was born in Highland Park, Michigan in the mid afternoon of 22 March 1936. He attended the Greenfield Village Schools and the first two years of high school at the Edison Institute High School in Dearborn, Michigan. He graduated from Dearborn High School in 1954. His first two years of college were at Albion College in Albion, Michigan, but he graduated from Harvard College with an A.B. in Engineering Science. An M.F.A. from Boston University's School of Fine and Applied Arts followed. A few years later he entered the Ph.D. program in Comparative Arts at Ohio University, Athens, Ohio. Here he earned honors and graduated in record time two years after his arrival.
Photo; Benkei at the Bridge (Storrer's best!)
Photo; Hall of Justice(Storrer's best Wright)
Where did the Frank Lloyd Wright Companion begin? As with everyone's life story, it couldn't have happened unless I was born. Under the sign of Aries, with Leo rising, and too many of my planets in Pisces for my Aries to be comfortable.
Now I didn't understand the portent of any of this for several years. When I went aboard the S.S. Universe Campus in New York harbor for a four month's cruise around the world with 420 students and 60 faculty and staff that comprised that semester's World Campus Afloat, the first person I met had long, flowing orange-red hair; she was a double Leo with a daughter who was a triple Leo. She walked up to me, opened the dialogue with "You're an Aries, aren't you?" Before I could answer, she continued, "You must have lots of Pisces in there, too." She was an astrologer, among her other considerable talents.
I had taken an interest in astrology when, while interviewing Abby Beecher Roberts (S.236), I was informed that she had figured out Wright's actual birthdate many years before the general public learned that the architect had shaved two years off his life. When her daughter Mary was at Taliesin, she visited, and cast Wright's horoscope based on his false 1869 birthdate. The results clearly did not fit the man she knew who was guiding the Taliesin Fellowship. In a conversation with Maginel, Abby was told "oh, everyone knows Frank shaves a few years off his age." She recast the horoscope based on 1867 and that it came out showing Wright to be a builder/designer who would dress differently from others including, specifically, his hat.
So, I've digressed. Wright didn't come into my life until I was in junior high school. My brother, Bradley, had gone to Taliesin to study with Mr. Wright after starting his first year of college. In the Spring of 1950, my parents decided we should visit this strange place in the middle of Wisconsin. It was a weekend, after dinner, when we headed down into the Taliesin living room for a concert of Beethoven's Violin and Piano Sonatas Opus 30, Numbers One, Two and Three (to be performed in that order for, as Mr. Wright was to note, that was the way Beethoven wrote them). We were on the stairs when Mr. Wright came gliding in from his private apartment. My brother motioned Mr. Wright over. "Mr. Wright, I'd like you to meet my mother, my father, and my brother." Mr. Wright tilted his pork pie topped head back, observed us carefully, then uttered, solemly, "How do you do, mother, father, and brother." With that he swirled his full-length cape and strode away.
It was 27 years later before Wright came back into my life. I was a graduate student working for a Ph.D. at Ohio University. The teacher of the basic year-long architectural history course for architecture students and interested others came to Peter Goss (now a dean at the University of Utah) and myself and asked us if we'd team teach his course the following year. One had little choice but to say "yes" to such a command performance. So Pete and I taught the course, actually with quite a bit of imagination, using lots of music with our slides, sending the students around Athens (suitably named given its large collection of columned front porches) to identify architectural styles, and generally having a good time. Comes the last month and we are into the 20th century. Pete comes to me and queries, "Bill, didn't your brother study with Wright?" (So blame The Frank Lloyd Wright Companion on my brother?) So I got stuck with teaching a whole week on Wright. As I'd seen only Taliesin and a few other Wright-designed structures, I had to do a lot of reading and searching through the art department's slide files. I knew, at best, a bit about late Wright, and the slide file contained mostly early Wright, except Johnson Wax, Fallingwater and the Guggenheim. Somehow I got through the week.
This is, however, still a digression, for it doesn't get to why I wrote The Frank Lloyd Wright Companion. Perhaps Irving Stone expresses it elegantly when he has Michelangelo remembering the words of his grandmother; "No man is born into the world whose work is not born with him." I didn't choose to do this, it was chosen for me; I had many other paths open to me, but this is the one I had to take.
