A Story Waiting To Be Told
In the Frank House today, this seminal Gropius – Breuer vision is not only unchanged, it is also relatively undiscovered. While the family’s pivotal role in Pittsburgh cultural life made the home a focal point in the city’s arts and education community over the years, the Frank family has desired to maintain the home as a private residence until now. It was photographed by Ezra Stoller shortly after completion, and again recently by Richard Barnes for a feature article in Häuser, the European architectural magazine. J Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery of Art and considered the country’s unofficial minister of culture, described the house as “The Nation’s Crown Jewel.” Most recently, it has been the subject of extensive research for an upcoming book by Architecture and Design Chief Curator Barry Bergdoll of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and Harvard’s Graduate School of Design has devoted a course entirely to the Frank House.
But the full story of the Frank House is waiting to be told. Its unrivaled treasure of preserved modernist vision is yet to be shared.
To that end, the Alan I W Frank House Foundation has been formed and has received its favorable determination as a 501(c)(3) public charity. Its mission is to preserve this unique asset in architectural and national history for the education and delight of future generations and to give them a place to connect directly with the work of the master designers who created the look and feel of modern life.
``It is almost as if, for a historian of American modernism, a vault had been opened and one could step back more than a half-century. The fullness of the designer’s intent is virtually intact. There is not such another modern house in America for which one could make such a claim.``
— Barry Bergdoll
Former Chief Curator, Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
The Case for Preservation
Of all the important houses in the world, this is the one that remains unchanged from the day its owners first called it home. The history of architecture is full of stories of great designs that were either destroyed or drastically altered by wars, the whims of new owners, or other caprices of history. The Sommerfeld house, Gropius’s great residential commission in Germany in the 1920s, was destroyed in World War II, and Mies Van der Rohe’s Villa Tugenhadt in the Czech Republic was devastated during the same conflict.
At the same time, the statement of twentieth century architecture that is preserved with such faithfulness by the Frank House is one of the most important in the world. As if held timelessly in amber, the intact treasure of the Frank House’s design, its furnishings, and its prescription for a full and healthy life for an American family, can provide keys to our own past and our future.
In its integrity and the purity of its message, the Frank House stands alone. Yet it also stands in a precarious balance. The decades have taken their toll on perishable materials. The stress of Western Pennsylvania winters assaults the building, raising the need for maintenance to preserve the home’s aesthetic integrity. Time, energy and money must be invested to restore and maintain this house so that the possibility of voyaging back to the heroic days of American architecture is still possible generations hence.
In the late nineteen thirties, as America was struggling to free itself from the grip of the Great Depression, a fateful agreement was struck between two of the world’s greatest architects and a remarkably open, innovative and intellectually bold family. The outcome of that encounter was an internationally recognized masterpiece, a family home that nurtured three generations and, while doing so, helped establish the cultural and intellectual life of one of America’s great cities.
The design of this house and its environs was not a passive backdrop for these accomplishments. Rather, its tranquility, its sun, air and sky, and its capacity for delight – all of it – imbued each day of the family’s lives, and each event in its own history, with the modern energy that scripted the great American Century.
For a fraction of the cost of building a new museum or the purchase of a single painting, we have the opportunity to save this home and its message, with all of its clarity and hope, and pass it on to future generations. There is nothing comparable, anywhere. To wait much longer is to jeopardize it and dilute its historical and educational significance. To take action now is to help fulfill a promise begun nearly a century ago to offer a new path to better living in the modern age.