Fallingwater Rising:
Frank Lloyd Wright, E. J. Kaufmann,
and America's Most Extraordinary House

by Franklin Toker


Reviews...

Full-text reviews in chronological order:

Brent D. Glass, Director, Smithsonian National Museum of American History (July 2003):

"Franklin Toker's Fallingwater Rising offers a fascinating portrait of the converging American dreams of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Kaufmann family set against the backdrop of the Great Depression. The book demonstrates how the story of one house can reveal a great deal about American identity and the forces that continue to shape it. It is an important work of scholarship yet it reads like a novel.

"Toker invites the reader to consider a variety of issues and stories including the links between Fallingwater and California modernism; the spirited competition between architects and their styles; the struggles among emerging and established elites in Pittsburgh; along with wonderful and engaging profiles of the principles--Wright and the Kaufmann family--along with glimpses of Frida Kahlo, industrialists Frick and Mellon, major 20th-century architects, and other historical figures."


Meryle Secrest, author of Frank Lloyd Wright (July 2003):

"If for no other reason, Frank Lloyd Wright would be justly famous for Fallingwater, one of the most extraordinary houses in the world. This biography of a house is also a celebration of the creative minds who envisioned it and provides all the reasons, if any are needed, why Fallingwater should be cherished as a national monument. Franklin Toker has performed an invaluable service."


Kirkus Review (starred review, August 15, 2003):

"A cerebral, spiritual, and social pilgrimage through Fallingwater and the long shadows cast by the two personalities who brought the great home to fruition.

"It rises beside a stream in western Pennsylvania, an architectural icon of cognitive dissonance, the thrusting lines cutting through the unruly rusticity: 'Pittsburgh-on-Bear-Run,' Fallingwater. A piece of man-made sublime, architectural historian Toker suggests, it is a counterfoil wedding industry to nature. Yet Toker's story of Fallingwater is not solely, or even primarily, about the building of the masterpiece (though he goes to great lengths to draw out the legion of influences, starting--and ending--with Frank Lloyd Wright), but about how the house pumped oxygen into Wright's career after the eclipse of the European stylists, and catapulted E. J. Kaufmann past anti-Semitic snobbery: 'His fixed strategy was to use architecture to raise his social status' and to use Fallingwater as a commerical showcase to demonstrate 'nothing more than simple adherence to the merchant's creed,' though also emphasizing Kaufmann's role as patron. Toker softens the edge of the characterizations here with profiles that made Wright and Kaufmann human, 'in their own moral universe,' sparking 'eccentric and self-indulgent lifestyles.' Fallingwater, too, becomes a living thing through Toker's intimite wording: a wondrous creature, exquisitely tuned to the site. As for the client: 'It would be hard to find a house plan that better charted the dynamics of a dysfunctional family.' Toker sees Fallingwater as a symbol of hope for all Americans during the blackheart of the Depression, escapism at its best, even, thanks to the publicity machine of Time and Life, 'a patrician dwelling that passed for the abode of one of the people.' Finally, Toker ably skewers E. J. Kaufmann Jr.'s self-serving bluster regarding his role in the project.

"Digging into personal and architectural history, Toker demonstrates spadework of the highest, most exacting, and refined order."


Pitt Chronicle, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Sharon Blake: "Exploring the History, Myths, and Magic of Fallingwater," September 8, 2003):

If you are a Southwestern Pennsylvania resident who has never made the trek into the remote Fayette County woods to see Frank Lloyd Wright's famous house "Fallingwater"-you are not alone.
Surprisingly, Pitt Professor of Art History Franklin Toker estimates that fewer than one and a half percent of all Americans have actually seen the renowned building nestled in its natural surroundings, or gazed at its cantilevered balconies, and walked through the building's damp cave-like interior, with the Bear Run waterfall rushing right beneath the floor.

But certainly everyone has heard of Wright's famous masterpiece, which became the weekend home of department store magnate E. J. Kaufmann and his family.

The fact that Fallingwater created such a buzz in 1938 and was what Toker calls "a public relations triumph" is just one angle explored in the professor's new book "Fallingwater Rising" (Alfred A. Knopf Publisher, New York), due to be released at the end of this month.

Using information gleaned from hundreds of interviews and thousands of memos, plans, diaries, and private correspondence, Toker also explores how Fallingwater became the 70-year-old Wright's comeback, how it helped novelist Ayn Rand emerge from writer's block, why the building nearly collapsed in the 1990s, as well as the fascinating relationship between Wright, the genius architect, and E. J. Kaufmann, who bankrolled the project.

"For Wright, the artist is supreme," said Toker. "Whereas Kaufmann was a merchant and looked at everything as having a price." Wright was a Midwesterner who was paranoid about Jews; Kaufmann, a Jewish businessman who seemed to know little about modernism.

"Yet, their collaboration was the work of angels," observed Toker, a genial man with salt and pepper hair who prefers to wear sneakers around campus.

"Fallingwater Rising" debunks a number of urban legends. For example, when the concrete balconies were completed, Wright did not personally knock away the wooden posts that served as temporary shoring. According to the author, Wright was not even at the site that day, but in Wisconsin.

Another legend, refuted for the first time, is that Kaufmann's son, Edgar Junior, was largely responsible for the project and convinced his father to commission Wright to design it. Actually, Toker's research shows that the younger Kaufmann did not accompany his father on those early trips to Bear Run, as he had stated in his own memoirs. Toker calls these claims by the younger Kaufmann "inexactitudes," and disproves enough of them to place credit for Fallingwater firmly in the lap of the elder Kaufmann instead. Toker was both amused and intrigued when his probing met with resistance from Kaufmann, Junior.

"When I asked him some of these tough questions, he simply cut off communication," he remarked. "He wrote me a letter that said-`Frank, you're onto something . . .but you're not going to get it from me.'"

The relationship between Wright and E. J. Kaufmann was a volatile one. Toker uncovered the fact that Kaufmann had attended the Yale School of Engineering for one year. And Wright, who "hated merchants and the merchant lifestyle," made more money over the years from selling Japanese prints than he did from architecture.

"So the merchant with a tad of engineering knowledge is working with the engineer who sees himself as a merchant," said Toker, adding, "A worse prediction for conflict can hardly be estimated."

Toker said the building's balconies, which pushed engineering to and beyond its limits, began cracking and heaving even before the Kaufmann family moved in. They would have collapsed, had the builders not added more steel to the concrete-as much as four times the amount Wright's original plans called for. Wright was not told until weeks later.

By the 1950s, however, the corners of the balconies had sagged seven inches. In 2002, at tremendous risk, engineers strengthened the concrete internally by inserting steel cables and then tightening them to a pressure of 350,000 pounds per square inch. While the move will prevent any further damage, the balcony ledges will always have a certain curvature to them. "It's almost as if it's a living thing," said Toker, reminding us "nature never uses straight lines."

Toker has concluded that Wright's genius was a result of several attributes, but chief among them was his amazing mental power to conceptualize something before he drew it. Toker compares it to Mozart who could supposedly "see" the entire symphony first and then just had to write it down. Wright was able to draw without a scale, in perfect proportion. "He knew that these five inches represent, let's say, 40 feet on a building," said Toker. "That exceptional ability is every architect's dream."

He also hypothesizes that author Ayn Rand, who was struggling with writer's block in the mid-to-late 1930s with her book on the triumph and tragedy of a modern architect, helped to popularize Frank Lloyd Wright. According to Toker, Wright's Fallingwater exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art made such an impact on Rand, she was able to finish the book that eventually became The Fountainhead. Toker says the similarities between The Fountainhead and Fallingwater are numerous, including Rand's descriptions of three houses either on hillsides or clifftops with stone terraces cantilevered over water.

Toker admits that many people he spoke to who had toured Fallingwater came away disappointed, calling the interior cold, damp, too noisy, with walls too rough with stone.

"People want a building to look fantastic on the outside, like New York's Guggenheim, and then on the inside be comfortable and charming, complete with a string quartet in the corner," Toker said with a smile. But the professor says Wright was "faithful to nature," on the building's interior and exterior.

"People have got to realize that the building is exceptional because it attempts to do something astonishing," he said. "And people are constantly telling me their visit to Fallingwater was a turning point in their life."


Publishers Weekly (September 15, 2003):

An oddly "spiritual" agglomeration of rectilinear glass, concrete and stone masses set on a waterfall in the Pennsylvania woods, Wright's Fallingwater house made America fall in love with modernist architecture, according to this engrossing study. Architectural historian Toker (Pittsburgh: An Urban Portrait) approaches the building as a tense but fruitful collaboration between Wright's genius and the encouragement given it by his patron, Pittsburgh department store magnate E. J. Kaufmann, whom Toker credits with being "almost... the coarchitect" of the house. He gives a detailed, sometimes hour-by-hour account of Wright's planning process, the engineering hurdles surmounted in realizing his structurally daring design, the critical and public acclaim the house has elicited through the years and its impact on American culture in everything from Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead to motifs in suburban tract housing. He sets the story against an erudite but accessible history of the rise of modernism and Wright's antagonism toward the German Bauhaus and International Style architects, whose austere, mechanistic stylings he denounced even as he was adapting and humanizing them to suit American tastes. Toker sometimes makes too much, with little but speculation to go on, of Kaufmann's contribution to the project, at one point comparing the relationship between Wright and Kaufmann to Christ's bond with St. Peter. But the trenchant analysis of Wright's character and creativity, the often lyrical evocations of his buildings, and the opinionated but insightful overview of the modernist intellectual milieu of the 1930s make the book a wonderful exploration of the psychological and social meaning of architecture. Photos. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Patricia Lowry, Post-Gazette Architecture Critic: "The secrets of Fallingwater: Book delves into mysteries of Kaufmann family and Wright," September 25, 2003):

It's probably fair to say Edgar Kaufmann Jr. didn't know quite what he was in for when he invited Franklin Toker to give a talk at Columbia University in 1986, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Fallingwater.

A lecture given in 1986 by Franklin Toker, a University of Pittsburgh professor, set in motion events that led to his book, Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E.J. Kaufmann and America's Most Extraordinary House. To prepare, Toker, who teaches the history of art and architecture at the University of Pittsburgh, visited Columbia's Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library to look through the Fallingwater drawings and documents, which at the time could not be done without Kaufmann's approval. "The very first item that I found, literally, was a letter from Kaufmann Sr. to Kaufmann Jr. in 1946, in which he's describing building operations for the Palm Springs house," designed by Richard Neutra. "He's talking foundation methods, soil retention and special techniques for pouring the swimming pool," said Toker. "I was seeing a tenfold more capable and learned person than I had been led to expect."

What Toker learned over the next 18 years convinced him that, contrary to Fallingwater mythology, it was Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr., not Jr., who initiated the contact with Frank Lloyd Wright that ultimately led to the construction of what would quickly become one of the most famous houses in the world -- and not by chance. Kaufmann Sr., it seems, left nothing to chance.

So began the long road to Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E.J. Kaufmann and America's Most Extraordinary House, published this month by Alfred A. Knopf and edited by Robert Gottlieb. The 475-page book is a sort of dual biography of the house and Kaufmann, with Wright as linchpin. To launch it, Toker is presenting a free public lecture at 2 p.m. Oct. 4 in Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland.

As accessible as it is cultured and scholarly, Fallingwater Rising presents Kaufmann to the world as the civic leader Pittsburgh knew him to be, the man behind the men behind the city's first Renaissance. But it also reconstructs him as a highly educated man deeply involved with design, both as head of Kaufmann's department store and as an astute and important patron of architecture, including two iconic modern houses. And it fleshes out the often difficult familial relationships and personalities of the Kaufmann triumvirate -- E.J., his wife and first cousin Liliane, and their son Edgar -- and weighs how each impacted Fallingwater's design.