I finished my Ph.D. a year early, after only two years in southeast Ohio. It was late Spring when I came up with my dissertation topic, one which so excited me, after several frustrating trials, that I finished all work in eight weeks and found myself in the middle of the summer looking for a job that fall. One offer in Athens, Georgia, was tempting, but I found I couldn't stomach the old south's continued patronizing of blacks. An interesting leave-of-absence theatre position came open late in the summer at the University of Toledo, Ohio. I had hoped to move beyond theatre with my new degree, but this was the best possibility then available. Toledo is 50 miles from my hometown, Dearborn, the southwestern suburb of Detroit. Bradley was an architect in Dearborn, but was about to move to Chicago to join the Goldberg firm that built the Marina Towers on the Chicago River. Brad asked me to photograph his buildings in Michigan, so he'd have a record of his architectural contribution to his home state.
Naturally I was curious about my brother's work. I went all over Michigan photographing his interesting work. As an architectural historian I was curious as to the influences that might appear in my brother's work. So, while traveling around Michigan, I dropped by many of the houses designed by Wright. I was sitting in my car in front of the Dorothy Turkel house (S.388, the only two-story Usonian Automatic, a fact that years later would open up to me a whole new view of the development of Wright's work from Prairie to Usonia with the latter as his triumphant Democratic American Architecture). There was a car in front of me. Its driver got out , walked back to me with Frank Lloyd Wright Writings and Buildings (by Ben Raeburn and Edgar Kaufmann Jr.) and asked if I knew where "this house is." He showed me the listing at the back of the book for the George Dlesk house. I said "Oh, that was never built." He thanked me, and drove off. It was then that I realized that though Mozart had his Köchel, Schubert his Deutsch, Vivaldi both Pincherle and Ryom. and Beethoven his own opus numbers, Wright had no accurate documentation of his built work. The list in Writings and Buildings was terribly inaccurate, and the Michigan listings were the most inaccurate. It was then I decided to do such a list, which became The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, a complete catalog, without which there could never have been a Frank Lloyd Wright Companion.
The next four years, one at Toledo University and the others at Southampton College of Long Island University, found me using every spare moment driving to and photographing every known extant work of Frank Lloyd Wright, and a number of buildings that were not by him though thought to be so by their owners or neighbors.
As I finally envisioned it, The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, a complete catalog would have had plans of the buildings and maps showing how to get to them. The former was impossible (Hitchcock's In the Nature of Materials, which was my initial model, has only a 17% coverage of the total built work, which equals a 29% coverage of the work he covered up to 1941). The Taliesin archives were at the time uncataloged, so most plans after 1941 were unavailable, and archivist Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer was estimating there were 10,000 drawings; eventually his catalog went to over 20,000 items. Henry-Russell Hitchcock became my mentor and opened his files to me. He also wrote the Foreword to my first Wright book, the catalog, and all for taking him out to a dinner at his favorite restaurant on Long Island, to which he otherwise had no transportation. As to maps, the MIT Press was afraid of law suits for violating privacy rights, so suggested we should drop that part.
Here, again, I am getting ahead of myself. I had an idea for a book, late in 1968, but no publisher (and The MIT Press was the last one to be considered).
Initially I wanted Penguin to put it under their "World of Art" series (now owned by Thames and Hudson), a series of books with a considerable amount of color in their illustrations (at a time when color reproduction was not cheap) at reasonable prices and used widely in college art courses. Penguin told me that they could not consider any book that would sell less than 15,000 copies. (I had a good cry when The MIT Press sold the 20,000th copy of The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, a complete catalog).
I had done a lot of work on the book, first by visiting Bradley in Chicago and, of course, going around Oak Park. Everywhere I took my camera, having gotten an ultra-wide angle lens in order to get inside the foliage that often surrounds Wright houses, later adding a true perspective correction lens (I now own four, plus an extensive array of wide and super-wide angle lenses for use in photographing interiors). I travelled across the country to every known site of a Wright building. In an around-the-world tour with Pan Am in 1971 and with World Campus Afloat by boat in 1972, to the sites overseas, I had seen and photographed everything still standing. I was still looking for a publisher.
