Preservation

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Today at the Gordon House

November 14, 2019
  • 1-hour Guided Tour

    November 14, 2019  12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

  • 1-hour Guided Tour

    November 14, 2019  1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

  • 1-hour Guided Tour

    November 14, 2019  2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

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Preservation efforts at the Gordon House are ongoing. Our mission is to educate the public on Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural approach and principles of organic architecture by preserving the only house in Oregon designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Your support enables us to continue this important work.

2012-16 Capital Improvement Campaign

Thank you Preservation Partners!

Siegner Paints & Textures Masonry

Slide Bolt Lock Receivers Installed

John Fotheringham on Red Concrete Terrace

Stadeli Rocks & Rolls Entryway & Parking Lot

West Balcony waiting for structural restoration

West Balcony before Structural Restoration

Project Description

The Gordon House is the only realized building in Oregon designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and is the only Wright building in the Pacific Northwest opened to the public. The Gordon House Conservancy oversees the continued preservation and operation of the house as a public museum and education center since 2002.

The Gordon House was saved from demolition in the winter of 2001, and an ancient White Oak woodland at The Oregon Garden in Silverton was selected as the new location.  The House was moved in sections from its original location in Wilsonville, Oregon.  Before moving, the interior wood paneling, built-in furniture, doors, woodwork, cabinets, and shelves were painstakingly removed, packaged, and marked to assure an accurate restoration.  The roof section was removed after which the second story was cut away from the downstairs to be moved as one intact unit.

Through extensive coordination with the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, the house was sited in the exact solar orientation as specified on Wright’s original architectural plans.  Matching the grades of the original house site required a complex system of foundation footing drains and waterproofing to protect the building from the significant groundwater encountered.  The same radiant heat system designed by Frank Lloyd Wright but with upgraded piping was installed in the ground floor.  The signature red concrete floor was precisely reconstructed to match the 7-foot module, another common element of Wright’s Usonian design.  To meet current code, seismic reinforcement was introduced in a manner that does not affect the design and appearance of the house. The roof and upper level of the house were positioned and supported in place as the first floor concrete walls were built to meet the upper level.  When the upper section was lowered, it was one-sixteenth of an inch true to line.

Though great care was given when reconstructing the Gordon House at its new site, there are additional preservation undertakings that must be accomplished to complete the full and expected restoration and preservation project.  These preservation tasks include:

Balcony Structural Engineering/Corrective Reconstruction

Frank Lloyd Wright was known for dramatic cantilever structures in his designs.  Using traditional engineering concepts, he would provide horizontal support for some of his spaces anchored deep within the building structure.  The visual effect was a building full of disappearing corners, floating walls, and construction elements that appeared to “hang in space” without visible support.  The west wing of the Gordon House is one of the balconies with this unique design characteristic.  Original 1963 construction anomalies compromised Wright’s structural design plan which will continue to deform and deteriorate unless preemptive preservation is undertaken.  To determine what exact restoration measures are necessary the Conservancy will work with professional architects and structural engineers familiar with Wright’s work and construction concepts.  Until such time as discovery and restorative engineering can be completed, temporary measures have been taken to secure the building.  The balcony is temporarily supported with vertical external wood posts.  Though care was taken to minimize the visual impact of this temporary solution, it does alter Wright’s original unique design of the Gordon House and requires permanent and immediate rectification. 

Red Concrete Floor Surface Preservation

A unique feature of Wright’s organic architecture was to blur the line between indoor and outdoor living.  This was achieved in the design of the concrete flooring, particularly in the Gordon House.  Guests enter the house on gently rising red concrete steps; which expand through the main living area or “great room” and on to all of the first floor rooms.  Outside terraces on either side of the great room have the same signature Wright concrete color and pattern providing the sense of integration between the inside and outside living areas.  The interior floors also contain the radiant heat system that efficiently and comfortably serves the house.

Due to the traffic of more than 100,000 visitors eager to tour this historic work of art, the floors have become worn, scratched, and stained.  Exposure to extreme weather has subjected the outdoor terraces and stairs to discoloration and uncommon wear, no longer bringing unification to Wright’s design.  Using new protective materials conducive for high foot traffic and more resistant to weather conditions, a simultaneous effort to restore the indoor and outdoor surfaces will be undertaken.

Wood and Concrete Wall Surface/Texture Conservation

A trademark design feature of Frank Lloyd Wright is the use of the horizontal line – the line of rest and repose — the line representing domesticity.  The Western red cedar wood boards and concrete block walls of the Gordon House are excellent examples of this line of tranquility.  Just as with the concrete floors and terraces, the color and texture of the walls are a significant element of design that provides symmetry between the outside and inside.

