Cruising on the Internet, I just accessed on the PBS website a photograph that purports to be an exterior view of the Usonian house that I grew up in, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, in Florence, Alabama. I got there by following a link on the Wikipedia entry for “Stanley Rosenbaum Residence”—an entry that incidentally includes an accurate view of the exterior, reproduced directly below:
I know my memory isn’t playing tricks on me—not only because I know the house by heart, after living there for the first 16 years of my life, but also because I visited it quite recently, earlier this month. The first photograph is clearly the exterior of another, albeit quite similar, Wright house, and I’m sorry that I’m not enough of a Wright expert (as my brother Alvin is) to be able to identify it precisely. If you look closely at the row of glass doors on the left in the second photograph, you can barely see the thin line of a stone terrace just underneath them that is remarkably similar to the one seen much more clearly in the top photograph that juts to the right in a diagonal line and then ends, with three steps just below it. There are also steps just below the terrace in the Rosenbaum house, but they’re not visible in the second photograph. Moreover, the two sets of four glass doors on the right—which used to be the doors to my own room and my parents’ room, respectively—belong to a separate wing that has no counterpart in the top photograph. (Complicating matters somewhat further is the fact that this is what most people would call the “back” exterior of both houses, but something Wright, with his fetishizing of privacy, would have called the “front” exterior.)
The strange part of this is that the first photograph registers to me like the kind of “realistic” distortion one might experience in a dream, almost (but not quite) as if the photograph were printed in reverse. I’m not sure how this other house found its way into the archives of the Florence Board of Tourism, which keeps the house open for public tours (and has done so ever since it was restored by the city several years ago), but the similarity to the Rosenbaum house is uncanny—almost as uncanny to me as the differences.
P.S. For a better and closer view of the terrace of the Rosenbaum house, see the photograph on page 18 of Alvin’s excellent book, Usonia: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Design for America (1993). [3/24/09]