.THE FAMILY AND THE ARCHITECT
In 1916 Kaufmann's Department Stores of Pittsburgh needed a place where women employees could enjoy a healthy and inexpensive vacation. The acreage on Bear Run, already developed by the Masons for similar use, was rented. The club offered tennis, swimming, hiking, and other activities as a "retreat from the heat and turmoil of the city." Some store executives took cottages for their families for the season, and in 1921 Edgar J. Kaufmann, president of the company, and his wife, Liliane, had a small pre-cut lumber house put up for their own use. Dubbed "The Hangover," it was quite rustic, without electricity, indoor plumbing, or heat, except from a woodstove. The Great Depression a few years later closed the camp but brought revitalizing public works programs to the area. A newly paved route 381 carried noisy traffic near the Kaufmann's house, but they were devoted to the beautiful property and to the balance it gave their life after busy workdays in the city. In 1933 they bought the 1600 acre tract, planning to build a year-round weekend home with ample comforts and conveniences on a site away from the road and near their favorite spot, the waterfall. Kaufmann, an enthusiastic patron of architecture, earlier had built a suburban residence for himself and a splendid art deco main floor in the store. He wished for something outstanding at Bear Run.
Later in 1934 the Kaufmanns asked Frank Lloyd Wright to design the new house. Wright, then in his mid 60s, was famous as a genius and an attractive, rambunctious individual. The Kaufmanns had recently met him through their son Edgar Kaufmann, jr. - who, like others, went to work under Wright, drawn by his teaching of architecture as a humane art based on broad ideals. The family understood these ideals and in their own way shared them. Wright gave the Kaufmanns the best of his art, tempered by experience and stimulated by the opportunity. They gave him an alert, sometimes challenging, confidence and a free hand. Once when construction bogged down Kaufmann wired Wright, "Cheer up...Anxiously awaiting your solution...With all the difficulties it still remains a noble building." The result of this collaboration was Fallingwater, which the family all loved and which served them well. After both Kaufmanns died their son, fulfilling their wishes, gave the house and land to the agency most attuned to Wright's and the family's ecological ideals, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
Frank Lloyd Wright was 67 years old when the Kaufmanns gave him the commission for a new vacation home. Although he had created a new form for American houses the prairie house and had earned an international reputation as one of the leading modern architects of the day, in 1934 Wright was seen by the architectural community as being out of touch with the times. He had built only a couple of houses since 1920, and instead was concentrating his efforts on his autobiography, establishing the Taliesin Fellowship, and developing his model urban plan, "Broadacre City."
During a trip to Taliesin to visit their son, Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann met Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife Olgivanna, beginning what was to be one of history's great patron/artist relationships. Wright's vision and magnetism made an immediate appeal to the Kaufmanns, whose active interest in the arts had been tending toward ever less traditional manifestations. A civic leader deeply concerned with the future of Pittsburgh, Kaufmann had already contacted Wright about possible improvements for the city. While at Taliesin, Kaufmann was so impressed with Wright's Broadacre City project that he eventually gave it substantial financial backing, and later showcased it in his downtown store. He convinced Wright to make a trip to Pittsburgh in December to discuss the city projects, and the possibility of designing a new store office for him. At his son's suggestion, Edgar Sr. took Wright to Bear Run and approached him with the idea of designing a new weekend home for the family.