Frank Lloyd Wright left behind an architectural legacy appreciated around the world long after his death 55 years ago. Over the course of his seventy-year career, Wright designed over 1,000 projects and realized almost 500. Many of the houses he designed have become preserved monuments to that legacy—even after they have burned down, their eerie remains have served as a memorial to the architect. However, some of the works, and their inhabitants, have been less fortunate. Even Wright himself suffered great tragedy at his own home—and he was never the same.
The following houses have set the scenes for mass murders, sensationalized screenplays, and honest mistakes with huge fall-outs.
Taliesin, located on a 600-acre plot of land in Spring Green, Wis., became a safe haven for Wright and Martha “Mamah” Borthwick Cheney when headlines surfaced about their affair. After moving in during the winter of 1911, the couple and Cheney’s children, John and Martha, enjoyed a life filled intellectual hobbies such as Japanese art, and translating Swedish literature. Unfortunately, this came to a gruesome end in August 1914, when Julian Carlton, a 31-year-old man from Barbados who came to work for them as a chef and servant, lit the residential area of Taliesin on fire and then murdered Borthwick, her two children, and four others with an axe and lit some of the bodies on fire. One of the estate’s workers was able to save Wright’s studio by alerting neighbors and dousing the fire with a hose. Wright was away in Chicago completing the Midway Gardens. Devastated by the tragedy, Wright promised to rebuild Taliesin in the spirit of Mamah, but did not return for nearly a decade after completing the renovation. According to Robert Twombly, who wrote Wright's biography, the architect and his work were never the same.
Completed in 1924 in Los Feliz, Calif., for Charles Ennis, a men’s department store owner with an enthusiasm in Mayan art and architecture, the house is considered a perfect example of domestic Mayan Revival architecture and one of Wright’s masterpieces. The house has taken several beatings, first in the 1994 Northridge earthquake and then from torrential rains in 2004, and has since been bought by a private owner to maintain its costly structure. But before that, it was envisioned as the background for House on a Haunted Hill, a classic horror film made in 1959 directed by William Castle, notoriously regarded for his B-rated movies. The plot focuses on a sadistic millionaire, played by Vincent Price, who lures five guests to spend the night in his haunted house with a large cash prize if they survive a night. The Ennis House earned additional film credits when its exterior was set as a mansion occupied by evil vampires in the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and again when its interior was used as the apartment of decidedly-less-evil Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) in Blade Runner.
Susan Lawrence Dana was an admired, independent woman in Springfield, Ill., who inherited a large fortune from her father, a military goods salesman during the Civil War. Although Susan’s life may have seemed complete to an outsider, her personal life was stricken with the deaths of two infant children, her first and second husbands, and a cousin with whom she lived with. However, in 1902 she focused her energies on building a large home for entertaining with the help of Wright, then a young architect who was starting to make a name for himself. A strong believer in aesthetics enhancing one’s personal life, she gave Wright the opportunity to design both her home and the furniture with a blank check in the form of endless funds inherited from her family fortune. But her lavish spending ended up being her demise: unable to maintain her lifestyle, she allegedly spoke to the occult and hosted séances to seek advice on how to handle her money. Eventually, Dana’s personal belongings had to be sold to cover her debts, and she was forced to live in a cabin behind the house. When it came to the house and furniture, no one was interested because people considered them “too odd and uncomfortable.” However, Charles Thomas, a publisher, purchased the house and its contents in 1944 and used it for offices of his company. Dana spent her last years hospitalized for insanity, and died in 1946. The state of Illinois bought the house from Thomas in 1981, restored it to its former glory with all of its original contents, and renamed it the Dana-Thomas house to honor both the owners.
Rose Pauson commissioned this Phoenix home, completed in 1940, from Wright as a winter getaway from her native San Francisco. However, Rose and her sister Gertrude only lived in the two-story home for a season, because it burned to the ground when an ember blew into a curtain in 1942. The remains of the house were left untouched for nearly thirty years, making it a hangout spot for youth and garnering the name “Ship Rock,” because the eerie remains of the chimney resembled a ship’s mast. What was left of the house was documented in a Historic Americans Building Survey, and the chimney was moved south to the entry of the Alta Vista subdivision as a landmark. In 2012, the chimney crumbled, leaving no remains of the Pauson House.