Toker, following his first, tantalizing visit to the Avery, interviewed almost 100 people who knew either Wright or one of the Kaufmanns.One was industrial designer Paul Mayen, who had lived with Edgar Jr. for 36 years. In 1999, 10 years after Jr.'s death, Toker spoke with Mayen for four hours in the Manhattan apartment he had shared with Kaufmann."It was a highly delicate interview; I was asking a lot of extremely personal questions," Toker said. "The apartment was totally denuded because everything had been sold at auction. I didn't take notes but stood on a street corner on Park Avenue for a half-hour recording things into a tape recorder."

Kaufmann Jr., who taught architectural and art history at Columbia University from 1963 to 1986, "was such an accomplished person. I would unhesitatingly call him brilliant. He had an encyclopedic sense of architecture and design. But, as Brendan Gill did say, he was exceedingly unforthcoming about things he did not want you to know about."

From the book jacket of "Fallingwater Rising': Edgar Kaufmann Sr., left, and Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in the 1940s.There has long been a widely held belief, promulgated by Kaufmann Jr., that it was he who brought Wright and his parents together during his six-month Taliesin apprenticeship, which began in October 1934.

Toker thinks it was the elder Kaufmann who initially contacted Wright after learning of his 1926 design for a planetarium and parking garage in Maryland."That's exactly what Kaufmann wanted to put alongside his store where the ordinary parking garage is now," said Toker, who discovered a letter, previously unknown to Wright scholars, which seems to bear out his theory. The letter, undated but likely written in early September 1934, was written to Wright by his former secretary, Karl Jensen. Wright had sent Jensen to check out Kaufmann, who also held out the possibility of federally funded projects for Pittsburgh. Toker also discovered that the elder Kaufmann, through his secretary, had been corresponding with Wright as early as January 1934, and probably before.

Not only that, but "it appears that Kaufmann Sr. and Wright cooked up the idea of Junior's apprenticeship by themselves," Toker writes.As for Kaufmann Jr.'s belief that he was the matchmaker, "Senior may have tricked Junior into thinking his role was much bigger than it was," Toker said. "It's the ultimate contrivance to inflate your son's importance."Toker's research also took him to the West Coast, "because I felt California modernism was a huge part of the Fallingwater story. I doggedly attempted to be in the footsteps of E.J. and Liliane pre-Fallingwater. You see in his home movies that he's filming the Barnsdall house in Los Angeles." Named for its abstract decoration and completed in 1921, Hollyhock is one of Wright's best-known buildings. It was commissioned by Aline Barnsdall, who was born and raised here. She was one of several transplanted Pittsburghers, all patrons of modern art and architecture in California, whom Toker speculates Kaufmann may have known.

And some of Toker's conclusions are just that -- educated speculation. One of the reasons Kaufmann's role has been overlooked is that he left no personal papers or library by which to follow his actions and judge his level of awareness.

But other research materials became available in the late 1980s and 1990s, including Wright's letters and Kaufmann family history that traced the clan back almost 500 years to Germany. Toker also tries to ferret out how Kaufmann, the master merchandiser from a long line of merchants, helped orchestrate the publicity around his first house, Benno Janssen's picturesque La Tourelle of 1922 in Fox Chapel; his second, Fallingwater; and Desert House, his ultramodern third house in Palm Springs.La Tourelle had appeared in six magazines by the end of the 1920s, a precursor of the hype that surrounded Fallingwater, which revived Wright's career.

There's much more, including why hometown publicity about Fallingwater was discouraged; how and why Fallingwater got its name; why the Kaufmanns' marriage allowed him to take over the store; the story behind Liliane's nude portrait; and why Kaufmann, despite his wealth and civic works, couldn't join the Duquesne Club.

But all of that is better left for a review of the book, which has an initial print run of 20,000 and will sell for $35 after its release on Tuesday. Safe to say Toker's illustrated talk promises to be one of the big events of the fall season, and not to be missed.

The above article was distributed by Scripps Howard News Service (http://www.shns.com.) and reprinted in:

--Knoxville Times October 1, 2003 as "Author used detective work to tell building's story"
--Metrowest Daily News (Framingham, Massachusetts), November 16


NEW YORK TIMES (Janet Maslin: "Behind a Masterpiece, a Merchant and a Modernist," September 29, 2003):

The passenger plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001, landed near Lambertsville, which is 78 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. But "near Pittsburgh" was the phrase most commonly used to describe the site.

Why, then, is the architectural miracle called Fallingwater, the most famous house in America, routinely described as being in either Mill Run (a hamlet with a population of about 50) or Bear Run ("which has a large population of animals but not of the species Homo sapiens, which numbers zero")? As the author of a contentious, rapt, utterly fascinating book about the Frank Lloyd Wright house and its history points out, Pittsburgh is--geographically, anyway--only 45 miles away.

Having studied Fallingwater obsessively (or so it appears) for 18 years, Franklin Toker is full of such odd, provocative questions. And as he reconsiders much of the accepted wisdom about how Fallingwater came into being, he raises issues that have not eagerly been dealt with before.

For instance, the anti-Semitism experienced by E. J. Kaufmann, the Jewish Pittsburgh department store magnate who in 1934 gave Wright the commission that would spark his phenomenal comeback, seems to have played a crucial role in this process. Despite a fondness for fox hunting, a willingness to wear lederhosen with Nazis on the rise in Europe, and a propensity for collecting crucifixes and Madonnas, Kaufmann was regarded foremost as a Jew by Pittsburgh's social elite.

Getting credit for the most beautiful store in the world would satisfy most people, but was it enough to assuage the humiliations that E. J. Kaufmann carried in his heart?" Mr. Toker asks. "If not, perhaps there was another kind of architectural monument that would." But before it could become internationally revered, Mr. Toker says, the place first described as the "E. J. Kaufmann House, Pittsburgh, Pa.," would require "a less ethnic name and a less odiferous geographical location." Hence, Bear Run.

As this may indicate, Mr. Toker is delighted to court controversy. When he points out that Wright incorporated his initials into the word "Fallingwater," he notes: "I have no evidence for this theory of name association, but one suggestion that I am on the right track is that my idea was appropriated by New Yorker writer Brendan Gill, who used it in his `New York Life' after he heard me say it - and got hold of my text - at the 1986 Columbia University symposium on Fallingwater." Though this attitude makes Fallingwater Rising a hackle-raising book in the world of Wright acolytes, it hardly makes it a dull one.

Central to Mr. Toker's account is an emphasis on the interplay between Kaufmann and Wright, based on new access to correspondence between them. "It makes you think of those movies in which two escaped prisoners, handcuffed together but hating each other, are forced to work together to make a successful getaway," he writes. What it does not make you think, despite the fact that "studies typically presented him as a rich man whose main artistic activity was the signing of checks," is that Kaufmann was a passive or silent partner. One of the book's strong if unsurprising claims is that when it came to orchestrating the media's adulation of Fallingwater, Kaufmann's marketing skills were more than handy.

Fallingwater Rising offers an intriguing glimpse into the Kaufmann family's role - and greatly undermines the claims of the son, Edgar Kaufmann Jr., that he was instrumental in bringing together Wright and E. J. But this abundantly illustrated book is much bigger than personal history. Nothing about the way Fallingwater was built, conceived, influenced or manipulated escapes the author's attention. He brings the house to life on the page even as he analyzes its larger meaning. "It is a stretch to think that a house created by the libidinous Wright for the libidinous Kaufmann could reflect the strengthened American family of the 1930's, but icons need not be true: they only have to look true," he notes. And: "We could see Fallingwater as a kind of architectural F.D.R.: a patrician dwelling that passed for the abode of one of the people."

As an academic fond of minutiae - "we will learn," to use one of his favorite locutions, that the Kaufmanns owned a decorative 20-gallon stoneware crock designed for shipping pickles - Mr. Toker may not seem an immediately scintillating explicator. And perhaps Fallingwater, for all its fame, does not seem a subject of widespread general interest. But this scholarly magnum opus is an absolute page turner, thanks not only to Toker's diligence, but also to his palpable excitement about his material. "Put this book down now if you can't live without the old myths about Fallingwater," he writes in an introduction. "But take comfort in the fact that a Fallingwater history shorn of miracles can still be thrilling."

The most precious of all Fallingwater fables is surely the story that Wright, in full genius-at-work mode, drew a whole set of plans for the house in less than three hours. "Wright seems to have been slow and deliberate when working on paper by himself, but greased lightning by the time he allowed people to watch him," Mr. Toker writes. But was the instant Fallingwater design some kind of parlor trick?

Here is a book with a generous, interesting opinion of such a feat of draftsmanship. "My best guess is that Wright had indeed made pre-existing plans in his bedroom," Mr. Toker writes, "but when he stepped into his office, he had no further need of the original plans once he had committed them to memory." Great artists can work this way without revealing their private processes of creation. But as Fallingwater Rising illustrates, their achievements are even greater once we know what they really entailed."

The above article was reprinted in:

--International Herald-Tribune in all its European and Asian editions for Tuesday October 7, 2003.
--Charlotte Observer (North Carolina) for Sunday October 5
--Lexington Herald-Leader (Kentucky) Sunday October 12
--Tampa Times same day
--Kansas City Star same day
--Contra Costa Times (California) Sunday October 19 as "Wright or Wrong?"
--Harrisburg Patriot News (Pennsylvania) same day, as "Author unearths Fallingwater's real story."


Library Journal (starred/distinguished review by Valerie Nye, New Mexico State Library, Santa Fe, October 1, 2003):

Toker (art and architecture, Univ. of Pittsburgh) has written the most comprehensive book available about Frank Lloyd Wright's most notable house. For enthusiastic Wright aficionados, this title will be easy to read and enjoyable, as it provides juicy details about Fallingwater, from George Washington's probable footsteps on the property to the 2002 repairs done to the home's cantilevered rooms and balconies. The title will also serve as a comprehensive indexed reference source. Toker's look at Fallingwater does not glorify the architect, the homeowner (E.J. Kaufmann), or the myth of Fallingwater's faultless beauty. Human insecurities and structural weaknesses are explored in detail. While there are prized pieces of new information in nearly every chapter of this book, Toker's investigation into the publicity and hype surrounding Fallingwater makes for some of the more fascinating reading here. This title is more comprehensive textually than any other on the subject, whereas other books provide more illustrations (e.g., Donald Hoffmann and Edgar Kaufmann Jr.'s Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater: The House and Its History). Recommended for public and academic libraries. (The 16-page color insert was not seen.)- Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.


The Pitt News, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Katie Mavrich, Arts & Entertainment editor: "Rising waters," October 03, 2003):

Those living in the Pittsburgh area have certainly heard of the famed Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, an elaborate house built in the 1930s. Even if you have never actually seen the house up close and personal, you have surely seen representations of the architectural achievement.

Pitt Professor of Art and Architecture Franklin Toker has dedicated 18 years of research to the book of all books on Fallingwater. Released last week, The New York Times gave rave reviews to Fallingwater Rising. Not only does it chronicle Fallingwater itself, it looks at the man who commissioned Wright to do the work: E. J. Kaufmann, of Pittsburgh's Kaufmann's department stores. The book also discusses the impact that the Great Depression had on the renowned project.

Toker's presentation of his extensive research is sure to put Pitt on the map - not that it isn't already. It will put us on a different sort of map, not one of sports or biomedicine, but on the map as an architectural artistry community - perhaps it will make up for Posvar Hall. You may not be able to travel the 45 miles to Bear Run to visit the place, and while it would be difficult to read all 479 pages of the book in two days, you can - and should - get your fill of Fallingwater knowledge this weekend, because Toker will be talking about his book in person.

The event takes place on Sat., Oct. 4 at 2 p.m. at the Carnegie Music Hall. Admission is free. Look for a review of Fallingwater Rising in the upcoming weeks in The Pitt News.


Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Kurt Shaw, art critic: "Fallingwater Rising author to disclose fascinating tidbits," Sunday, October 4, 2003):

Pittsburgh City Paper (Charles Rosenblum: "Perfectly Frank about Fallingwater: A new look at a storied house," October 9, 2003):

Since its completion in 1939, Fallingwater has received enormous publicity and achieved global mythical status among both architects and normal people. So it's only fitting that architectural historian (and my former professor) Franklin Toker addresses PR and myth in his new book, Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E.J. Kaufmann and America's Most Extraordinary House.

Toker aims to demonstrate that Fallingwater became a singular world-famous house by intent, not by accident. Furthermore, he argues that many persistent myths about Fallingwater just aren't true, so he sets out to dispel them. Like Frank Lloyd Wright himself, Toker reaches far beyond what is necessary for legitimate success.

There is an enormous amount of rigorous, even ingenious research in this book. Much of the writing is also quite compelling. When Toker delves into the history of the Kaufmann family and the Bear Run site, he brings both literal and metaphorical tributaries together in a dramatic narrative stream. Even before meeting Wright, Kaufmann rejected the whole pompous image of the country house, Toker announces. His lodge would stand unembellished before nature.

But like Bear Run, whose untrammeled appearance masks a history of human activity, Toker sometimes presents some previously visited ideas as fresh news. Then he adds excessive spin. The author states that Fallingwater, though dramatic, is less innovative than prevailing myths suggest: Wright adapted, even copied, works by Richard Neutra and Mies van der Rohe, among others, in designing the house on the waterfall. A less distorted version of this relationship has been standard American architectural history for 20 years. More recently, scholar Anthony Alofsin has addressed with particular depth and nuance how Wright absorbed and radically reconstituted lessons from his contemporaries. Yet Toker imagines the architect saying, "What if I replicate [Neutra's Lovell House] at Bear Run?" Why not quote Shakespeare, who surely said, "What if I replicate Plutarch when I write Antony and Cleopatra?".

Toker takes his biggest leap -- only a metaphorical one -- from one of Fallingwater's cantilevers. It starts innocently enough, with the building's process of design. There is a long-standing myth, repeated even by recent historians, that Wright designed the entire house in two hours. Actually, author Donald Hoffman effectively refuted this tale in his 1978 book (which Toker footnotes but does not emphasize), so this myth is also less pervasive than it would seem. To Toker's credit, he researches even beyond the scope of Hoffman's admirable work and makes important new observations. To Toker's detriment, he bends his conclusions all out of proportion in an overzealous application of his thesis about PR.

Wright always claimed that he designed buildings in his head before ever putting a line to paper. Toker is the first to look at frequently published drawings and to state explicitly and quite correctly that Wright did not finish the design in his head; visible erasures on at least two drawings demonstrate that he was changing his mind significantly as he went along. (Toker publicly attributed the assessment to "one of my brighter graduate students.")

The observation about erasures is valuable and important, but the reconstruction drawing that accompanies it is not. Toker believes that Wright was going to design Fallingwater as we know it, but without an upper cantilevered balcony, as the speculative drawing shows. According to Toker, Wright added the upper balcony at the last minute, not to make more cohesive architecture, but because he thought it would get better PR.

But Toker here is trying to read Wright's mind rather than the real drawings and buildings. The original sketches contradict Toker's conclusion at all levels. The visible erasures show changes in numerous features of the house, not just that particular balcony. In one drawing that Toker mentions but does not publish, the upper balcony is there, but much of the lower balcony is missing. So the speculation is demonstrably incorrect as well as ill-advised. We can't pull incomplete designs from Wright's head so easily, and certainly not this one. Why spoil quality research with imaginary quotes and designs? It seems that Toker has let a headline-grabbing image (which the illustration accompanying this article admittedly indulges) distract him from his craft. To say that Wright gave Fallingwater its upper balcony purely for PR purposes is a myth. In reality, PR may be the reason Toker took it off. Like Frank Lloyd Wright himself, Toker's book about Fallingwater reaches far beyond what is necessary for legitimate success.


Washington Post Book World (Jonathan Yardley: "An exhaustive account of the forced that shaped a daring architectural masterpiece," p. 2; Sunday, October 12, 2003):

Fallingwater is about four hours' drive from Washington, a beautiful trip through the mountains of Western Maryland and the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania in countryside that has been settled but not yet spoiled. At journey's end you park at the Visitor Center, then pass through what Franklin Toker calls "a forest of such virginal purity that we walk through it as though enchanted."

At the end is the house itself, suspended over the creek called Bear Run: "Visiting Fallingwater has only a little to do with architecture and engineering: the quality we perceive here is essentially spiritual. Nearly everyone falls under the spell of the house, recognizing in it the most serene building we will ever encounter. . . . We realize when we see the brooding concrete masses alternating with the hand- hewn stone walls that it is not the modernity but the antiquity -- even the eternality -- of Fallingwater that enthralls us. The rocks that are so much a part of the house will be here forever. The water that animates it will never stop flowing. And despite its daredevil engineering, Fallingwater will never fall down -- although it threatened to, a few years back."

Indeed it did, which is why "forever" and "never" should be used with a bit more caution than Toker does in those sentences. But about Fallingwater's breathtaking beauty and its deeply spiritual quality there can be no doubt, at least in my mind. I have been to Fallingwater three times, each trip a pilgrimage, each even more rewarding than the previous one. I am not given to spirituality and am not especially fond of most modern architecture, but I am far from immune to "the deep spirituality that people intuit in the house" and agree that because Fallingwater's "key allusions are to nature. . . . Every visitor and viewer seems to find in Fallingwater some echo of his own culture."

Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Pittsburgh department- store owner Edgar J. Kaufmann, Fallingwater was built in the mid-1930s and became a popular sensation in the years following its completion. A vast amount of literature has been devoted to it, and numerous myths have accumulated around it. Toker, who teaches at the University of Pittsburgh and is a past president of the Society of Architectural Historians, makes in Fallingwater Rising a determined effort to separate myth from reality, to set the record straight about such matters as who was the real inspiration behind the house, how quickly (or slowly) its design formed in Wright's mind, how firm was Wright's grasp of the engineering challenges his design posed and what brought about the great burst of attention that greeted the house.
Toker's answers to these questions, all of which are persuasive, are:

(1) It was Kaufmann himself, not his aesthetic son Edgar Jr., who engaged Wright's services, heartily approved the revolutionary design and saw the project through.

(2) Contrary to the legend that Wright sketched out the design in a few hours, he worked on it for months before wrapping it up in a grand final spurt.

(3) Wright's grasp of engineering was shaky, and the house as built, with its magnificent cantilevered terraces jutting over Bear Run, was almost instantly imperiled.

(4) The acclaim that rained down upon the house was carefully engineered, probably with Kaufmann himself as master puppeteer but with important supporting roles played by Architectural Forum, Henry Luce's Time-Life magazine conglomerate and the Museum of Modern Art.

All of this will be of interest to Fallingwater devotees, but even some of these may feel that Toker goes on too long, repeats himself unnecessarily, and supplies more detail in certain instances than is really necessary. Fallingwater Rising is a good book, but it would be a better one were it, say, a hundred pages leaner. Still, not merely does Toker tell what may well be as close to the truth as we'll ever get about the building and boosting of this singular masterpiece; he also provides something of a synthesis of existing scholarship and journalism as well as a fascinating analysis of the relationship between architect and client:

"It is a truism that an architect needs a client more than does any artist, since an architect without a client can produce nothing. But the architectural client will always be special because she or he has a real need for a house or an office tower, not merely the intellectual interest a patron might take in a painting. . . . Over a period of twenty years E.J. Kaufmann and Frank Lloyd Wright seduced each other, loved each other, hated each other, and betrayed each other, now with the one getting the upper hand and now the other. It is hard to imagine the often-buffoonish Kaufmann as the prime client of Wright's career, and still harder to take in what Kaufmann's support did to launch Wright on one of the great comebacks in art history. . . . E.J. Kaufmann did not create Fallingwater, but it speaks volumes for his courage and shrewdness that when Fate gave him a chance to sponsor an architectural wonder, he seized it." Each man, Toker argues, brought a deep need to the collaboration: Wright to restart a career that had foundered, Kaufmann to assert himself against "the anti- Jewish snobbery of Pittsburgh." Of Wright so much is known that no further word is necessary. Kaufmann, by contrast, has receded into obscurity, eclipsed, in the minds of many, by his son and only child. He was a canny merchandiser and publicist, a lover of art and architecture, a "partner in a hollow marriage" who collected mistresses as avidly as he collected art, a tough bargainer who knew when to stand firm and when to compromise.

The Kaufmanns' marriage may have been empty, but both E.J. and Liliane did more than go through the motions. They were partners, albeit unequal ones, in Fallingwater, which "was no mere building project" for them: "it was the central fact of their lives." The "main dividend the Kaufmanns sought from Fallingwater was respect," and they earned it in generous amounts. They didn't join Pittsburgh's best clubs (though Edgar Jr. eagerly did), but after Fallingwater the city's elite had to accept them as equals at the least, perhaps indeed as superiors.

In many ways the most interesting aspect of Fallingwater Rising is the long penultimate chapter devoted to Edgar Jr. He "made his mark as an important American aesthete of the twentieth century," but he was "a tormented soul" afflicted in four ways: "his father E.J., his mentor Frank Lloyd Wright, his homosexuality, and his being Jewish." In creating the legend that he, who had briefly (and unhappily) been a student of Wright's, was the real driving force behind Fallingwater, he appears either to have deluded himself or to have lied, but in the three and a half decades that Fallingwater was his own he maintained it with care and (for the most part) architectural integrity. When, in October 1963, he gave Fallingwater to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, he assured its preservation and made it accessible to a grateful public.

There is much more in this book -- as noted, rather too much more -- including some interesting speculation about how the interior plan of Fallingwater "charted the dynamics of a dysfunctional family" and how the particular popular mood of the Depression made the country so receptive to the house. It will be interesting to see how the architectural community, which has tended to take sides in the dispute over which Kaufmann was the real force behind the house, will respond to Toker's disclosures. Most readers, though, will simply be inspired by Fallingwater Rising to visit the house -- you perhaps for the first time, I for the fourth.

The above article was reprinted in the Louisville Courier-Journal for October 19, 2003.


NEWSDAY (Matthew Flamm: "Famous Buildings/Balancing Acts," Sunday October 12, 2003):
For a weekend home in an obscure corner of countryside outside of Pittsburgh, Fallingwater has done remarkably well. According to Franklin Toker's Fallingwater Rising, the house that became a media sensation upon its completion in 1937 - in the process reviving Frank Lloyd Wright's career - still receives 140,000 visitors annually while being consistently voted best building in the United States by design professionals.

Toker, an art history professor at the University of Pittsburgh, hasn't done too badly either. In his hands, Fallingwater is both fine architecture and the house that gave modernism an American face; its biography is an epic story, not a monograph. Immersing himself in his subject for nearly two decades, he has covered every corner and then some: He doesn't just describe the house's setting above a waterfall. He gives the geographical coordinates.

He also warns at the start: "Put this book down now if you can't live without the old myths about Fallingwater." Most of us will have to be reminded what those myths are, but as much as Toker seems to have spent a little too much time in the library, or around Fallingwater enthusiasts, his passion ensures that the narrative stays alive.

It helps that he's interested in people as well as architecture, considering the forceful figures involved. E.J. Kaufmann, the Pittsburgh department store impresario for whom Fallingwater was built, gave as good as he got with Wright, even going behind his back to add more steel to the precariously cantilevered structure than was called for in the plans. Though Wright raged at this "treacherous interference," without it, "America's Leaning Tower of Pisa" might never have lasted until it could be reinforced starting in 2001.

