Working With Alward Construction? [PART 11 of 13]

A story of a Frank Lloyd Wright Residence in the 21st Century


We were not long into the project when we developed a regular pattern of meeting on Friday afternoons at the end of the work day.  Maynard, Walter, Cregg and I met at 5:00.  Maynard was a punctual man and it was understood that 5:00, not 5:15 was the meeting time.  Cregg never put it on his time card and the clients were never charged.  There was no formal procedure.  We gathered and someone started.  Walter would often have a sample of something he wanted us to consider.  He was a genius at constructing samples of things as diverse as light fixtures, glazing details, sheet metal details, wood treatment.  If it was possible to build a model or create a sample, we could depend on Walter to provide one.  He used plastics, metals, glass, woods, leather.  He was clever and resourceful.  He almost always presented, either with or without accompanying models, detailed drawings of items requiring decisions or implementation.  The drawings might be full scale or half scale.  In the course of the project he might have produced more than 100 such full sheet drawings.  We might talk about up-coming problems or decisions, items that needed to be ordered, any manner of topics related to our mutual endeavor.  Our meeting often ended up with a glass or two of wine from Maynard’s vast wine cellar.   Wine was seldom imbibed without the presence of Katie.   Cregg had often left for home by this time. 

Some of these meetings were quite interesting with regards to the topics but whether or not the subject was of interest, the interpersonal dynamics were always interesting.   They, in turn, were often a topic at my Friday evening meals with my wife Barbara.  We were not too long into these weekly meetings when Barbara suggested we should invite Katie to join.  I thought it was a great idea, although I was a little embarrassed that I had unwittingly participated in this male chauvinist oversight.

At the next opportunity I asked Katie if she would like to join our meetings.  I halfway expected her to decline with some demur remark about it not being a women’s domain.  But in her typical straightforward style she replied, “Well, I guess I’m going to have to eat, sleep and cook in the place, I ought to have something to say about how it’s built.”  So she joined us.  I think “the boys” were a little taken aback, but it was obvious that there would be no turning back.

I kept track of our meetings with my pocket pad and pen which are always present in my shirt pocket.  They don’t take up much room and are there when I need them.  With a few short notes, I was able to capture almost all of the items discussed in our Friday meetings.  When I returned to the office, I typed them on my computer.  Each item in my pocket pad was numbered.  The numbers were continuous across successive meetings.  If the last item from the previous week was # 48, the first item on the following week would be #49.  At the next meeting, I distributed copies of the minutes.  To keep the list manageable, I kept two lists, one that contained all of the items and the other, containing only those that were still pertinent.  It was the latter that I shared.

In one of the earlier meetings that included Katie, she interjected into the discussion, at a point that boar no relationship to her intention, an observation that no one was prepared for.  Out of the blue she said, “you know, I always thought the house was kinda dark.  It’d be nice if there was a little more pink this time.” Everyone got it but nobody knew what to do with it.  I wrote it down on my pocket pad.  “More pink.”  It became item #53 and it remained on the list until almost the end of the project.  Hundreds of items came and went. They showed up on the list and then, as they were dealt with or became irrelevant, they left the current list.  But #53 stayed for ever, and on every meeting, everyone could see that the issue of pink had still not been dealt with.

There is a deep and thoughtful literature, full of articulate insight into the accomplishments and shortcomings of Wright’s architecture.  I doubt you’ll find, however, the expression, “not enough pink”.  But here it was, from one who really knew, from the most authoritative, from someone who had lived in a Wright house for 50 years, who had raised two babies to adulthood and fed and tended to an old-fashioned husband for 50 years.  For her the house was too dark and lacked a little pink.  It is hard to express what a shocking condition this introduced.  We were restoring a Wright residence where the palate of materials was classic and inviolate:  Cherokee red concrete, redwood, grey concrete block, glass.  That was it.  Maybe a touch or brass or copper, maybe a stone counter top or a white porcelain bathtub.  Where was the pink?   On the list, week after week; “more pink”. 

At some point, Sally Power, owner of Sally Power Interior Design of San Francisco, was hired.  She was, and continues to be, a friend of Betty Olds.  She worked with Walter to bring a little pink into the project.  She has since commented that her job was to persuade Walter and Maynard that what was actually pink, wasn’t and to persuade Katie that what wasn’t pink, was.  It was a delicate task but she carried it out masterfully.  The results showed up in a hexagonal rug for the living room, cushions and draperies for the living room, a long custom-made carpet strip for the gallery hallway.  In conjunction with Walter she designed an upholstered wainscot for the master bedroom.  Working with Walter on this assignment was not easy.  She reports that the only man that ever brought her to tears was Walter.

Keith R. Alward
November, 2011