A Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian house on the Tennessee River

In a previous blog post, I described a visit to two sites in Washington, the new U.S. Capitol Visitors Center and the Folger Shakespeare Library, where Alabamians have become somewhat notable fixtures. In the case of the visitors center, it is the statue of Helen Keller as a child. At the Folger, it is a television studio under development by Alabama Public Television.

More recent travels led to a closer destination, Florence, where a famous Midwestern architect left his own stamp on Alabama. Not far from the Tennessee River stands the Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1939. (Actually, Wright never visited the site or the completed house. His apprentice and associates managed the project.) Meticulously restored by the City of Florence in 1999-2001, the house is one of the Shoals area’s most prominent historic sites today. It is the only Wright-designed building in Alabama and is open to the public on a regular basis.

A house, we like to believe, is in statu quo, a noble consort to man and the trees; therefore the house should have repose and such texture as will quiet the whole and make it graciously at one with external nature.”

–Frank Lloyd Wright, The Future of Architecture (1953)

The Rosenbaum House is considered a first-rate example of Wright’s “Usonian” houses, which he designed for clients across the country in the mid-20th century. What I find most interesting about the Usonian concept, from a humanities perspective, is its reference to the expanded idea of “America” as embodying all of North America to include Canada and Mexico. According to this design philosophy, not only would the house unite nature and artifice, outdoors and indoors—it would also unite the broader sense of what it means to be an American.

Given that the Usonian house is considered a predecessor of the 1950s ranch house, I wonder whether our Canadian and Mexican friends want to celebrate that particular architectural contribution from the United States’ most famous architect. (Perhaps NAFTA has been their revenge.) No matter. The Rosenbaum House is pure FLW, and well worth the trip from anywhere in Alabama.

Written by: Bob S.