THE WRIGHT STUFF
Frank Lloyd Wright is widely recognized as one of the world’s most accomplished and famous masters in the history of American architecture. The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Sondern/Adler house in the Roanoke Historic District is a well-known masterpiece. But did you know there is another Wright-designed house in our town? And it has quite an interesting story.
APPOINTMENT WITH THE MASTER
Eloise Bott first met Frank Lloyd Wright at Florida Southern College, where her first husband was a civil engineer working on the many campus buildings designed by Wright. She was smitten by his brilliance and charm. When Eloise moved to the Midwest in the early 1950s, she met and married wealthy dairy businessman Frank Bott, who was also fascinated by architecture and design. They wanted to build their dream house, and to have it designed by Frank Lloyd Wright would be their dream come true. However, there was one big problem. Wright was in his late 80s, and after decades of decline, he was suddenly again incredibly popular and in high demand—primarily designing huge projects and structures such as hotels and skyscrapers, not private residences. Eloise and Frank had to hatch a plan to “lure” Frank Lloyd Wright into agreeing to design their house, especially in Kansas City where only one Wright-designed residence existed. How would they do it?
THE PHOENIX RISES
Frank Lloyd Wright had an extraordinary career, but not without its peaks, valleys, controversies, tragedies and pinnacles. One unbelievable fact is how prolific and intensely busy Wright was at the end of his life. After reaching a career bottom in the mid-1930s, the 70-year-old had basically retired to his home and studio in Taliesin. He burst back into public stardom with his most famous and shockingly original masterpiece—Fallingwater—designed for the Kaufmann family near Pittsburgh. Singular for its series of cantilevered balconies and terraces and built into a hill and jutting out over a waterfall, this house remains one of the most beautiful private residences built and a national landmark. Fallingwater set Frank Lloyd Wright off into the most productive and accomplished period of his life and career. He designed many well-known buildings, including the Johnson Wax Administration building, the Price Tower skyscraper, a 60-home development known as Usonian houses, a residence for Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, and the Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art in New York City, which consumed 16 years and was not completed until after his death. Of the more than 1100 buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright during his 70-year career, more than 500 were built. But, incredibly, more than one third were designed in the last 10 years of his life.
I WANT MY FLW
Eloise and Frank Bott knew Frank Lloyd Wright was so busy in the early 1950s that he would be almost impossible to hire. After reading about Fallingwater, they decided to acquire a spectacular, unique building site to seduce Wright into “wanting” to design their house. The Bott’s heard that Wright famously said: “No house should be on a hill, it should be of a hill.” So they set out to find their hill.
Sig Bruns was a commercial contractor who owned some of the land in North Kansas City that is now Briarcliff. The Botts met Bruns and wanted to buy a lot he owned on a bluff that had sweeping, spectacular views of the downtown skyline, airport and the entire Missouri River Valley. Bruns would only sell the lot if he were retained to construct the house the owner wanted to build. The Botts explained they wanted Frank Lloyd Wright to design the house, which thrilled Bruns. After the deal was made, paying $30,000 for the lot, Frank and Eloise immediately wrote Wright about the project.
With a breathtakingly dramatic hill site on a bluff with panoramic views overlooking Kansas City in hand, the Botts travelled to Taliesin and successfully convinced Frank Lloyd Wright to design their dream home.
OF THE HILL
The Bott Residence does not deviate much from the original color pencil drawing sketched and signed by Frank Lloyd Wright, dated May of 1957. That beautiful sketch still exists today, handsomely mounted and framed by the current homeowner. The remarkable, soaring design consists of a double cantilever, with the living room and balcony the most daring, jutting out into the view of the Missouri River Valley and the skyline, as if on the wing of a jet approaching the airport runway. With the Botts’ input, Wright incorporated the floating terraces and balconies of Fallingwater with new material he used in Arizona at Taliesin: stone desert masonry construction. The stone for the house was brought in from the Kansas Flint Hills and used on the exterior and interior, including the huge stone fireplace anchoring the living room. Honduran mahogany walls are abundant through the entire home (even shower walls), reminiscent of an opulent ocean liner cabin suite. Wright designed all the furniture, which is still in the home today with the original fabrics intact. Frank Lloyd Wright continued his working on the plans for the Bott Residence until his death in 1959. The house was completed in 1963 with the assistance of Wright’s apprentices, John Howe and Cornelia Brierly, for a cost of more than $200,000. Frank Bott died in 1975 after living in the home for 12 years, and Eloise continued to live in the coveted Wright home by herself until she died in 1987.
The home’s current owner, also an accomplished architect, had become friendly with the Botts due to his appreciation of the home and often helped Eloise maintain it after Frank’s death. He has been an excellent custodian, maintaining—but not changing—the house, keeping it a wonderful time capsule. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bott Residence is a tour de force of Wright’s unique detail and design. The house stands today in amazingly similar condition as it was when Frank and Eloise Bott walked through the front door upon its completion in 1963. Yet another remarkable gem in Kansas City’s rich architectural history.