Then, at a Society of Architectural Historians meeting in Washington, D.C., while standing in line for lunch, I discovered that immediately next me was Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., at that time one of the major names in Wrightian lore and scholarship Somehow the discussion came to a point where I told him of my Wright project. He put me in touch with Ben Raeburn of Horizon Press, who had published Wright's post-war books as well as co-authoring, with Kaufmann, Jr., Frank Lloyd Wright Writings and Buildings. Raeburn took my photos and info to Mrs. Wright at Taliesin West during a beautiful spring. I was, while Ben was in Scottsdale, driving from my home on the South Fork of Long Island to Yemassee, South Carolina, over to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, up to Kansas City, Missouri, then back through the midWest to Long Island, photographing 40 buildings for which I still had unsatisfactory photos. Ben knew I was doing this, and that the 40 photos (of which he had a list) would be replaced in the "complete set" he'd taken to Maricopa Mesa. Yet, when he returned, he said he would not do the book because of Mrs. Wright's objection to "forty bad photos"!!!!!!!
That's why The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, a complete catalog was done by The MIT Press. Without plans. Without maps. Without color photos. Sadly, also, with terrible reproduction of my photos, which has left a bad taste in my mouth ever since for The MIT Press. But had not that first book been done, I could never have gone on to do a book with plans. Still without maps, for by now I was publishing the maps independently through a company I'd formed originally for the purpose of making sound recordings at Harvard. I had discovered that municipal and postal proclivities for changing addresses, plus every government's desire to build new, or reroute old, roads meant that maps had to be updated on a regular basis, something avoided by book publishers who want to do a book and never change it.
My first goal, however, after The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, a complete catalog was published, was to gather information denied me by owners but now being offered once they discovered they'd "been misrepresented" or largely ignored in my book, and get corrections into my book. The MIT Press, perhaps aware of the awful reproduction of my photos, allowed a second edition, but gave me precious little time to reprint some photos out of which I knew I could pull more shadow detail no matter what they might do to them in their processing to plates. From publication of the first edition to submission of the materials for the second was less than three years.
When this was published, I went to Lloyd Wright to suggest that I do a similar book on his work. He resisted, noting that an exhibition of his work in Los Angeles had included a "catalog" that was sufficient. What was most needed was a book in which "the grammar of organic architecture" was explicated in a way or ways his father had refused to do. I was excited, discussed my knowledge of the unit system and the grid which it generated and how I was certain that it was used much earlier than any historian had suggested. He assured me I was right and offered that, while the grid and the plan drawn to it was the two-dimensional aspect of a building, to that must be added - he placed his left elbow on his knee, with his forearm raised vertically and fist clenched, then placed an outstretched right arm on the fist just beyond the elbow - "the cantilever."
The book he wanted me to write could not be done then; I still had much to learn and in evening-long discussions with the likes of John H. Howe, Karl Kamrath, several architects of the Taliesin Associated Architects and others, I learned many volumes on organic architecture..
For the short term, I settled down to doing what I had suggested in my own Introduction, writing a more detailed book about a specific group of Wright buildings, namely, those in Michigan. The Michigan Society of Architects wanted to do a series on the state, and seemed anxious to have me do their Wright study. I was given a contract and a royalty advance. I produced a manuscript with every built work, plans for most, a listing of all Michigan projects with discussion of the most interesting of those which were unbuilt. I included chapters on general aspects of Wright and his work, specifically to help readers who were likely to be unfamiliar with either. As a Michigander who'd gone to Henry Ford's Greenfield Village Schools, I was able to relate to Michigan's greatest historical figure with an inside pun in my opening line. The manuscript was exhaustive for its time. The Wayne State University Press, MSA's publisher, demanded I produce 300 photos from which they'd make a selection of less than a hundred for the book. They knew the cost of printing photos, so certainly knew this was a burden no assistant professor at a small college could afford. Nor had any other publisher I've ever talked to or signed a contract with ever expected me to submit photos other than those I'd selected for printing. The book didn't get done, and all Michigan now has on Wright alone is one of the most horrible publications ever of the great architect's work (lest those reading this think my statement amounts to sour grapes, I suggest that they seek out the book, which I will not name but which has been reviewed in the FLlW UPDATE newsletter; the introduction by Grant Carpenter Manson is eloquent English, but does not describe the book that follows, which has photos by its author that could be bettered by a box Brownie).
With that goal beyond reach, I considered the problem of a book with plans of the built work and discussion of the principles of organic architecture. In a visit to the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, I walked into the desert garden, looked directly down at a particular cactus, and saw the organic plan of the George and Clifton Lewis (S.359) house.