If Kaufmann is the book's hero - Toker outlines his later role in building the Palm Springs house by Richard Neutra, another major 20th century building - his son, Edgar Jr., is the villain. A scholar of design who inherited Fallingwater, he credited himself with the house's commission, having supposedly introduced his father to Wright. Toker takes that myth apart for an entire chapter.

The author's animus adds a gossipy feel to the book, which helps the pages fly by, but you do question his fairness. Toker blames Edgar Jr. for discouraging testing of the cantilevers, which were eventually found to be perilously close to collapse. But by Toker's own account, the famously soaring balconies were deemed perfectly safe until, in the mid '90s, years after Edgar's death, examinations could be done with "newly available computer modeling."

Toker loves Fallingwater so much he has helped keep it a source of argument for years to come.

[Matthew Flamm is a writer in New York.]


The Arizona Republic, Phoenix (Anne Stephenson: "New and Notable," October 12, 2003):

As you read this book it's easy to imagine Toker licking his chops over his subject, even though he spent 18 years on the project and might have calmed down by now. But the collaboration (prickly though it sometimes was) between Frank Lloyd Wright and Pittsburgh department store magnate E.J. Kaufmann on the extraordinary house called Fallingwater is a juicy story indeed. There's lots of background on Kaufmann here, as a merchant, a Jew, a publicist, a philanderer and a social climber (or, as Toker, says, a "social vaulter"--he didn't want to measure up to social norms but "to jump over them"). He was a savvy man who saw that architecture was great propaganda, which he used to advantage in his stores and later in the lovely house in the Pennsylvania woods. When he commissioned the then-unemployed Wright to design it in 1934, he launched a creative process that would change their lives, especially, says Toker, because both men "did best when they had stringent rules to break." The house is controversial even today, and the story of how it came to be is enthralling.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Myron A. Marty: "'Fallingwater' documents the house that Wright built," October 12, 2003):

The title has it right: Fallingwater is America's most extraordinary house.

In 1991, members polled by the American Institute of Architects identified it as the "best all-time work of American Architecture." With two extraordinary men, Frank Lloyd Wright and E.J. Kaufmann, as the principals in the Fallingwater story, Franklin Toker has the necessary ingredients for an extraordinary book, and he makes the most of them.

In the three decades after striking out on his own in 1892, Frank Lloyd Wright established himself as the world's leading modern architect. But in the 1920s, as his feuds with architects and critics over architectural styles intensified and his personal life fell into disarray, he came to be regarded as a once-great architect.

By 1932, at age 65, Wright had gone three years without a single new building. Early that year, to escape poverty, he published "An Autobiography," an allusive, self-revealing, self-concealing book that brought him headlines, followers and royalties.

That fall, he and his third wife established the Taliesin Fellowship, giving young men and women opportunities to live and work on his Wisconsin farm and, in due course, learn from him in his studio and at building sites. For this privilege, they paid $675, a fee that jumped to $1,100 in the fellowship's second year. William Bernoudy, a St. Louisan who became a renowned architect in his native area, was in the first group of Wright's apprentices.

E.J. Kaufmann ran Pittsburgh's largest department store and enjoyed a reputation as a civic leader. As a Jew, however, he was unable to cross the barriers imposed by the city's elite. Even so, he mastered the art of retaining his dignity despite what one observer saw as the "smouldering fire of resentment" that burned inside men in his situation.

Fortunately for Wright, Kaufmann had a keen interest in art and architecture, fitting him to be Wright's courageous patron ¯ exactly what Wright needed to emerge from a decade of financial, artistic and personal depression. Kaufmann owned a tract of land called Bear Run about 45 miles southeast of Pittsburgh and used it to provide a place for weekend getaways for store employees and his family.

His decision in 1934 to build something new there brought Kaufmann and Wright together. That something new was Fallingwater. Over the 20 years during and after construction of this remarkable house, Toker says, they "seduced each other, loved each other, hated each other, and betrayed each other, now with the one getting the upper hand and now the other."

Fallingwater's complicated story has been made more so by the many myths that have played a part in it. "Put this book down," Toker writes at the outset, "if you can't live without the old myths about Fallingwater. But take comfort in the fact that a Fallingwater history shorn of its miracles can still be thrilling." His telling of it is.

One myth has to do with the part Edgar Kaufmann jr. (sic) played in the selection of Wright as architect for the weekend lodging his father had in mind. Upon his return from Europe in 1934 at age 24, Edgar joined the Taliesin Fellowship for a few months, placing himself in a position to be the matchmaker, a role he readily claimed. Edgar cooperated with the author over a period of years before his death in 1989, but that did not deter Toker from arguing persuasively that the idea of engaging Wright was not the younger Kaufmann's but his father's.

In the final chapter, Toker dissects other of Edgar's "terminological inexactitudes," concluding that Edgar, who had a distinguished career as a curator and art historian, was not a liar but that "he was probably telling the truth as he knew it." That aside, he credits Edgar with having acted magnanimously in 1963 when he gave Fallingwater and a large endowment to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which remains its owner.

The story of the building of Fallingwater includes many good subplots, and Toker, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh whose research for this book began more than 15 years ago, unfolds them well.

Many have to do with episodes in E.J.'s contentious relationship with Wright. Some deal with Wright's decision to place the house over the falls; the supervision of the construction by Wright's young apprentices; and the challenges contractors faced in building a house with so many cantilevers. Some focus on the outpouring of publicity about Fallingwater when it was completed. Wright's friendship with Henry Luce, publisher of Time magazine helped, but other forces played a part as well.

At appropriate points, the stories involve personal aspects of E.J. and Edgar Kaufmann's personal lives. Toker treats E.J.'s consorting with mistresses and Edgar's homosexuality sensitively rather than sensationally.

In researching this book, Toker apparently acquired more materials than he could use, which may account for such things as the unnecessarily detailed discourse on the geography of Bear Run. On the other hand, where evidence is insufficient to support points he wants to make, he engages in speculation framed in the terminology of psychoanalysis.

Notwithstanding these distractions, as well as the frustrations one finds in his inadequate method for citing his sources and the discovery that he writes little about Fallingwater's restoration in recent years, this extraordinary book does justice to Fallingwater and the men who built it.

[Myron A. Marty is co-author, with Shirley Marty, of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin Fellowship.]


The Christian Science Monitor (Jeffrey Hildner: "The Wright stuff," Thursday, October 16, 2003):

Few works of art stir the modern imagination like the fusion of rock, water, word, and form that Frank Lloyd Wright created in the Pennsylvania woods. For many, the mental freeze-frame of Fallingwater is some approximation of the famous black and white shot snapped by rookie photographer Bill Hedrick in November 1937 when the house was done. The view is from the base of the falls, angling up as in Wright's celebrated drawing. Cantilevered concrete rectangles, jutting horizontally from vertical stone walls, crisscross and hover - weightlessly, antigravitationally - overhead. I think of flight, of Daedalus, the legendary first architect, inventor of labyrinths and wings.

That's the beauty of the house: It sparks mind adventures. And spills lots of ink.

Now architecture historian Franklin Toker throws his smart, well-researched, and amply illustrated book into the ring. Dispelling myths and miracles along the way, Fallingwater Rising describes the details of the planning, construction, engineering, and post-production hype. It shows that Fallingwater was launched from a deep matrix of human, cultural, architectural, geographic, and metaphorical forces.

At the heart of the story was the creative synergy of unlikely twin protagonists. First there's Wright - the down-and-out architectural genius, irritated by Jews, who had set European architecture ablaze with the publication of his stunning portfolio in Germany in 1910, but couldn't find a client as he approached 70. Then there's Edgar J. Kaufmann - the vexed Jewish businessman, a Pittsburgh department-store magnate and philanthropist, who wanted to electrify the world with a landmark of modern architecture.

In Toker's words, "What made the house so radical, I believe, was the urgent need of its designer and of its patron to redress the wrongs the world had done them. For Wright, this meant the mockery of the German modernists who had outflanked him; for Kaufmann, it meant the anti-Jewish snobbery of Pittsburgh."

The story of this Depression-era house and its rise to fame includes an A-list cast of supporting actors - William Randolph Hearst, Albert Einstein, President Franklin Roosevelt, Time founder Henry Luce. Toker fills out the back story about how the real-life idealism of Wright and Kaufmann were the inspiration for the architect-client partnership in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead.

But Toker debunks the myth that Wright designed Fallingwater quickly or without influence. Wright designed the house in his mind for nine months. Then he quickly drew it up. And he drew freely on European and California modernism. "Mies, Gropius, Le Corbusier, Schindler, and Neutra - Wright profited from the lessons of these five celebrated designers while reviling them personally," Toker writes. And he includes photographs that prove it. My only gripe is that the clincher, Schindler's 1928 Wolfe house near Los Angeles, isn't one of them.

Toker also throws light on Fallingwater's poetic identity, and gets at why the house strikes a universal chord. "Nature challenged," he calls it. The house is a celebration of metaphorical counterforces. Nature and culture are locked in serene combat. Critic Donald Hoffman called it, "a great machine in the forest."

What's original is the way Toker beautifully unlocks Fallingwater's symbolic link to "smoky old Pittsburgh." What could have been a vernacular waterfall cottage, he says, "grew in size, strength, and severity until it took on the industrial image that made it the perfect counterpart to the city that E.J. wanted to impress." The cold, hard-edged modern materials and forms evoke the spirit of the nearby metropolis.

"This assessment of Fallingwater as Pittsburgh-on-Bear-Run makes it into a kind of industrial trophy, set in the bosom of nature and enhancing nature not by copying but by superimposing itself as a man-made nature - a literal second nature - over the real thing."

The book's biggest weakness is its insistence that Wright was the 20th-century's greatest architect. Toker sounds too often like a groupie, and it leads him to say oddball things about Wright and other architectural giants and issues that diminish his credibility.

Better to tackle the issue of "Who's the greatest?" in another book. It's enough that this one presents an insightful, fascinating account of Wright's struggle as he created the house that architect Paul Rudolph called "a realized dream [that] touches something deep within about which, finally, none of us can speak."

[Jeffrey Hildner is an architect and architectural critic and educator in New York City.]


Los Angeles Times (Anthony Day: "Fallingwater's place in American culture," Friday, October 17, 2003):

FALLINGWATER Rising is a big, messy jumble of a book that despite itself keeps the reader engrossed and wondering what will happen next.

"Fallingwater" is the name that department store magnate E.J. Kaufmann gave to the horizontal stone and concrete house that he had Frank Lloyd Wright build for him cantilevered over the waterfalls of Bear Run in the woods southeast of Pittsburgh in 1937. It is - as author Franklin Toker, an excitable writer, says over and over in his new book - a house without parallel in the history of architecture.

"We could call Fallingwater architectural manna," Toker writes. "We respond to it eagerly because it reminds us of those buildings or styles we love most. Depending on our own taste, it attracts us as rational or romantic, abstract or representational, old-fashioned or high-tech. This makes Fallingwater one of the few buildings to be authentically beyond fashion." The University of Pittsburgh art historian embraces his subject with the gusto of a popular, not an academic, historian. Leaping from close examination of the documentary record to freewheeling speculation, he tries and mostly succeeds in putting this house, its architect and his patron into the context of U.S. cultural history.

Start with the patron. Kaufmann was the scion of a great merchandising family that created Pittsburgh's largest department store during the years in which the city was becoming an industrial powerhouse. It is said that in 1917 during World War I, Pittsburgh's iron, steel and coal output was one-sixth of the world's gross industrial product. Imitating the style of previous immigrant families that rose to riches in the city - like the Fricks, the Mellons and Andrew Carnegie - Kaufmann built himself a series of spectacular dwelling places, first Georgian, then Norman, then, in Fallingwater, aggressively modern. The relationship between Wright and Kaufmann was odd, for Kaufmann was Jewish and Wright was notorious for his "anti-Jewish invective," Toker says.

