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Oregon: Silverton – The Gordon House; Frank Lloyd Wright

The Gordon House is the only example of a building designed by celebrated architect Frank Llyod Wright in the State of Oregon

The Usonian Concept

We have long admired the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, and have been lucky enough to visit a few of the houses he has designed, including the homes and workshops he created for himself, Taliesin and Taliesin West, in Wisconsin and Arizona respectively. The most celebrated works of Llyod Wright are grand designs such as Taliesin, Falling Water in Pennsylvania and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Still, he also was interested in influencing the shape of architecture for middle-income Americans. He did not want to be seen as an architect to the rich and famous. In the 1930s during the Great Depression, Frank Llyod Wright realised that nation’s housing needs would be changed forever. He collaborated with Milwaukee businessman Arthur L. Richards to design what became known as American System-Built houses, a type of prefabricated small, affordable home easily and quickly assembled from “ready-cut” materials. Wright was experimenting with grid design and a less labour-intensive construction process to create beautifully designed, affordable dwellings. These homes he would refer to as his Usonian Automatics. The word ‘Usonian’ coined by Wright is believed to be an abbreviation for the United States of North America. In 1927 Wright wrote “Nationality is a craze with us. Samuel Butler fitted us with a good name. He called us Usonians, and our Nation of combined States, Usonia. Why not use the name?” It should be said that there is no evidence Butler ever used the word, and it should be more correctly attributed to Scottish writer, James Duff Law!

The Usonian homes of Frank Lloyd Wright are characterized by the abundant use of native materials; flat roofs and large cantilevered overhangs for passive solar heating and natural cooling; natural lighting; and radiant-floor heating.

Another distinctive feature is that they typically have little exposure to the front/’public’ side, while the rear/’private’ sides are completely open to the outside. The Usonian design also features a strong visual connection between the interior and exterior spaces. He also did away with garages to store cars instead he preferred an overhang for sheltering a parked vehicle, which he dubbed a ‘carport’.

Beginning in the mid-1930s with a house for a young journalist, Herbert Jacobs, and his family in Madison, Wisconsin, Frank Lloyd Wright built more than a hundred Usonian houses. Each house has taken on the name. of the original owner.

The Gordon House

The Gordon House was moved from its original location

The house was designed in 1957 for Evelyn and Conrad Gordon, and finished in 1963 (four years after Frank Lloyd Wright’s death). It was originally located near Wilsonville, Oregon, situated to take advantage of views of the adjacent Willamette River on the west side and Mount Hood to the east. After Evelyn Gordon’s death in 1997, the house was sold to new owners David and Carey Smith, who wanted to tear it down to make room for a larger, more contemporary structure. The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy became involved in attempts to preserve the historic house. The “Building Conservancy” is an organization devoted to advocating for Wright buildings, and finding sites for buildings that have been put on the market. In early 2001, the Building Conservancy obtained a three-month reprieve to dismantle the Gordon House and move it to the Oregon Garden, about 21 miles (34 km) southeast of its original location. The Conservancy accepted a proposal from the Oregon Garden Society, assisted by the City of Silverton, to take charge of moving and reinstalling the house. Dismantling began on March 9, 2001. The house was moved as four large pieces, with the upper floor, containing two bedrooms and one bath moved as a single unit. Overall neglect required refurbishing of the structure’s siding and roofing which was arranged by grants from the Architecture Foundation of Oregon and the Oregon Cultural Trust. A new foundation replicating the original was constructed. The house opened one year later as the only publicly accessible Frank Lloyd Wright home in the Pacific Northwest.

As you enter the house the low ceiling entrance, a common feature in Frank Lloyd Wright homes draws you into the main living area. Typical of the Usonian home design the room is built around a grid-like structure, the lines of which are etched into the concrete floor. This house uses a lot of concrete, with the main walls being cement blocks, that have been painted white. Today, we might find this ‘ugly’ but in Frank Llyods time these were revolutionary materials for making houses easy to construct and affordable. Another unmissable feature is the built-in sitting area, another Frank Lloyd Wright characteristic design feature, that has above it a window covered by hardwood that has a unique fretwork design, which features throughout the house.

The unique fret work above the built in seating at the Gordon House
The large open=plan living room

The kitchen of the Gordon House is very compact. You can just about squeeze three people in here! It is extremely utilitarian. There are no windows looking out and the only light comes from the window in the ceiling.

There are three bedrooms in the Gordon House. The master bedroom on the ground floor was comparatively small, with low ceilings and very little natural light. Apparently, the dark cave-like nature of this room suited the Gordon’s but definitely would not be my particular cup of tea.

The other two bedrooms were on the first floor and joined by a landing, which was decorated with the same fretwork design that is in the main living room. These bedrooms were again quite small but at least had better natural lighting.

The upstairs landing and fretwork
The upstairs bedroom

I enjoyed my visit to the Gordon House. Tours of the home last about 45-minutes. It was interesting to learn more about Frank Lloyd Wright’s ambition to design houses for America’s middle class. 

I think unless you are a die-hard Frank Lloyd Wright fan you would not want to come just to see this house. I recommend combining a visit with going to the Oregon Garden and if you have time, the amazing Silver Falls State Park.

Planning your visit to the Gordon House

The Gordon House is located close to the small town of Silverton, Oregon and is on the grounds of the Oregon Garden. Portland is 66km (41miles) north along Interstate 5, and Salem, Oregon’s state capital is 22km (14 miles) west. 

Address:869 W Main St, Silverton, OR 97381
Website:https://thegordonhouse.org/
Telephone:T: 1 503-874-6006
Hours:

Spring/Summer Hours:

March 1st, 2022 through November 25th, 2022.

Guided tours of the interior are available from Wednesday- Sunday at 12 pm, 1 pm, and 2 pm.

Winter Hours:

November 26th, 2022 through March 1st, 2023.

Guided tours of the interior during winter hours are available from Friday-Sunday at 12 pm, 1 pm, and 2 pm.

Fees

General Admission: $20
Youth (0-17): FREE
– Must be accompanied by an adult
Gordon House Members: FREE

Best time to visit the Gordon House

The best time to visit the Gordon House is from June to August, when there is consistently warm weather. In the spring, fall or winter you are likely to get wet! 

Other things to do near Silverton?

1. THE OREGON GARDEN

The Oregon Garden is a stunning botanical garden encompassing over 80 acres and featuring more than 20 speciality gardens showcasing the diverse botanical beauty of the Willamette Valley and the Pacific Northwest.

2. SILVER FALLS STATE PARK

Located close to Silverton, Oregon Silver Falls State Park is known by many as the “crown jewel” of the Oregon States Parks. Explore the picturesque and stunning canyon trail with its 10 waterfalls, some of which you walk behind! There are several beautiful trails which allow you to explore some of the waterfalls or you can take the longer trail to see all 10 waterfalls.

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