Frank Lloyd Wright once had ambitious plans to develop a summer resort at Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe, but those plans fell through due to lack of financial backing.
Some of Wright's extant designs, including four drawings, and a contemporary model of his plans help to shed light on his proposed "Summer Colony." These plans on now on display at the Nevada Museum of Art and can be seen in Gallery 8, called "Rise of the Resort," which is a small portion of the larger exhibit, "Tahoe: A Visual History" that runs through Jan. 10.
"In the early 1920s, (Wright) did propose a resort around Emerald Bay," said Alan Hess, a Los Angeles-based architect and author of four books on Frank Lloyd Wright, whom the museum consulted with about some of Wright's contributions. "Emerald Bay, of course, has Vikingsholm (Castle), so this would have been before that was built. He was proposing this to a wealthy person as a money-maker and resort."
Wright's Lake Tahoe resort was to feature buildings and cabins on the land and on the north side of Emerald Bay, Hess said. The area was steep, and Wright's designs reflected this steepness, including in the plans for steep roofs that would help to keep off snow.
Wright also designed several floating barges for the water that would have had cabins on them, creating a romantic setting closely embedded in nature. Other cabins would have been scattered across the hillside, draped in among the pines. Overall, Wright designed six to 10 specific buildings as part of the colony, Hess said.
"Frank Lloyd Wright was always very conscious of nature, and the sun and the climate and the winds and so forth," he said.
Hess described Wright as a very talented drawer, particularly in his use of colors and lines. He also said that Wright was influenced by Japanese prints as well.
"Wright had an understanding of nature, and (his Summer Colony) designs blend with that spectacular natural setting better than 95 percent of what is being built in Tahoe today," Hess said. "He thought of nature as being spiritual and these drawings really reflect that spirituality, I think."
Although Wright worked on his plans for a couple of years, he never received the financial backing to put them into fruition. This was during a slow period in his life, according to Hess. Similarly, in subsequent years, Wright worked on a resort project for development in Chandler, Ariz., but this, too, remained in plan form due to lack of financial backing.
"At this time, his career was on the skids," Hess said. "He had made a big splash in the 1910s and 1920s, but by this time (1923), he was kind of considered old-fashioned. He was starting to do a lot of different things to have jobs. He would propose different large projects to wealthy developers and (the Summer Colony) was one of them."
Wright's actual work extends from the 1890s to 1959, which is the year that he died. Much of his work from this time span, including projects and drawings, are housed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Hess said.
During this slower period in his life, Wright developed the Taliesin schools, building one in Wisconsin and another in Arizona, but things did turn around for the Wisconsin-born man after he built Fallingwater in Pennsylvania in 1936.
"He always had ideas," Hess said. "Once Fallingwater was built, he just exploded onto the world architectural stage. Everyone was awed by it and then he was back on top and then all sorts of commissions started pouring in."
This included the Johnson Wax headquarters in Racine, Wis., numerous buildings at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Fla., and, of course, the Guggenheim in New York. He also designed and built houses all over the country. While he had an office in San Francisco in the 1940s and 1950s, he never again re-envisioned a project at Lake Tahoe, as far as Hess knows. Had he built the Summer Colony, it would have been just as beautiful as Fallingwater, Hess said.