Thanks to the industrial revolution and guys like Andrew Carnegie and Westinghouse, Pittsburgh has it’s share of big, beautiful houses.
To the north is Heartwood Acres, erected and paid for with money from the lumber trade in 1927 by John and Mary Flinn Lawrence.
Henry Clay and Helen Frick turned a modest home in Point-Breeze into Clayton, one of our great historic homes.
Falling Water and Kentuck Knob grace the Laurel Highlands thanks to Edgar Kaufmann and I.N. and Bernadine Hagan. who knew ice cream could get you a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
There is one other. In my opinion, the best kept secret and greatest jewel of local architecture or in fact of architecture anywhere.
The Alan I W Frank House is a private residence in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, designed by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius and partner Marcel Breuer, two of the pioneering masters of 20th-century architecture. This spacious, multi-level residence and its furnishings and landscaping were created by Gropius and Breuer as Gesamtkunstwerk or a ‘Total work of art.’ In size and completeness, it is unrivaled. It was their most important residential commission, and it is virtually the same today as when it was built in 1939-40, original and authentic.
With four levels of living space and an indoor swimming pool, the main building encloses 12,000 square feet, complete with curved glass facade, nine bedrooms and 13 bathrooms. Including the five terraces that are part of the house and the rooftop dance floor, the floor plan totals 17,000 square feet. The stonework of the exterior walls and the dramatic entry of this innovative house suggest a detailed and richly textured building. Inside, graceful curves prevail; walls are paneled with warm pearwood, English sycamore, and redwood, or are travertine or stone.
The Frank House took shape in 1939-40 as the grand family home of Cecelia and Robert Frank, the third generation of Pittsburgh industrialists in his family, who had founded and was building a new company, Copperweld Steel. An engineer and inventor, Robert Frank was open to new ideas, including modern architecture. As his family grew, Robert and his wife Cecelia started planning a new home.
Cecelia and Robert considered Walter Gropius, who had recently come to the United States and become head of Harvard’s Department of Architecture, to be the world’s leading architect. When Gropius came to Pittsburgh to give a talk, Robert attended. Interested in what the new architecture could achieve and its potential to realize their ideals — Cecelia, Robert and their young son Alan met with the architect at his office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and visited Gropius home in Lincoln. Long letters followed the meetings, and a collaboration was formed.
Robert Frank contributed significantly to the project as an engaged architectural client. His and Cecelia’s correspondence with the architects runs to hundreds of pages. During design and construction, suggestions, instructions and queries sometimes filled three eight-page, single-spaced typewritten letters a week.
Gropius and Breuer came to Pittsburgh many times during the project, first to look at various pieces of land that were for sale, and then repeatedly throughout construction. Cecelia and Robert contracted with a leading national construction company to do the building, and arranged for Pittsburgh architect Dahlen Ritchey, who had been a promising student of Gropius at Harvard, to supervise the construction.
The project was completed in 1940. It became, as one scholar describes it, “a machine for living,” especially for healthy, comfortable living. Its sunlit rooms, outdoor terraces and indoor pool provided a warm and friendly environment in which to raise a young family. In addition to its advanced architecture and furnishings, the home incorporated an integral system for cleaning air, an innovative internal phone and light signal system, built-in projection equipment to turn the recreation room into a movie theater, lightning rod systems made of Robert Frank’s Copperweld, and a heating and cooling system that used the water from the indoor swimming pool for thermal management and energy conservation.
In 1941 the home was profiled in Architectural Forum. Photos were taken of the home and furnishings by renowned architectural photographer Ezra Stoller. In the decades that followed, the home fulfilled its promise as an environment designed for family life, and Cecelia’s active involvement with the Pittsburgh arts and education communities made the home a well-known site for cultural and social events.
I can not wait for this place to open to the public to tour. I’ll be the first in line.