The author devotes much of his book to demonstrating that it was Kaufmann--not his son, E.J. Jr., as the son later claimed--who pressed for the selection of Wright to design a weekend house in the woods. The son, something of an architect himself, claimed his father never really understood modern architecture. Toker acknowledges the elder Kaufmann's apparent fickleness of taste, but he argues that is exactly what merchants do: "jump from style to style as the market demands."

As evidence of the elder Kaufmann's importance as a taste-making patron of architecture, Toker cites the elegantly severe Palm Springs house Kaufmann commissioned from architect Richard Neutra in 1947. In a little more than a decade, Kaufmann went from the romantic, organic "American" style Wright favored to the Bauhaus-influenced International Style represented by his former protˇgˇ's, Neutra and the other preeminent Los Angeles ˇmigrˇ architect, R.M. Schindler, both of whom the egomaniacal Wright despised.

If Toker's disputations with the younger Kaufmann's claims grow wearisome at times, he is compelling in his account of the importance of Henry Luce and his publications Time, Life and Architectural Forum in fostering the reputations of Fallingwater and its architect. More than once, Luce put Wright on Time's cover and called him "the greatest" architect - an emblem of Luce's power over U.S. taste and thought. Wright's career was faltering until Fallingwater - and Luce - put him securely on the map again.

Toker discusses the eventual failure of the cantilevers to support the house and the complex and costly repairs needed to stabilize them. The house, given to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy by the younger Kaufmann, is now open to visitors who can marvel at its setting and sometimes quail beneath its low ceilings (typically 6 feet, 4 1/4 inches). That's OK, says the ever-upbeat Toker, you're supposed to look from the interior of the house through its bright but low windows as if from a cave.

"There never was a house like Fallingwater before," Toker concludes lovingly, "and there will never be a house like Fallingwater again."


Mobile Register, Alabama (John Sledge: "Fallingwater study cuts myths, affirms merits," October 18, 2003):

It is the most famous house in the world. Poised improbably over a Pennsylvania cataract, balconies soaring into thin air, it paradoxically seems both anchored to the earth and independent of it. Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater has been an architectural marvel since its 1937 construction, attracting thousands of visitors annually and inspiring builders, homeowners and architects everywhere.

A fascinating new book details the genesis, construction and subsequent cultural impact of this masterpiece, Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E.J. Kaufmann, and America's Most Extraordinary House (Knopf, $35) by Franklin Toker. In some 400 briskly-paced pages, Toker, an art history professor at the University of Pittsburgh, adroitly tells the story of Fallingwater and fits it into the broader context of American history. In the process, he also boldly upends some long-standing Fallingwater myths -- among them the supposed philistinism of the client, department store magnate E.J. Kaufmann, and Wright's famous two-hour creative burst.

Edgar J. Kaufmann, "the Merchant Prince of Pittsburgh," achieved phenomenal commercial success and was lauded as "very forward looking" and "extremely generous." But, ambivalent about his Jewishness, he felt marginalized by both the local Christian majority and the Jewish elite. Kaufmann used architecture to combat this, enhancing his community profile and making a strong statement about his values; the press and public praised his stores for their beautiful and intelligent design. But he needed something more, and he seized on the idea of building a modernistic weekend house as a way of putting himself squarely at the center of the cultural moment.

Frank Lloyd Wright hardly seemed the obvious choice as the architect to realize this ambition. He was nearly 70 and hadn't built anything in several years. In 1931, one writer expressed the prevailing critical assessment when he opined, "As an architectural theorist, Mr. Wright has no superior; but as an architect he has little to contribute for comparison." Rather, it was the European architects like Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe who were the rising stars.

In fact, Wright and Kaufmann were perfect for each other, argues Toker. Wright needed a well-heeled and adventurous client and Kaufmann needed a design genius. As Toker explains, they engaged in a "mutual seduction," and the resulting house handily overthrew their respective bugaboos: "For Wright, this meant the mockery of the German modernists who had outflanked him; for Kaufmann, it meant the anti-Jewish snobbery of Pittsburgh."

Toker is very good on the design phase, and thoroughly details Wright and Kaufmann's complicated interactions. A wealth of surviving correspondence makes it clear that Kaufmann was no neophyte when it came to aesthetic matters, and he held his own with the arrogant one. At one point, Wright wrote to him, "Definition of a client: a timid sheep always in a huddle, looking for a shepherd." Kaufmann fired back, "I don't know what kind of clients you are familiar with, but apparently they are not the kind I think I am." Toker also deconstructs the widely-held belief that Kaufmann's son, Edgar Jr., who apprenticed with Wright and went on to become a prominent architectural historian, was the real artistic sensibility behind Fallingwater.

It's clear from Toker's evidence that Wright was worrying the design for Fallingwater long before Kaufmann's famous Sept. 22 visit. Based on numerous eyewitness accounts (in most of which Toker demonstrates conflicting details), it's long been accepted that Wright sketched out the plans for Fallingwater in two hours, racing to finish before Kaufmann's arrival. Though Toker makes the moment somewhat less epochal, it remains one of the great performances in design history -- the master coolly feeding his assistants the drawings while engaging in a running commentary.

Fallingwater was almost instantly a sensation, thanks in part to masterful manipulation of the media by Wright and Kaufmann. A stunning black-and-white photograph by Bill Hedrick was widely circulated and Time magazine crowned Wright "the greatest architect of the 20th century."

Toker does not slight the later history of the house, including the near collapse of the cantilevered balconies during the 1990s. Nor does he ignore the "essentially spiritual" character of the design. Fallingwater resonates with something deep within the human psyche. How this wonderful house became reality is nowhere more expertly related than in this book.

[John Sledge edits the Mobile Register's Books page. He may be reached at the Register, P.O. Box 2488, Mobile, AL 36652.]


The Pitt News, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Christina Cann: "Dive into local history," October 21, 2003; 3 and a half stars [out of four]):

Franklin Toker has written a splendid book chronicling the construction of Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright*s famous house over a waterfall just 45 minutes south of Pittsburgh. But he doesn't just describe the house. Toker takes us through everything associated with Fallingwater. He is a biographer of Pittsburgh's Kaufmann family and Frank Lloyd Wright, and has done extensive research on Bear Run, the creek on which Fallingwater is built.

Most intriguing is the fact that, although today we hail Frank Lloyd Wright as one of the giants of American architecture, when he was commissioned by Kaufmann to build the "waterfall cottage," he was generally regarded as past his prime, and was coming out of a 12-year dry spell in which he didn't construct one new building. Kaufmann hailed from a family who, upon moving to America, peddled goods in southwestern Pennsylvania. Through a series of coincidences, he and his wife, Liliane, ended up running the family department store in Pittsburgh. When that business took off, he built new branches everywhere, often employing the classical architecture Wright detested. It seems strange, then, that Kaufmann would commission Wright to build him a modern masterpiece like Fallingwater in the woods of Bear Run, but Toker explains it to us this way: ™We could think of Kaufmann's education in moden architecture as a class that covered two semesters: the 1920s exposed him to modernistic, and the 1930s to more radical modernism.

Wright, for his part, desperately needed the job Kaufmann hired him for. The Great Depression had hit him hard. He had expensive tastes and no clients. Although he conducted a school for architecture at his home in Wisconsin, which Kaufmann's son attended, it wasn't really a profitable enterprise. Ever the sharp self-promoter, he sent Kaufmann a book detailing his work and had his secretary, Jensen, travel to Pittsburgh from Wright's home several times, seducing the businessman with flattery. In fact, Jensen went so far to entice Kaufmann as to have him placed on a jury judging a new industrial arts opening in Chicago with some of the top architects and businessmen in America.

When Wright accepted Kaufmann's commission to build a "weekend house" in the woods at Bear Run, he got more than just a client. Kaufmann was effectively Wright's patron, nurturing the vision of Fallingwater from its conception to completion. After seeing Bear Run for the first time, Wright reported that the "visit to the waterfall in the woods stays with me and a domicile has taken vague shape in my mind to the music of the stream." The "vague shape" is the Cubist masterpiece we see today.

We learn about the tumultuous relationship between the two men, as well. Toker tells us that "the partnership held--at first--because there was genuine fondness between the two men, and Kaufmann and Wright were also linked by their parallel roles as fathers to Kaufmann Jr., one biological, the other artistic. Despite their mutual sympathies, there was much the two men did not understand about each other. Wright's regional, racial, ethnic, and sexual-orientation prejudices were both numerous and inconsistent, but the most important thing he never understood about E. J. Kaufmann was the worldview of the merchant. Wright could flatter Kaufmann as enlightened all week long, but the agrarian populist could never get over his discomfort with merchants."

This extremely informative book will take you on a tour of history that happened here in southwestern Pennsylvania. The only downfall of the book is that, at times, is it can be overwhelmingly informative, inundating the reader with facts that aren't really necessary to enjoy the story the book has to offer. If you can get past that fact, open it up and learn a little something about the region of America that you call home -- at least for your college years.


The New Yorker (October 27, 2003, p. 103):

When a house becomes a celebrated work of architecture, it tends to be treated as if it had sprung full-grown from the brow of its creator. Probably no house has been more subject to this myth than Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright's extraordinary essay in horizontal space, which is perched above a waterfall in southwestern Pennsylvania. According to legend, Wright dallied for months after receiving the commission, then drew up the plans in just two hours, as his client, the Pittsburgh department-store magnate E. J. Kaufmann, was en route to Wright's studio to check on his progress. Toker makes quick work of this fiction, tracing the long, careful evolution of Wright's brilliant design. Most important, he tells the story of Kaufmann and his wife, and shows that the house was equally a reflection of these two strong-willed clients and their complex marriage.


Barnes & Noble website Customer Reviews

Number of Reviews: 2 Average Rating: FIVE STARS

Ted Johnson Vancouver B.C., a modern architecture enthusiast!, October 23, 2003, Fallingwater Rising is simply terrific! Absolutely fascinating!

Frank Toker has written an amazing book! Discussion of relationship between Edgar J. Kaufmann and Frank L. Lloyd Wright is thrilling reading! Very pleased to see an accurate account of the 'Desert House' (Kaufmann House) by Richard J Neutra 1946 Great job! I'm convinced, Fallingwater Rising is a very good book!

Also recommended: Neutra The Complete Works (Taschen)

Rating: FIVE STARS

K. Kremer, A reviewer, October 23, 2003, THIS IS IN NO WAY JUST ANOTHER WRIGHT BOOK!

This book was a gold mine of originality and creativity. Franklin Toker scrupulously examines the intriguing chronicles of this architectural icon and those most responsible for its rise to international prominence with unprecedented accuracy and lively narration. As I have told several people who cringed at the notion of another book regarding Frank Lloyd Wright and his architectural "genius". . . this is in no way just another book about Wright! The book meticulously clarifies the relationships that came to be, as well as the importance of each character and their role in the creation of the house.

The author fittingly applauds the architect and patrons for their successful progeny, but brilliantly points out the houses returned value to them. I, for one, questioned the rationale of another book about Fallingwater; perhaps the most published house in American history. The book captured my attention from the onset, and I felt obligated to rethink my position. This is an ideal first-read for readers who may be virgin to the topic and a fail-safe favorite for the Fallingwater-educated.

Rating: FIVE STARS

Amazon.com personal reviews

Reviewer: Kenneth Kolson from Alexandria, VA USA:

Meticulous scholarship, a real page-turner, October 7, 2003

That Franklin Toker has tended to all the scholarly details is evident in the footnotes and photo captions, and it comes through on every page of the narrative itself. Fallingwater Rising is the story of an iconic house, designed by America's greatest architect for Edgar J. Kaufmann, Sr., a Jewish merchant whose own fascinating story is told here for the first time. Toker manages to deliver even more than that. Within these pages is a memorable portrait of the clannish and provincial power elite that ran twentieth-century Pittsburgh. Anyone interested in architectural history, the modernist movement, business history, academic ambition (that of Edgar Jr.), or urban history will want to own this riveting and lavishly illustrated book.

