Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Last Wright

Justin and I went to a screening of a documentary called "The Last Wright" about The Park Inn Hotel in Mason City, Iowa. It is the last "standing" Frank Lloyd Wright hotel, and standing is an overstatement.

When you think of Frank Lloyd Wright you don't think of neglected, falling apart buildings that are barely holding on to their original beauty. You think that as Americans we are fiercely protective of the architect that even those who aren't interested in architecture know his name. Maybe its because of my upbringing, or my midwestern home. But, I thought that the towns lucky enough to have a Wright building would protect it, and preserve it. That is not the case.

Did you know that parking lots have replaced two of the larger buildings that Wright built? The houses in Montana burning down, that happens, but purposely knocking down a Frank Lloyd Wright building, what were they thinking? The hotel he built in Japan has only a few things preserved, because they tore it down to build a high rise hotel. At least they knew to preserve part of it, but still, it seems like such a waste.

This Hotel is in ruins, Mason City did get money to restore it almost 10 years ago, but they put all of that money into a Meridith Wilson (The Music Man) Museum. Coming from Grand Rapids I can't blame them too much because the one attraction is the Judy Garland Museum (Boring, not inspiring, not much there, but the town is so proud of it.) But I would hope that if Grand Rapids had a masterpiece building that maybe they would have tried to preserve that instead of build a replica of the set of Wizard of Oz. (Which they have not done, thankfully.) There is currently 10 million dollars offered to them (7 million of which would be designated for the restoration of the Park Inn) if the city can raise 4 million dollars. I highly doubt that there is 4 million dollars in Mason City, and they don't seem to have any Wright activists. They had people who are mad about the Wilson Museum, but there doesn't seem to be anyone fighting for the hotel.

Now, I may be biased, because I would stop to see a Wright building. (I don't know that I've ever stopped to look at the gas station in Cloquet, but I have never been in charge when I've driven by.) I would go to see the lobby, and the windows, and the detail on the outside. And if that hotel made me stop maybe I would go look at the Music Man stuff, but honestly, It didn't look much more interesting than the Judy Garland museum when I already know to be a waste of money.

The producer is afraid to screen the film in Mason City. She is afraid that people are going to be upset that she offers this perspective of where their heart lies. She's afraid they are going to be mad that she presented their city the way she did. (It was known for its seedy content in the 60 and 70s) The Park Inn was even a go-go dancer bar that evolved into what go-go dancing evolved into. The history of the town is pretty interesting for Iowa. It was a favorite get-a-way for the Chicago gangsters, there was the Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson bank robbery, and Buddy Holly, Ricky Valance, and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash there, and Wilson wrote a play that turned into a movie about the town.

I wonder if there wasn't a scandal around Wright and Mason City, if the hotel would have been preserved better. Midwestern towns are unforgiving like that. I wonder if they really think movie museums will make more money than architecture museums.

There is a distribution plan yet, but I would recommend it. It makes you think about what we as Americans really value, and how we let the "flow of things" ruin, and demolish what history we should really be protecting.
The picture is of the skylight panel, which was covered up in the 60's by ceiling tiles. I got it from here.


Tammy Lorna said...

That's interesting Brecken - the doco must be a good one because it seems to have stirred something in you. It's sad when we 'lose' stuff to neglect etc. I'm glad we have film these days. It's better to preserve things in actuality of course, but when we can't, it's nice to think they can at least be preserved on film.

xo Tammy

emilysuze said...

I can't believe that so many of his buildings are gone. Why is there not a preservation society somewhere that is looking out for his creations?

Mindy said...

With a population of about 30,000 and median income just over 30,000, I'm doubtful that the town could raise that kind of money.
We're hoping Chad gets a job there....mostly because it is so small town like where we grew up. That's too bad about the Wright building. I take the gas station in Cloquet for granted though too.