The wood and concrete walls of the Gordon House exhibit horizontal ribbons with a soft textured finish on the masonry.  Like the flooring, these distinctive design characteristics have discolored and worn thin from exposure to weather, outside temperature, and bird and insect pests.  Earlier roof leaks and moisture penetration to the interior surfaces have altered the impact of Wright’s intended design.  The surface texture, color, and integrity must be restored.

The preservation of the exterior wood will encompass a brush and low impact power cleaning and hand application of a protective sealant specifically formulated for the Pacific Northwest (Weathertek®) and including a pest control component.  Approximately thirty (30) pest-damaged boards will be replaced and repairs in numerous areas will be required.  Professional analysis of the concrete surface color will identify and restore Wright’s original masonry color specifications enjoyed by the Gordons.  Exterior concrete walls will be sealed to prevent leaching, and 100% acrylic paint and filler will be applied to both interior and exterior wall surfaces to protect and restore the soft gentle texture of Wright’s vision.

Kitchen Workspace Restoration & Preservation

As with so many of Wright’s designs, the kitchen, or “workspace” as he preferred to call it, is centrally located in the house and compact and efficient in design.  Some experts have indicated that the Gordon House kitchen is the best design he ever created.  It is also a wonderful example of the 1960 vintage modernity filled with Wright innovations for ease of use.

To provide a sense of greater space, the ceiling is two stories tall featuring a skylight and floodlight lamps, creating height with a tower above the food preparation area.  The tower also provides a source of natural light and exhaust for the elimination of cooking odors and heat.  The tower, workspace and original basement below brilliantly maintain a passive energy-sustaining core that is very important to the building integrity.

Due to moisture damage and leaks, the tower is in dire need of preservation.  The four aluminum light fixtures are heavily pitted and the wood ceiling and concrete walls are stained and damaged.  Full preservation will require the replacement of several large wooden ceiling panels, new insulation, and roof venting.  The countertops and refrigerator are also in need of restorative repair and conservation.  The Formica® countertops need to be replaced to match those originally installed but lost during the house move.  The Revco Gourmet® refrigerator is of special note; this design is one of the first that allowed for custom made panels which matched the Western red cedar interior wood cabinetry.  This model was also the first refrigerator designed with the modern and efficient freezer on the bottom.  In order to restore this unit, the compressor and electrical wiring must be replaced and the original interior surfaces restored.  Wright instructed his carpenters to be as attentive to the utility areas as the living room with fine workmanship and finish.  The Western red cedar cabinetry must be fully conserved and protected.

Landscaping Restoration and Entry Surfacing

Conrad and Evelyn Gordon enjoyed natural gardens around the house as advised by Frank Lloyd Wright and featuring Willamette Valley native grasses and wildflowers.  When the house was relocated to Silverton the gardens were never completed.  A professional landscape design was carefully prepared in 2004 including plant materials, hardscape, and specific use areas including a Wright favorite lawn terrace space east of the building.  The new and ancient White Oak savannah is honored as it provides original viewshed as envisioned by Wright.

Therefore, the Conservancy plans to continue developing the natural gardens and walking paths around the house reminiscent of those designed at the original site.  To provide improved public access for visitors, the Conservancy will also upgrade the entry walkway on the property.   These access improvements will also help to protect the landscaping, mitigate dust and mud from marring concrete floors, terraces, and stairs, and refine handicapped and elderly accessibility while maintaining the original farm site entry appearance.  Wright’s attitude toward the Usonian residential ceremony of entry will guide the new site’s landscape interpretation for fully enhanced understanding by the public.

Project Budget and Timeline

The cost to complete the full preservation and restoration of the Gordon House is estimated at $296,000. The Conservancy has raised more than $175,000 for this project and has identified select foundations and agencies with an interest in historic preservation and interpretation to submit funding requests.  Those foundations include, but are not limited to, The Kinsman Foundation, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, Ritz Family Foundation, Swigert Foundation, and additional resources as necessary.

Preservation projects will be undertaken as funds are secured with the overall goal of completion in the fall of 2016.

Goals and Measurable Objectives

The goal of this project is to return The Gordon House to its original appearance and preserve this architectural treasure.  The Gordon House is the only house in Oregon designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and remains the only Wright building in the Pacific Northwest opened to the public.  Long term preservation will allow for continued and increased House visitor numbers and its use as a meeting space and location for special private and public events and activities; not to mention the ongoing educational tours, classes, activities, and opportunities for youth and adults that the property provides.  Daily visitation and use enumeration will demonstrate these improvements.  Overall, preservation provides more opportunity for the public to learn from and enjoy this iconic example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs.

Sustainability

The Conservancy has established an endowment fund to support the long-term care and maintenance of the Gordon House once these remaining preservation and restoration efforts have been completed.