Rating: FIVE STARS

Reviewer: Constance Levi from Larchmont, New York United States: Interesting Read, October 12, 2003

Professor Toker has written an informative and interesting book not only explaining the history of Falling Water, but the dynamics between the merchant/architect Kauffman, and Frank Lloyd Wright the architect/merchant.

The book is well researched as is evident by all the tidbits of information not found in other previous works on this remarkable building. I highly recommend this book either as a gift or for your own pleasure.

Rating: FIVE STARS--eight other five-star reviews


House and Garden (Ingrid Abramovitch: "American Scene: This month on the design beat," November 2003):

"MUST-READS:

Fallingwater Rising (Knopf), Franklin Toker's book on Frank Lloyd Wright's (illustration below) most famous house, is a dramatic saga of riches, social climbing, bigotry, sex, suicide--and genius."


Pages Magazine November/December 2003 (Rizzoli): Leslie Stainton, "Gifts of the Season: Insightful and witty, probing and provocative, this year's holiday gift books feed the mind as well as the eyes," pp. 59--60.

"Nearly 50 years after his death, the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright continues to wield influence. Perched over a Pennsylvania waterfall, his 1937 masterpiece, Fallingwater, is the subject of Franklin Toker's enthralling saga Fallingwater Rising (Knopf), a must for anyone wanting to understand both Wright and the society that nurtured his genius. "There was never a house like Fallingwater before, and there will never a house like Fallingwater again," says Toker, and his riveting book shows why."


Booklist (November 2003: Keir Graff):

Fallingwater, daringly cantilevered over a waterfall near Pittsburgh, may well be "the most famous private house in the world," as Toker asserts.

Conceived and built in the years 1935-37, this stunning weekend retreat's high-profile owner (department-store tycoon Kaufmann) and celebrity architect (Wright) guaranteed it would never be a well-kept secret.

Fallingwater has already been the subject of numerous books, but Toker adds important new scholarship in debunking or clarifying four myths: that E. J.'s son, Edgar Jr., was father to the project; that Wright drew the complete plans in a two-hour burst of creativity; that Wright demonstrated engineering genius in his design; and that the world "spontaneously acclaimed it as the crowning achievement of modern architecture."

If these points seem like insider quibbles, Toker also provides histories of the site, the men (Wright was in desperate need of a comeback when he got the commission), the house's chaotic construction, and the manner in which it became a byword even to architecture neophytes. A must-read for Wright fans, it will also intrigue architecture buffs. [American Library Association. All rights reserved]


Memphis Flyer, Tennessee (November 7, 2003: Leonard Gill: "The Wright Stuff - Mr. Kaufmann builds his dream house"):

Already, in 1936, Fallingwater was falling fast. Blame it on Frank Lloyd Wright's undercalculated cantilevers that lifted the house up and over Bear Run, the stream an hour out of Pittsburgh chosen by millionaire merchant Edgar Jonas Kaufmann Sr. as the site for his weekend home. Some emergency engineering saved the day in 1936, but by the early '90s, conditions had reached a crisis point. Blame it on Edgar Kaufmann Jr., who assumed ownership of the house when his father died in 1955. Junior for years failed to have those terraces checked annually for deflection. Time, then, for really drastic measures: In 2001-02, Fallingwater's flooring was ripped open, and its concrete beams were reinforced, stabilized. It sits today secure, spectacular, and number 20 on the list of the most visited houses in America (Graceland's number four) -- the only house-museum in the top 25 noted not for its owner and/or historical importance but for its architectural excellence alone. Franklin Toker, professor of art and architecture history at the University of Pittsburgh, in Fallingwater Rising says so. Believe him.

Fallingwater is without argument a prime piece of 20th-century design. Toker's book is equally without argument a masterwork of reporting, biography, art history, social history, and aesthetic judgment. It starts with then debunks four popular myths, the stuff for decades of self-interest and heresay.

Myth number one: "The man responsible for Fallingwater was Edgar J. Kaufmann Jr." Not true. See Toker and his findings based on an unprecedented access to documents. Junior was into his own mythmaking as the man who brought a practically unemployed Wright to the attention of the senior Kaufmann. Junior, an artist and architect with no future but later a curator at the Museum of Modern Art and architectural historian at Columbia University, was many things, but he was not midwife to Fallingwater. (Critic Brendan Gill once called him a "mischief-making lemur." Toker's more charitable.)

Myth number two: "Once Wright got the commission, he did nothing with it for nine months, until he took blank tracing paper on September 22, 1935, and in two hours drew up complete plans for the house." Not true. See Toker on Wright's working methods and the evidence of drawings that show him hard at work and thought for months on this career-saving project.

Myth number three: "In the construction of Fallingwater over the next two years, Wright demonstrated a grasp of engineering that was as strong as his artistic sense." Not true. See Toker on the builders onsite and the outside engineers who worked to repair the instant cracking and dangerous drooping of those famous cantilevers. Wright was many things, but he was not a structural engineer for the ages.

Myth number four: "After Fallingwater's completion in January 1938, public opinion in the United States and around the world spontaneously acclaimed it the crowning achievement of modern architecture." Not true. See Toker on the massive PR campaign launched by Kaufmann Sr., Wright, Henry Luce, William Randolph Hearst, MoMA, and novelist Ayn Rand in her bestseller, The Fountainhead.None of which robs Wright of his rightful place as an architect for the ages. Toker does, however, provide the full context for Wright's American-style modernism: due credit to the guys in Europe (Mies, Gropius, Le Corbusier) who took from Wright just as Wright took from them (though he was loath to admit it); due credit to Wright "traitors" Richard Neutra and R.M. Schindler and their ground-breaking houses in California in the 1920s.

The real breaking story here is Toker's life of Kaufmann. (Senior, not Junior.) Largely unknown nationwide during his lifetime and all but forgotten today, in Pittsburgh he was the major and very public department-store head who competed socially and philanthropically with the likes of Frick, Mellon, and Carnegie, but as a Jew (nonpracticing, secularized), he dealt with anti-Semitism as embedded as the coal that built Pittsburgh. A marketing genius, a notorious womanizer, and a modernist when modernism itself was un-American, Kaufmann comes off here as a man of extraordinary drive and talent, not the least of which was an ability to go head-to-head with Wright, no slouch himself in the ego department. What E.J. Kaufmann wanted, E.J. Kaufmann got. And what he got from Frank Lloyd Wright was a masterpiece that still stands. [E-mail: gill@memphisflyer.com]


Arthur Zeigler (President, Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, November 10, 2003):

I have finished [Toker's] mighty book on Fallingwater and appreciate how he has been able to assimilate mountains of information and distill it into lucid chapters; the book presents fascinating new conclusions. I thank him for all that he has accomplished in this excellent book.


The News & Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina) (Glenn Perkins, "How to build an American icon," Sunday November 16, 2003):

NEW YORK TIMES (Janet Maslin: "The Book Tide Is Running, For Readers And Browsers," November 21, 2003):

Among real books that happen to have pictures, I would cite Franklin Toker's Fallingwater Rising, a spellbinding look at Frank Lloyd Wright and the house that has become a monument to his life and work, as the season's best amalgam of storytelling, history, glitter, gossip and art. (Those are the five basic food groups as far as gift books are concerned).


Dallas Morning News ("Silver Shelves; New books can offer respite from the crush of holiday obligations," Sunday November 30, 2003):

Fallingwater Rising Franklin Toker (Alfred A. Knopf, $ 35) It's hard to see how anything more could be written about Fallingwater, the most famous work of America's most celebrated architect. But Franklin Toker finds rich material in the relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright and his client, E.J. Kaufman, the Pittsburgh retail magnate. The result is a dramatic chronicle of two powerful men who not only collaborated to build in 1937 the remarkable house over a waterfall near Pittsburgh but to market it as an extraordinary monument. This served to revive the flagging career of Mr. Wright, who was nearly 70 at the time, and ensure his place in history. (David Tarrant Albion)


St. Louis Post-Dispatch ("The best books of 2003," Sunday December 7, 2003):

Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E.J. Kaufmann, and America's Most Extraordinary House by Franklin Toker (Knopf, 544 pages, $35). This is the fascinating story of the contentious relationship between America's most extraordinary architect and an extraordinary Pittsburgh businessman that resulted in the building of Fallingwater, America's most extraordinary house. Drawing creatively on a massive accumulation of resources, Toker successfully challenges many of the myths surrounding the building's conception, design and construction.


The Washington Post Sunday November 9, 2003 ("Washington Is Also Reading ... selling well in local independent bookstores") Fallingwater Rising by Franklin Toker (Knopf, $35)

An exhaustive account of the commission and construction of the Pennsylvania house that has become an icon of modernist architecture the world over. Special attention is paid to the unusually close collaboration between Wright and his patron, retail tycoon Edgar J. Kaufmann. (NF)

[The bestseller lists this week are culled from information submitted by Barnes & Noble, Borders and Olsson's based on sales from 10/20-10/26. The "Washington is Also Reading" list is based on reports from Chapters, Karibu, Reprint and Vertigo bookstores. The Book World bestsellers hotline is 202-334-9000, category code 4175. (11/09/03)]


Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, NJ) November 22, 2003 Saturday (KEVIN RIORDAN: "How--and why--a building became a celebrity"):

Franklin Toker spent 18 years researching and writing his new book about the house Frank Lloyd Wright supposedly spent but a few hours designing. The latter is among the myths the author persuasively deflates in Fallingwater Rising, an erudite and entertaining account of the creation of one of the 20th century's most influential buildings.

Completed in 1937 at a cost of $166,000 ($4 million today, the author estimates) Fallingwater was very much a collaboration between Wright and E.J. Kaufmann. The architect was nearing 70 and just beginning to emerge from a creative and commercial slump when the Pittsburgh department store magnate engaged him to design a weekend retreat at Bear Run, Pa.

The property included a stream that gave the place its name and gave Wright his inspiration; Bear Run's dramatic waterfall became the backbone of the house, an equally dramatic, almost sculptural array of concrete cantilevers and rugged stone walls.

A professor of architectural history at the University of Pittsburgh, Toker deftly separates the facts from the many fictions about Fallingwater and Wright, who could be as creative with the truth as he was with buildings. Toker makes clear that Fallingwater was not designed on deadline in a few hours, as legend would have it, but was the product of months of on-again, off-again work. And Wright, whose champions tend to regard his buildings as wholly original, was surely influenced by R.M. Schindler's Lovell House at Newport Beach, Calif.

Toker also documents the sometimes surprisingly seat-of-the-pants process by which Fallingwater was built; flaws in both the engineering and construction would eventually jeopardize the house. "By putting photogeneity ahead of structural sobriety,' the author writes, "Wright precipitated an engineering risk that came close to toppling Fallingwater in the 1990s.'

Although the house was a sublime work of art, hype -- something both Wright and Kaufmann knew more than a thing or two about -- helped secure Fallingwater's reputation not only among architects, but the general public. Stories in Time and Life, publications owned by Wright's admiring friend, Henry Luce, helped propel the house onto the front pages of newspapers around the world. Fallingwater became a celebrity.

Toker has a quirky, exuberant writing style, and he avoids the pedantry and ponderousness that often afflict academicians. But when he succumbs, he goes all the way; his attempt to deconstruct Fallingwater's contemporaneous cultural resonance runs off the rails.

Happily, the lapse is brief. The rest of Fallingwater Rising is as splendid as its subject. Reach Kevin Riordan at (856) 486-2604 or kriordan@courierpost- online.com


The Seattle Times November 23, 2003 Sunday (Matthew Kangas; Special to The Seattle Times: "Coming clean on Fallingwater"):

For anyone interested in architecture or anyone who has visited Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece outside Pittsburgh, this book is a must.

