Imperial Hotel Annex, Tokyo, Japan.
  • 1917 Hollyhock House for Aline Barnsdall, Los Angeles, CA.
  • 1923 House for Charles Ennis, Los Angeles, CA. La Miniatura House for Alice Millard, Pasadena, CA. House for John Storer, Los Angeles, CA.
  • 1932 Taliesin Fellowship Complex, Spring Green, WI.
  • 1935 "Fallingwater" House for Edgar J. Kaufmann, Bear Run, PA.
  • 1936 House for Herbert Jacobs, Madison, WI. S.C. Johnson & Son Co. Administration Building (Johnson Wax), Racine, WI.
  • 1937 Taliesin West, Scottsdale, AZ.
  • 1943 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY (original design).
  • 1944 Solar Hemicycle House for Herbert Jacobs, Middleton, WI. S.C. Johnson & Son Co. (Johnson Wax) Research Tower, Racine, WI.
  • 1946 Unitarian Meeting House, Shorewood Hills, WI.
  • 1947 Usonia II Housing Master Plan, Pleasantville, NY.
  • 1948 Gift Shop for V.C. Morris, San Francisco, CA.
  • 1952 Price Tower for the H.C. Price Company, Bartlesville, OK.
  • 1953 Usonian Exhibition House and Pavilion for "Sixty Years of Living Architecture" New York, NY (dismantled).
  • 1954 Exhibition Pavilion for Los Angeles, CA.
  • 1955 Dallas Theatre Center for Paul Baker, Dallas, TX.
  • 1956 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, final revised scheme, New York, NY.


1.4 cubic ft. (4 manuscript boxes)


American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW), 1867-1959, played a leading role in transforming the practice of architecture early in the 20th century. FLW claimed to build "organic" architecture that seemed to grow naturally out of the surrounding landscape. He believed the internal space, furnishings and decorative details of a house to be intrinsic to its architecture. Many of his projects incorporated site specific furniture and fittings. These unified projects were intended to possess a natural "organic" beauty that would promote the life of the human spirit. During the Great Depression, FLW founded a community known as the Taliesin Fellowship and published an autobiography. Later commissions such as those for the Johnson Wax Administration building and Fallingwater, Edgar J. Kaufmann's residence progressed FLW's career. These projects, like his design for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, built in the 1950s, incorporated reinforced concrete cantilevered construction that liberated architecture from the "Box." All of FLW's works express his reverence for nature and his belief in the "soul of humanity."


The Frank Lloyd Wright correspondence spans the years 1943 to 1959 and documents the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation's (SRGF) relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright through the course of planning and constructing the new Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum building at 1071 Fifth Ave. The collection consists of letters, telegrams, memoranda, newspaper clippings, transcripts of speeches, and financial records relating to the SRGF. The majority of the records from series one have been digitized and can be viewed in the folder list of the collection's online finding aid. Select records were not digitized due to preservation needs and fragility concerns.


Organized into 2 series: 1. Correspondence Compiled for Harry F. Guggenheim; 2. Correspondence Compiled for other Guggenheim Foundation Trustees.

Physical Location


Frank Lloyd Wright correspondence
Finding aid prepared by Elizabeth Merrill, Alan Houston and Alexandra Woodworth
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Digitization of this collection was made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.

Repository Details

Part of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Archives Repository

One Liberty Plaza
24th floor
New York NY 10006