I was now convinced that such a book as Lloyd wanted was possible and necessary. It would have to have plans of as much of the built work as could be obtained (I had now concluded that, whenever Wright had a design he particularly liked, if the client did not immediately build it, the architect would pass it on to another client, "improved" of course by additional work in the drafting room; so I could dispense with unbuilt projects and concentrate on the work that was built and, if necessary, do it by measuring what was extant, without Taliesin's help).
I had already worked with one Cornell architectural student on drawing plans from my own measurements in Michigan. When he found it too time consuming and bowed out, I found another fine architectural draftsman in California, who seemed to relish the possibility, and who could produce superb inked drawings to standard scales, as well as axonometrics that make the spaces of a Wright design readable to those who would call themselves visually illiterate. When I applied for a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, and won same, he backed out when he realized what I'd said all along, that, unless the book sold thousands of copies, he'd be working for nickels an hour.
The project languished then for some time while I kept collecting plans, often by drawing them on lined paper at the site. Many months after Mrs. Wright's death, I phoned Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer (archivist for The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation) and he knew what I wanted even before I asked. His answer was "yes," I could have whatever I needed. Over a five year span, plans were collected, then scanned into computer. Three years followed while plans were redrawn in the computer, corrected with information from original clients, on-site supervisors, recent owners, and anyone with knowledge of how the building had been built. New plans replaced ones that didn't work, or that turned out to be incorrect.
While this was going on, I had tried to get The MIT Press to do a new edition of The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, a complete catalog, but they were satisfied with the continued sale of the second edition which involved no additional costs. Then they refused to free me to take a competing book to another publisher; eventually, however, after much wrangling, they freed me from a restrictive contract that, had I not been a neophyte, I never would have signed, and The University of Chicago Press, via the good insight of associate publisher Penelope Kaiserlian, took on the project.
It still took another five years to find and obtain photographs of demolished buildings, redraw every plan in computer, and survive a horrendous three weeks after the printer lost 301 photos the negatives of which had to be (re)located, printed, reprinted if necessary, identified, resized and sent on to the printer. Now, The Frank Lloyd Wright Companion, the only single-volume study of Wright's built work to present plans, photos and text on every known built work, is available to the general public.
But it won't sell a tenth what a biography of Wright would have sold. It is the work for which the man is famous (despite his various marriages), yet people won't pay to understand that aspect of genius. The more scandalous the biography, the more it seems to sell. There will always be more truth about Mr. Wright in his own An Autobiography than any of the - perhaps more factually accurate - biographies.
I never believed I would be a historian. My pre-college schooling was, but for the last two years, at Henry Ford's Greenfield Village Schools. Here one studies in history, was surrounded by history. I never liked history . . . then. I am fascinated by it now (I wonder how a country like American can harbor so many fascist ideals, for instance). I once, in college no less, wrote a diatribe against historical novels and Robert Graves in particular. I now regret that; Graves, Stone, Michener and the like give us the truth of the past, not just the facts. In this context I must note that Irving Stone quotes a plaque on the wall of Ghirlandaio's studio that is appropriate for Wright; "The most perfect guide is nature." I understood this standing above the cactus in Huntington Gardens.
My I.Q. is unmeasurable. Which means only that no two tests have ever given the same result, even though I.Q. is supposed to be unchangeable (I've worked with people who have taken persons of average intelligence and, within months, have moved them to the edge of genius - a thirty point improvement). The Detroit Board of Education had me taking new tests to see if they were solvable by high school students. My last two years of secondary education were at Dearborn High School, then ranked something like third in the state of Michigan; I was one of eight whose GPAs were above that of any previous valedictorian in the school's quarter century history. Yet it was never suggested I go to Harvard. I wanted to go to the University of Chicago and, when my father vetoed that because he thought it too "pink," I pointed out that Harvard, accepted as the nation's best college, was "pink, too." My application to Albion College was mailed Friday; I had my acceptance by Monday. That should have been a clue that Albion would not be sufficient challenge, but it was one of only three Michigan colleges with a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.
In my second year at Albion, I had decided I needed to leave to find a better challenge. My high school valedictorian had gone to Harvard, and I was encouraged to apply. In a room that seemed six feet square, I was told that I was one of 200 applicants for transfer, that 20 was normal, and maybe 10 would be accepted. "Make plans for an alternative."