Architectural historian Franklin Toker's "Fallingwater Rising" is a detailed, juicy story about Wright and the E.J. Kaufmann family, owners of a large department-store chain who wanted a weekend house near a stream on land that once was the store's employee summer camp.

"Fallingwater Rising" could only have been written after 1989, the year the Kaufmanns' son, Edgar Jr., died in New York. A former Museum of Modern Art design curator and Columbia University architectural history professor, Edgar Jr. spent years lying about his own and his father's role in the inception, design and building of Fallingwater. Toker sets the record straight on a number of points that have become legends and myths about the celebrated house over a waterfall, delineating these truths: Edgar Jr. was kicked out of Wright's studio, Taliesin, because of homosexual capers. Edgar Sr. was already in touch with Wright about designing a weekend house in 1934, long before his son claimed to have put the two together.

The name itself, Fallingwater, contains a hidden acronym for Wright's initials, FLW. The mother, Liliane (who changed the spelling of her name after she met Liliane de Rothschild in Europe in the 1920s), probably did not commit suicide at Fallingwater but inadvertently overdosed from a sleeping drug and liquor.

The famous cantilevered, overhanging balconies were indeed poorly designed and constructed despite Wright's endless reassurances; extensive shoring up had to be undertaken in the 1990s. And, finally, Ayn Rand's best-selling novel "The Fountainhead" was indeed based on Wright and included a character like Edgar Sr. and a house like Fallingwater. (Wright designed a house for Rand, too, which didn't hurt.) Although Wright designed 169 pieces of furniture for the house, Edgar and Liliane installed hundreds more items of furnishing and art once they took possession in November 1937.

In this respect, Fallingwater was a showplace for the department store's products. Art by Jacques Lipchitz, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Jean Arp and others was prominently displayed. Giacometti was commissioned to design the bronze doors for the family crypt nearby in 1954. (When I visited the house in 1984, I saw a priceless 1960 Peter Voulkos pot casually shoved into a corner near the swimming pool.) How did Fallingwater become the most famous house of the past century, eclipsing residences by Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius, not to mention William Randolph Hearst's absurdly grandiose San Simeon? With publicity, pure and simple.

Coinciding with the rise of mass media, Kaufmann's department-store public-relations staff controlled national, and then international, coverage of the house with carefully placed photographs in Time, Life and Architectural Forum magazines, as well as Hearst's magazine House Beautiful. The junior Kaufmann continued in the 1960s after his parents' deaths with his own distorted book, lectures, courses, interviews, a film and special touring exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art (to which his father had donated heavily).

Experts say Fallingwater should be visited four times, once for each season, because of the amazing natural beauty surrounding it.

Junior's greatest accomplishment was, we now know, not bringing together Wright and his father but securing and protecting the house as a museum by donating it and the land to the nonprofit Western Pennsylvania Nature Conservancy.

When he returned to visit it, he would stay nearby with the Mellons, the same family that had long made sure his Jewish father could not join any of Pittsburgh's elite social and sporting clubs. In the end, apparently, all Edgar Sr. had wanted by commissioning Fallingwater was some "respect." He eventually got that and a lot more.

"Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E.J. Kaufmann and America's Most Extraordinary House" by Franklin Toker Knopf, $35


The Buffalo News November 23, 2003 Sunday (Jack Quinan: "OUT ON A LEDGE WITH FAMILY HISTORY"): Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E.J. Kaufmann and America's Most Extraordinary House By Franklin Toker Knopf 496 pages, $35

In September 1986, a symposium was held at Columbia University celebrating the 50th anniversary of Fallingwater, the Edgar J. Kaufmann country house that Frank Lloyd Wright famously cantilevered over a waterfall in western Pennsylvania. As Edgar Kaufmann Jr., the son of Wright's client, exited the auditorium following the final presentation that day at Columbia, I asked him what he thought of the event. He immediately singled out one speaker for his preoccupation with the personal life of the Kaufmann family. "That man has a brain the size of a pea," he snapped.

Indeed, that man, Franklin Toker, a Harvard doctoral graduate with a distinguished career as an architectural historian at the University of Pittsburgh, is certainly no slouch in the brain department, but he had clearly touched a nerve with the younger Kaufmann. I wondered why.

The answers lie in Toker's book, "Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E.J. Kaufmann and America's Most Extraordinary House," the story of the house and the four people whose lives were so intimately connected to its creation and its perpetuation as an iconic landmark in American history.

Wright, Kaufmann, Lilianne Kaufmann and Kaufmann Jr. represent the stuff of high and intriguing drama. Wright, who led a sensational personal life replete with murders, arsons and fistfights with rivals, needs no introduction here. Suffice it to say that following the 1935 death of Buffalo's Darwin Martin, Wright's first great client, Kaufmann and proved to be his next great benefactor.

Kaufmann, the central figure in Toker's book, was by all accounts a brilliant and innovative merchandiser, a shrewd pragmatist who married his first cousin in order to acquire control of the Kaufmann business empire, a generous, popular employer and a civic leader whose activism ultimately extended beyond his beloved Pittsburgh to the plight of Jews worldwide during the grim persecutions of the 1930s and '40s. Unlike Martin, who was always a bit of a sycophant when it came to Wright, Kaufmann may have been the only client who was able to meet the architect on equal terms.

Lilianne Kaufmann has a lesser role in the story. Eventually she succumbed to his waywardness and apparently committed suicide in the house (the circumstances remain obscure).

Kaufmann Jr., the product of this unusual union, could not have been more unlike his father or more like his mother. Whereas the elder Kaufmann was handsome, broad-shouldered, decisive, and a passionate womanizer, Kaufmann Jr. was slender, effeminate, scholarly and "prickly," a euphemism for the elliptical nature of his speech and for a sudden, chilling anger that seemed to emanate from the very depths of his soul.

Toker joined this collection of intense personalities when he began to probe its peculiarities in the 1980s and ran afoul of Kaufmann Jr. To his considerable credit, the younger Kaufmann had turned the legacy of generations of Kaufmann merchants -- tastemakers for the masses in both Germany and the United States -- into a keen critical appreciation for the highest levels of art and design. With precious little formal education he became the first curator of design at the newly founded Museum of Modern Art in New York in the early 1930s and subsequently a prolific critic and professor of architectural history at Columbia University.

Initially, Kaufmann Jr. gave interviews to Toker, but as we learn in the later stages of the book, he was uncomfortable with the intrusion into the life of his family and eventually shut Toker off.

One senses a powerful Oedipal drama in the father-son relationship that Toker treats with considerable restraint. As an academic venturing to write for a popular audience, Toker keeps the story moving along by promising at the outset to debunk four prominent myths about Fallingwater. The first is that Kaufmann Jr. played a pivotal role in the commission. Second is the claim that Wright drew Fallingwater in two hours as the Kaufmanns approached by car from Chicago. Third, the building was brilliantly engineered by Wright. And fourth, the house was immediately recognized as one of the great works of modernism in architecture.

These are not riveting issues on the order of the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa's body or whether or not Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, but a persistent reader will come to understand that part of the genius of Fallingwater is that it has generated, with considerable assistance from everyone involved, a number of myths. Indeed, it is in the nature of this spectacular design that it cries out for a mythic interpretation. Yet Toker is no iconoclast. His discussions of the design, construction, and promotion of Fallingwater are exhaustively researched, beautifully written and constitute a service to scholarship.

The ride is not smooth. Toker can be in turn didactic, populist, pedantic, speculative and effusive, but it is a magnificent effort that few academic writers could achieve. Jack Quinan is a professor of art history at the University at Buffalo.


The Austin American Statesman November 23, 2003 Sunday (Jeanne Claire Van Ryzin: "Taking down myths behind a celebrity structure; Fallingwater Rising tells the true story of one of America's most famous houses"):

Fallingwater is arguably the most famous modern house in the United States by arguably the most significant American architect of the 20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright. It has what any truly great work of architecture has -- a personality all its own.

And so like any famous personality, Fallingwater has long deserved a biography -- not just a history of its design and construction, but a rich, personality-filled and detailed biography that plunges into the soul of a house already so famous by the time it was completed in late 1937 that it ranked an exhibit all its own at the Museum of Modern Art, became the first architecture story to land on the cover of Time magazine and revived Wright's stalled career.

Franklin Toker has provided us with just such a biography by including a whole lot of candid opinions and rather fresh takes on oft-repeated myths surrounding Fallingwater. And that makes "Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E.J. Kaufman and America's Most Extraordinary House" a thoroughly engaging, even at times an almost breathless, read.

Toker is enthusiastically obsessed with his subject. A professor of art, architecture and urban history at the University of Pittsburgh (his previous books include "Pittsburgh: An Urban Portrait"), Toker has been studying Fallingwater, located 45 miles from Pittsburgh, intensely for 18 years. Indeed, Toker's deep knowledge of Pittsburgh history enables him to offer some shrewd background about the particular zeitgeist in which Wright's most famous house was born, specifically the anti-Semitism and subsequent ostracism that Pittsburgh merchandizing magnate E.J. Kaufmann Sr. experienced, despite his enormous wealth, at the hands of Pittsburgh's social elite.

One important crux of Toker's thesis is that, contrary to Fallingwater mythology, it was not E.J. Kaufmann Jr., the only son of the colorful Kaufmann Sr., who initiated contact with Wright to build the house. Instead, Toker proves it was the elder Kaufmann himself. That undermines the long-held belief, promulgated by Kaufmann Jr., an architectural historian at Columbia University, that it was the son who brought his father and the 70-year-old Wright together. In fact, Toker proves that whatever short-lived apprenticeship Kaufmann Jr. may have served with the renowned architect was really something concocted by his father and Wright. In fact, it's Toker's claim that the strong-willed Kaufmann Sr. is "almost . . . the co-architect of the house."

Toker also disproves the myth that Wright, after doing nothing with the Fallingwater commission for nine months, drew up complete plans in just two hours on Sept. 22, 1935, as Kaufmann Sr. was driving hurriedly toward Taliesin, Wright's home and studio compound in southern Wisconsin. Instead, Toker offers a thorough argument that long before Wright performed his last-minute drawing spectacular in front of an audience of his apprentices, the master designer worked out plenty of drafts -- in private.

With its striking cantilevered balconies and precarious positioning directly on top of a stream and waterfall, Fallingwater has long been regarded as an example of Wright's engineering genius. But Toker tells a different story, one that relates how Kaufmann Sr.'s engineers and Wright's apprentices, worried about the structure's integrity, furtively added more steel than the master architect had called for and how, even before the Kaufmanns moved in, the cantilevered balconies began to crack and sag. (Fallingwater came close to collapse in the 1990s and underwent a massive restoration.)

And in another myth-busting foray, Toker dives into the way Kaufmann Sr. masterminded the enormous publicity Fallingwater received. In our present times, when signature new buildings by "starchitects" regularly grab headlines, Fallingwater's rock-stardom status may not impress. But in Depression-era America, with popular magazines such as Life and Time still in their early years, and at a time when architecture was hardly everyday water-cooler conversation, it was unheard of for the design of a private home to grab headlines and front covers.

