Western Pennsylvania’s Surprises

Do you know where you find a section of the Berlin Wall, Peter Fonda’s motorcycle with Captain America helmet, Steve McQueen’s airplane, the Fort where the French and Indian War started, several Frank Lloyd Wright masterpieces, and a five diamond restaurant? Hint: check out the map above, specifically the Ohiopyle area. It doesn’t look like there is much in the area, does it? At least that’s what I thought till I got there.

Did you ever plan a trip, thinking that it would be all about a particular site, then discover that the area had a whole lot more to offer? Enough for two posts, even?

We were drawn to the area by a newspaper article I had clipped about Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater decades ago. It sat in my “Fun Things To Do” folder until earlier this year, when I figured we either needed to visit the damn place or throw out the clipping. If I had done the latter, you wouldn’t be reading this post.

A quick internet search uncovered a special Fallingwater experience–a sunset tour, lasting three hours, ending with appetizers on one of the decks. The tours are only offered on Friday and Saturday nights, are limited to 10 participants, allow interior photography, and include parts of the house not shown on the other tours. For $150 per person, you can pretend that you are a guest of the owners. Just our kind of gig.

The newspaper article included a photo similar to this one

So how was it, you ask? Well, the house was quite fascinating, especially given that it was completed in 1937. As you can see from the photo above, the house was built over a waterfall. When the windows are open, you can definitely HEAR that water falling! Closing the windows successfully shuts out most of the noise…and also the cooling breezes. Fallingwater, you see, is not air conditioned. Did they even HAVE AC back in the late ’30s?

You’re probably thinking “What’s the point of living over a waterfall if you can’t stick your 10 little piggies into it”? Right? Well, Frank was also thinking just that, so here’s what he did.

The stairway leading down to the water is pretty cool, but what is even more impressive is the way the glass panels slide away.

Do you think he accomplished his goal, which was to bring the outside in?

Here’s another example. You are out in the middle of nowhere, so window coverings are not needed, but in the bathroom, why not have planters built into the window to form a natural curtain?†

When we first entered the living room, it looked like the corner was completely open. It took a while to see what is obvious from the reflection on the window–that two panes of glass are joined in the corner.

Wright not only designed the building, he also created all the furniture throughout the house. I was surprised to see a king sized bed in the master bedroom. Our guide explained that it was actually two twins pushed together and united by a single headboard and bedspread, something TV in the 1950’s would never have shown. (It isn’t that visually interesting, so I didn’t bother posting a photo of it–everyone knows what a king sized bed looks like.) How surprising that it took about three decades for that great concept to catch on!

The kitchen, bedrooms and bathrooms are all very small. The focus is on the large living/dining room and the outside balconies. Check out the banquettes in the living room. Not what I consider the most comfortable seating, but maybe if you imbibe enough from those nearby bottles, you won’t notice.

At the other end of the living room is the dining area. Are you expecting the tour to turn left or right into the kitchen? Well, it doesn’t. The kitchen is a tiny space down a flight of stairs and through a very narrow hallway. The owners clearly didn’t spend much time there. That was the domain of the servants. There are no photos, because the kitchen was so tiny, I couldn’t figure out how to frame it.

I was quite happy that our appetizers were not served in the dining room; instead, we enjoyed our hummus, crackers, cheese and veggies on one of the decks.

A staff member was getting everything ready for us. You can see from that blue pole in the foreground of this photo that necessary repairs are being made on the building.

While enjoying our appetizers, one of the other guests strongly recommended that we visit another of Wright’s nearby buildings. Kentuck Knob was built about 20 years later, for friends who were frequent guests of the Kaufmann family, the owners of Fallingwater.

Okay, so I know this is heresy, but I actually liked Kentuck Knob BETTER than Fallingwater. It has all of the usual Wright features, but it just seems more LIVEABLE. Interestingly enough, it is considered “usonian” (Frank’s term for his “middle income” houses.) This “middle income’ house was built for the Hagans, the owners of the ice cream company in Uniontown PA, and was sold to its current owner, Lord Peter Palumbo, who, since 1996, when not using it as his vacation home, opens it to the public.

A photo of the Lord and Diana (wearing her “screw you, Charles” dress) appears in the house. I grabbed this from the internet

Take a look at the cutouts under the eaves. They are a source of light into the living room and supposedly repeat design elements found in the building. (I’m taking that on the guide’s word. I couldn’t spot any of those elements.)

Notice how the carports–Wright’s invention — are nestled into the landscape. The hill behind forms a partial roof.

Although we weren’t allowed to take photos INSIDE the house, there was no rule against shooting through the windows into the interior, which is what I did.

Now take a look at the role the cutouts play in the interior space.

The wall opposite the banquettes is all windows and glass doors, offering access to a walkway and a spectacular view of the valley below.

The price of your admission allows you to wander through Lord Palumbo’s spectacular sculpture meadow. I was particularly taken with the part of the Berlin Wall. His collection also includes three red British phone booths at the visitors center.

I’m tired of writing and you are probably tired of reading so the rest of the area attractions I promised in the first paragraph will have to wait until the next time I post.