Frank Lloyd Wright was in his nineties when he designed a Usonian home for Conrad & Evelyn Gordon. Since the Gordons had 3 grown children and were in their sixties, their new house fit their specific needs because normally cantankerous Wright really listened to what they wanted. As a result, Gordon House, built in 1963-64, has some features not seen in other Wright houses, Usonian and otherwise.
Usonian sounds kind of utopian, and I believe that’s intended. Until 1936 Wright homes were for the affluent and mostly in Prairie Style. But during The Depression he was open to designing more affordable houses for low wage, skilled workers. Conrad Gordon was a farmer. The Gordons new 2,133 square feet living space didn’t have stained glass windows. Instead, Wright used plywood fretwork to decorate windows. Looking very Wrightian, Gordon House is alive with pleasing horizontal lines, Cherokee red, poured concrete floors that extend out to patios, and eye-catching 15% angles on tables, shelves, etc. The entryway & kitchen, considered strictly a workplace, are purposely small so that everyone moves quickly into the combo dining/living/ library with oversized windows and an unusually high ceiling. My favorite room is the master bedroom upstairs that looks rather Asian and has clever slide-to-a-corner doors.
The large first-floor combo room’s windows used to look out to a distant Mount Hood and the adjacent Willamette River, but Gordon House moved. The Gordons lived comfortably in it for the rest of their lives. Heirs sold it in 2000 to new owners who agreed to turn it over to an organization that preserved Wright designs with the understanding that it would travel. Deconstructed the next year, it was painstakingly rebuilt just outside The Oregon Garden in Silverton and opened to the public in 2002.
When Ruth and I visited Gordon House for the first time, we walked right in for a tour. Times have changed. The environmental impact of up to 6,000 annual visitors has caused the staff to require reservations. General Director Molly Murphy told me, “Gordon House is not a model home. It’s a piece of art.” Luckily, ten-year tour guide Kathryn let us join her pre-scheduled tour.
Gordon House is the only Frank Lloyd Wright designed home in Oregon and the only visible Usonian home in the Northwest U.S. Another Usonian design that welcomes visitors and is getting raves is Zimmerman House in Manchester, New Hampshire. There’s apparently one for sale in Delaware. Wikipedia lists almost 30 Noted Usonian Homes but doesn’t say which are opened to the public. I’ll have to do some research.
If travels take you to the Northwest any time soon, you’ll find a visit to Gordon House time well spent.