July 1, 2014

[11 Most Endangered] Frank Lloyd Wright's Spring House in Tallahassee, Florida

  • By: Steven Piccione
The Spring House's hemicycle design

photo by: Alan C. Spector

Built in 1954, the Spring House's hemicycle design is considered the last architecture phase of Frank Lloyd Wright's career.

In 1950, a woman by the name of Clifton Lewis sought out none other than Frank Lloyd Wright to design a home for her. And he did: the Spring House in Tallahassee, Florida. Despite its modest boat-like shape and rural location, the Spring House represented a significant point in Wright's career, attracted architect buffs from around the world, and was even involved with the Civil Rights movement.

Today, however, the house is slowly deteriorating from harsh weather conditions and neglect, and the day may come when the only private home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the state of Florida no longer stands.

The Spring House boasts a unique form hardly seen anywhere remotely near Tallahassee: the "hemicycle," which represents the later stages of Wright's extensive career.

At first glance, the home appears to resemble a boat or even an American football. Its main foundation comprises concentric and intersecting circles with a wedge-shaped carport on the structure's west side.

Byrd Lewis Mashburn, Clifton's daughter, remembers moving to her family's new home when she was 8 years old. Although she thought it spooky at first, she now finds that the striking windows, which gaze over an expansive forest, provide a beautiful element to the home.

"At night, the reflections in the glass make it look like things are floating across the forest, especially when we have a fire going," Mashburn says.

Interior of the Spring House

photo by: Rochford Photography

Typical of Wright's style, the Spring House features strong horizontal lines, wood-framed windows, and a open-space floor plan, among many other features.

During its prime, the Spring House attracted architecture aficionados from across the world, looking for a famous example of Frank Lloyd Wright's work. However, the house also served another purpose in American history: helping to advance the Civil Rights Movement.

"[The Spring House] is important here in Tallahassee, because our parents were very involved and committed to this community. The house was built during the early Civil Rights struggle in the country. And our parents were very involved with that. Because our house was out in the country, interracial meetings could take place with safety," Mashburn says. Her family even received bomb threats because of the progressive meetings that took place at the home. Fortunately, they were empty threats, and no harm came to the family or the house.

The Spring House derives its name from the natural spring and streams that flow across the property. Although the water that provided the Spring House with its name adds a beautiful component to the house and surrounding 10 acres of property, it's also the home's main threat.

Spring House exterior view

photo by: Byrd Lewis Mashburn

A mere 25 years after its construction, the Spring House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Over the years, hurricanes and storms have damaged the exterior of the home. Although a new roof was installed in the 1970s, the renovation was faulty and water intrusion caused extensive damage to the interior. Beyond storms, insects and woodpeckers have made their marks on the cypress columns and sidings. Unfortunately, the Lewis family is not able to finance the restoration of the home. There's a small mortgage and no insurance.

The Spring House Institute (SHI), a not-for-profit organization, along with Mashburn, are raising awareness of the home in hopes of acquiring sufficient funds to restore property before it's too late. The deterioration is constant without proper restoration.

The house was placed on the National Trust's America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list this year, which the SHI hopes will improve fundraising efforts.

"It's a wonderful piece of architecture for Tallahassee," Mashburn says. "It's important, because it gives people a sense of things that anything is possible. ... The older I get, the more incredible it is."

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