Thursday, March 10, 2011



From my architecture school days, I had remembered that Frank Lloyd Wright had spent some time in Italy.  Actually, he had escaped to Italy in 1910 with his neighbor, Mrs. Cheney. When I had called Bill Murphy back in June, I asked him to send information about where Frank Lloyd Wright had lived. Being a scholar on Mr. Wright, Bill knew that that information about his Italian days were very sketchy. But when I returned to Firenze with the group, Bill had sent me a letter with an article from the current “Frank Lloyd Wright Newsletter”. It requested that anyone traveling in Italy should try to locate the lost Fiesole studio of Mr. Wright. What a coincidence! The newsletter reproduced three photographs, showing one of the studio, one of the backyard and another of two women believed to be the landlady and her daughter—not Mrs. Cheney. Oh, Boy!  Right up my alley! Now it was Friday, a day off from the touring, and I was up for an adventure!  So, it was off to Fiesole, an Etruscan town in the hills overlooking Firenze

An architectural student named Allesandro, whom I had met at a trattoria, went along with me to be my translator. We took the local bus up the winding road to this world-renown hilltop town. Fiesole was frequented by the English aristocracy in the 19th Century. (Even Queen Victoria went there for a holiday!) The famous views of Firenze from Fiesole are nothing short of spectacular, creating all sorts of color postcards. 

We began to show the poor quality pictures in the newsletter to people on the streets.  "Frank who?,"  was the answer.
They suggested I ask at the local tourist office. Finally, with Alessandro's translating, a man, who was called from the back of the office, said he thought he recognized the house. I took out my street map, and we pinpointed the spot.  Up a hill we went. The house was so different in many ways from the photos that it took a few minutes to recognize. (Balconies had been added, doors and windows changed and a building built next door.) But, by golly, there it was!


We began jumping up and down. One would have thought we had found treasure. A sign on the door (#6 Via Guiseppe Verdi) called it the Villino Belvedere.  Unfortunately, no one was home. I wanted to have a photo of the main side of the house from the exact angle that was in the old photograph. But since two cars were parked in the way, I decided we should go to lunch to wait to see if any moved. Lunch was on a garden terrace overlooking Firenze. A bee kept trying to nibble on Alessandro's proscuitto. Finally he said, "Do you want a drink, too?" I laughed so hard I knocked over the oil and vinegar onto my hat and knapsack. I threw away the hat, but my bag smelled of vinegar for the rest of the trip. When we went back to the villino, a new car was about to park where there had been one before. I pleaded with them to park elsewhere and they did. (Even though I don't think they ever did understand why.) The one remaining one was right in front of a pillar that was very prominent in the old photograph. So, I got Alessandro to help me drag the car about twelve feet. Luckily, it was a Renault! He couldn't believe it. Now I could take the photo.

Also, in thinking about what a feat we had just accomplished, I got a shot of us pretending to dray the already displaced car by using the timing device on my camera. Or, I re-staged the event! I still wonder what the owner thought when he went to get his car!
Just as we were about to leave, a nice Italian lady walked by, said 'Ciao' and proceeded to enter the house next door. I tried to talk to her, until Alessandro stopped me to translate. It seemed she did not know it had been Frank Lloyd Wright's studio, but she had heard of the famous American architect. She invited us in to see her house. It was a very large villa. It now served as a home for retired Red Cross ladies! It had lovely, large terraced gardens with a glorious view of Firenze. The ladies were delightful. Did we have fun. I sent the photos to the "Frank Lloyd Wright Newsletter" for publication, but unfortunately, there has been no further issues. Alessandro told me later he was preparing a paper for his school. 


I was glad he was able to put our adventure to practical use.

Next, back in FIRENZE.


Ron said...

The pictures are gorgeous Don! They make your posting come to life.

Don Voth said...

Thank you. I'm having fun researching them. I've gone back to several blogs and added postcards I sent (I STILL HAVE THEM AFTER ALL THESE YEARS!) from my 4-month stay! I'm going to publish the Italian story in a book when it's all done.

Caliban said...

What a wonderful find! I can imagine you were thrilled beyond compare. Did anyone associated with Frank Lloyd Wright ever hear of your discovery?

Don Voth said...

I never got any response. Too bad.