Yet for all of Toker's sleuthing, inventive analyses of legends surrounding Fallingwater and rich evocations of the larger-than-life personalities that gave birth to the building, he never loses sight of what any account of Fallingwater must include: glorious ruminations on one of the 20th century's most iconic buildings. jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699


The Christian Science Monitor November 25, 2003 Tuesday ("Noteworthy Nonfiction"):
FALLINGWATER RISING, by Franklin Toker, Knopf, $ 35

Architecture historian Toker describes the details of the planning and construction of Fallingwater. Toker debunks the myth that Wright designed Fallingwater quickly or without influence. (Oct. 16)


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette November 30, 2003 Sunday (Donald Miller: "THE TRUTH ABOUT FALLINGWATER; TOKER'S ARCHITECTURAL BIOGRAPHY CORRECTS MYTHS ABOUT WRIGHT, KAUFMANNS"):
"Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E.J. Kaufmann and America's Most Extraordinary House" By Franklin Toker Knopf ($35)

Franklin Toker has written a 400-page portrait of a weekend hideaway that became world-famous -- as much for its setting on a waterfall as for its radical design. This architectural biography of a house is the best and most comprehensive yet on the structure and its creators. Toker's book is many things: an expose revealing secrets of the house's owners; an elaborate enumeration of social, religious and architectural concepts; and a timeline of media coverage that pushed Fallingwater into widespread acceptance as America's premier modern dwelling.

Toker, professor of the history of art and architecture at the University of Pittsburgh, presents his stars, Edgar J. Kaufmann, wife Liliane and son Edgar Kaufmann Jr., against a vast assembly of fascinating supporting players.

They include architects Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Richard Neutra and Philip Johnson, physicist Albert Einstein, art critic Aline Saarinen (a Kaufmann cousin briefly engaged to Kaufmann Jr.) and novelist Ayn Rand, whose overblown 1946 novel "The Fountainhead" was inspired by Wright, Kaufmann and their house. Most important, Toker re-establishes Edgar J. Kaufmann as not just "Mr. Moneybags," to quote a peevish Wright, but also the client who first thought of commissioning the then-washed-up architect for a retreat that, as a bonus, would restart his career.

Kaufmann, with the help of Henry Luce, publisher of Time, Life and Fortune magazines, and others, also worked hard, in Toker's word, to hype the story into a public relations triumph in publications. Armed with archival research, Toker destroys a long-held notion that Kaufmann Jr. was really responsible for the house's origin since the son urged his father to meet Wright. Toker cites letters to prove that E.J. conferred with Wright before Junior arrived at the Taliesin Fellowship in Spring Green, Wis., even though Junior would say and write otherwise.

The author also concludes that Wright dismissed Junior from Taliesin for what Wright called a lack of "circumspection," which Toker infers was probably homosexual activity. Toker shows that the son, through obfuscation and concealment of his Taliesin experience, meant to give the impression that he was the most important element in the Kaufmann equation.

Junior started his campaign following his father's death in 1955, when he became owner of Fallingwater, part of his $10 million inheritance. At Junior's death in 1989, the New York Times wrote: "More than anyone else except, of course, Frank Lloyd Wright, Edgar Kaufmann Jr. was responsible for Fallingwater."Toker relentlessly and decisively shows that that statement was never true. Kaufmann did not join his parents in their tomb at Fallingwater. Instead, his ashes were scattered on the grounds. In my case, I wrote articles crediting Junior with introducing his father to Wright based on the books and essays the son oversaw or wrote about his time at Taliesin. It now is clear that Kaufmann Jr.'s hatred of his philandering father, love for his emotionally tortured mother -- who took a fatal dose of barbiturates and alcohol in 1952 at the house -- and Junior's own insecurities led him to rewrite history and flatter himself.

Toker destroys the myth that the house's design was done in a mere two hours, as so often is mentioned. He also reveals E.J. Kaufmann's constant fear that the house's cantilevered decks would collapse into Bear Run. In view of their recent corrective shoring, his was not idle speculation. Wright's engineering was faulty from the start. Toker provides many pages on the decks' history of cracking as well as a long geographic survey of the forested estate.

Toker is also the author of the architectural guidebook "Pittsburgh: An Urban Portrait," which led Junior to invite him to arrange and update the books at Fallingwater. Kaufmann also gave Toker the opportunity in 1986 to lecture on the house at Columbia University, where he taught architectural history as a unpaid adjunct professor. Kaufmann attended the talk. Has Toker bitten the hand that fed him? Not when the object of his account is truth. Toker is fair in giving the younger Kaufmann credit for many fine acts, including donating Fallingwater to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and giving the Irene Kaufmann Settlement in the Hill District to the community, two of his largest gifts. Among his talents, Junior collected modern paintings with his inherited money. At auction after his death, they sold for $98.3 million, outstripping his father's fortune. Junior's longtime companion, Paul Mayen, who designed the Fallingwater pavilion, reaped the harvest of that auction. He died in 1990.

Toker suggests that Junior's donation to the conservancy, in effect making the house a perpetual Kaufmann memorial, was spurred when railroad cutbacks in the 1960s made Kaufmann's commute by rail from New York difficult. After the donation, Junior still visited the house occasionally, insisting on continuing such niceties as fresh flowers daily. But Junior slept at the Rolling Rock or Duquesne clubs, both of which had blackballed his father. Toker, trenchantly describing the pluses and flaws of Wright, E.J., Liliane and Edgar Jr., attempts to rocket the house itself forever into the pantheon of the world's most impressive structures. Forever is a long time, but I hope he is right.

He also tells much about E.J.'s minimalist Desert House in Palm Springs, Calif., designed by Neutra, a brief employee and then enemy of Wright. (The house's walls roll back from its corners.) The author gives a fascinating and previously unreported account of the plans Liliane solicited from Wright in the early 1950s to build her own house -- called the Boulder House -- next door to the Desert House. She then dropped the idea.

Toker also relates Liliane's next abortive idea for a house for herself (to avoid E.J. and his mistress -- soon his next wife -- at Fallingwater) on Beaver Creek in what is now Nemacolin Woodlands. The author sneers at the Kaufmanns' former Fox Chapel house, La Tourelle, designed by Kaufmann Sr.'s Pittsburgh architect and friend Benno Janssen. Toker never calls it Norman-style, the accepted general description, but "fake Norman." He also found that no one involved with promoting Fallingwater originally wanted to limit its public relations range to then "stodgy, conservative Pittsburgh."

Toker's easy style and Wrightian sarcasm keep his narrative from being stuffy even as it echoes Wright's contempt for almost everything non-Wrightian. He describes the architect as a fabulous designer but a poor engineer, a now widespread judgment but once heresy to keepers of his flame. Although Toker has labored to place Fallingwater among history's greatest buildings, he never forsakes his objectivity and is not beholden to anyone while confessing his love of the house. Toker presents too many facts to be overwhelmed with awe himself, the role of the scholar and the truly inquisitive mind.

I am in awe of Toker for his persistent research, regardless of how much help he had gathering it. His endnotes, printed in small type, run to 52 pages. Still, the book has repetitive patches that are the probable result of being pulled away and then returning to the manuscript. I know that experience. But Toker's editors could have pared more. The book takes some slogging to finish, but I wouldn't have missed it and am pleased we have it.

[Donald Miller, a Post-Gazette senior editor, is author of "The Architecture of Benno Janssen" and co-author with Aaron Sheon of "Organic Vision: The Architecture of Peter Berndtson," a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright. He can be reached dmiller1@swfla.rr.com or 1-239-455-3144.]


St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 7, 2003, Sunday ("The best books of 2003: NONFICTION"):

Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E.J. Kaufmann, and America's Most Extraordinary House by Franklin Toker (Knopf, 544 pages, $35). This is the fascinating story of the contentious relationship between America's most extraordinary architect and an extraordinary Pittsburgh businessman that resulted in the building of Fallingwater, America's most extraordinary house. Drawing creatively on a massive accumulation of resources, Toker successfully challenges many of the myths surrounding the building's conception, design and construction.


The Weekly Standard ("J. Bottum on new books worth giving," Monday December 8, 2003):

Around 75,000 new books get published in English every year. . . . Gabriel Zaid, a Mexican writer who claims that ironic enjoyment is about the only possible response to the fact that "the human race publishes a book every thirty seconds." Lists "Franklin Toker's study of Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater Rising (Knopf, 496 pp., $35)." [J. Bottum is Books & Arts editor of The Weekly Standard]


Orlando Sentinel December 11, 2003 Thursday (Nicholas A. Basbanes, Special to the Sentinel: "GIFT BOOKS HAVE READERS ON YOUR LIST COVERED"):

After the White House in Washington, quite possibly the best-known residence in America, is an extraordinary structure erected over a waterfall in western Pennsylvania in 1937 that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Fallingwater Rising (Alfred A. Knopf, $35, 496 pages), by Franklin Toker, is a readable, lively history of this unique building, and how it came into being.

Above review reprinted in Worcester (Massachusetts) SUNDAY TELEGRAM and The Wichita Eagle, both same day.

Worcester Sunday Telegram (Massachusetts) (Nicholas A. Basbanes: "Season's best gift books artfully assembled; Stirring words complement art," Sunday, December 14, 2003):

After the White House in Washington, quite possibly the best known residence in America is an extraordinary structure erected over a waterfall in western Pennsylvania in 1937, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Pittsburgh retailer Edgar J. Kaufmann. Fallingwater Rising (Alfred A. Knopf, 496 pages, $35), by Franklin Toker, is a readable, lively history of this unique building, and how it came into being.


CBS Sunday Morning (Charles Osgood, "What's in store; books make great gifts," Sunday, December 21, 2003):

Now here's a different kind of behind-the-scenes look--a whole book about a house near Pittsburgh. Franklin Toker's "Fallingwater Rising" is a terrifically interesting account of how this Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece came into being. It looks into everything about the Fallingwater project, from the tensions between Wright and his patron, to the public relations blitz that accompanied the finished product. This is that rare amalgam of captivating illustrations and a fascinating story.


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 26, 2003, Friday (BOB HOOVER: "THE BEST OF 2003: BEST BOOKS"): NONFICTION - 2. "FALLINGWATER RISING: FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT, E.J. KAUFMANN AND AMERICA'S MOST EXTRAORDINARY HOUSE" BY FRANKLIN TOKER. Knopf. $35.

University of Pittsburgh's Toker brings his 20-year pursuit of the place on Bear Run to the finish line with this chatty, opinionated and valuable piece of scholarship.


ARTnews December 2003 p. 27 (Harry Schwalb: "Wright House Wronged?"):

"Art historian Franklin Toker has peppered his recent study of the 20th century's most famous house with a delicious supply of tidbits..."


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sunday, January 4, 2004 ("Midwest Passages"):

Much has been written about Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, the house cantilevered over a waterfall near Pittsburgh. Photographed and feted, this most famous house of the 20th century endures as the crowning achievement of a genius Midwestern architect. Now comes a biography of the house to equal the house. Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E. J. Kaufmann, and America's Most Extraordinary House (Knopf, 496 pages, $35) by Franklin Toker is at once a wonderful story of the building of the house and a tale of the Kaufmann department store family that commissioned it and a social history of 1930s Pittsburgh. Toker, who teaches art history, archaeology and urban history at the University of Pittsburgh, also gives us a primer on architectural history. He is an able storyteller, relying on documents, interviews and letters. Occasionally, one wonders if he gives the senior Kaufmann too much credit for the design and building of Fallingwater. But his character sketches are fascinating and his telling of the tale seamless.


Hamilton Spectator (Ontario, Canada) Saturday January 10, 2004 (Bernard Baskin: "Eccentricity rampant in the belly of hard times"):

Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E.J. Kaufmann, and America's Most Extraordinary House, by Franklin Toker (Alfred A. Knopf, $35). The 497 pages of this detailed popular history are unlikely to sustain the interest of readers not engaged by architecture or Frank Lloyd Wright. But for those with even a passing interest in one of the U.S.'s most famous houses, Toker's narrative ability and his 18 years of research make for a gripping read. Fallingwater, renowned as Wright's masterpiece, was built in the 1930s as a retreat in the Pennsylvania woods for retailing magnate E.J. Kaufmann. It became one of the most hyped celebrity projects of the Depression. This book reveals not just the fascinating details of one of the 20th century's most influential buildings, but also the stories of the eccentric personalities behind it.