I also applied to MIT, as my original intentions were to take an A.B., then go on to engineering school if, at that time, I still was interested in a career of that sort. I'd been especially good at mathematics in high school, placing first on back-to-back math competitions. At Albion, however, I was held back from calculus (not then offered in high schools), and never recovered when faced with the more rigorous requirements of east coast academia; but I did not know this when I applied.
At MIT I was ushered into a spacious room [one wall of which opened to the courtyard of the concrete Roman(esque) structure] of some assistant dean or other. He called to his secretary to produce files of all students who had transferred from Albion or entered from Dearborn High. After looking at what he was brought, he announced, "your record is as good as or better than anyone who came here from either of your schools, and they all graduated. You are accepted."
You can guess which school I told my father I would go to, "or not go anywhere next year."
Harvard - College, please, not University; the former is the undergraduate institution then open only to males, now coed, the latter includes the College and the Graduate Schools) - was the academic Garden of Eden of its time, or perhaps Cambridge was to us under graduates what the Florence under the Medeci family was to the Renaissance world. Here I spent most of my time involved with various theatrical organizations as producer, advertising director and sound technician (among others, the world premiere of Arthur Kopit's Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Momma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad), and recording undergraduate organizations including shows by classmates Erich Segal and Joe Raposo and an orchestra conducted by (now) composer John Harbison. I took my first academic degree at Harvard in Engineering Sciences, then earned my M.F.A. in Theatre (Directing) across the Charles River at Boston University in the era when I could stage manage Faye Dunaway and Dennis Allen (later of "Laugh In") and translate French lyrics for a review by David Cryer (whose wife Gretchen has to her credit many off-Broadway shows, and whose son, Jon, has probably earned more as a film actor than David, Gretchen and myself). During this time I became (and still am) an opera critic. I was offered a position at the Met (Opera) from which I would have become a professional stage director, rather than the academic one with which I began my post-college career.
In many things I have been lucky, by bringing good fortune to others who have entrusted in me their future. Opera and operetta companies I have led have seen debts wiped out quickly, or seen attendance increase when all other theaters in their territory were showing declines. Where I've been in charge of recruiting, the quality of recruits, and therefore the rate of admissions, has gone up. Yet my academic career has too often been plagued by the jealousy of petty individuals, too many of whom most certainly chose academia because they are essentially uncompetitive people. In Caribbean, James A. Michener has Wrentham saying of Admiral Nelson, "A rising tide lifts all ships in the harbor." It has been my good fortune that I create rising tides, but I am faced often only by people who can see this as but a high water line that is above the foundation of their oceanside cottage.
There is much talent in the world, but, as Bertoldo tells Michelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy, "Talent is cheap; dedication is expensive. It will cost you your life." This, too, has been my experience. Such a project as The Frank Lloyd Wright Companion, let alone the Catalog, would have brought major funding for its equivalent in almost every other country in the world from its government or from business. Here, in America, such an organization as The Architectural History Foundation considered the project "unnecessary." I have had, but for The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, no outside funding. My dedication to researching and presenting my findings on the built work of Frank Lloyd Wright has cost me a secure, academic life. Were I British, German, Japanese, I'd have that. In America, where greed still runs rampant and one American past-president succeeded primarily in making America ungovernable, we pay college professors more as they teach less. Our nation is shaped by its Kindergarten and first grade teachers, not college professors (much as their egos tell them otherwise). The primary reward for college teachers should be their working with students whose intellects are already developed; we should pay school teachers more than college professors, and will have to if America is ever to regain its preeminent position as a world leader in the field of ideas.
But, once again, I digress.
Had I chosen otherwise, I might now be a stage director at the Metropolitan Opera, or a conductor of an orchestra, or a photographer exhibiting in galleries worldwide, or an author of travel articles and books, or a major-city music or theatre critic, or an engineer, or a tenured distinguished professor of who-knows-what, or who-knows-what. Two more quotes from Irving Stone; Granacci to Michelangelo; "God shapes the back to the burden." Yes, maybe the back is shaped, but the burden is not thereby lightened. And Bertoldo to Michelangelo; "One should not become an artist because he can, but because he must. It is only for those who would be miserable without it." Without the many enjoyable encounters I've had with Wright's clients and later owners of his designs, the effort to produce The Frank Lloyd Wright Companion would have been worthless. Art presents the truth of its subject, facts alone are not enough. Thus, I hope The Frank Lloyd Wright Companion will be accepted as itself a work of art, not just a collection of essential facts. Please read it with joy.