If the idea of moving house fills you with anxiety, pity Lawrence and Sharon Tarantino. This architect couple are literally moving their house – as in, putting it somewhere else. It’s quite a property: a restored, mid-century modernist jewel designed by the great Frank Lloyd Wright, in the aptly named town of Millstone, New Jersey. The trouble is, it’s situated near a river that often floods, necessitating regular repairs.
So they have put it up for sale, with the proviso that the new owner moves it somewhere safer. The asking price is $950,000, plus relocation costs. And they’ve found a prospective buyer: an Italian architect wants to bring it to Fiesole, a hilltop town near Florence, where Frank Lloyd Wright once lived.
Moving entire buildings is a radical property solution, but where there’s a will and a wallet, there’s always a way, especially in America. In the 20th century, Americans with more money than history made a habit of buying up bits of old Europe and bringing them home, the most famous example being London Bridge, which now stands in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. They even built a lake for it to cross.
There’s a Tudor manor from Lancashire in Richmond, Virginia. There’s also the magnificent Cloisters Museum in Manhattan – incorporating elements from five French medieval monasteries. And William Randolph Hearst snapped up two Spanish monasteries in 1925, though he never rebuilt them. One of them is still under reconstruction in northern California; the other is now in Florida, where it was painstakingly reassembled from 11,000 unlabelled packing crates.
This Frank Lloyd Wright house’s concrete-and-mahogany structure would be relatively easy to dismantle and reassemble. And bringing it to Italy could represent some kind of karmic payback for America’s past architecture-shopping. Then again, the house is a fine example of Wright’s pioneering “Usonian” style, which sought to forge a specifically American identity, distinct from European precedents. Wright would doubtless be spinning in his grave at the irony. Except Wright’s official grave is actually empty. His body was stolen from it, 26 years after his death, cremated, and his ashes “relocated” to Arizona in accordance with the wishes of his third wife, Olgivanna.
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