Frank Lloyd Wright House On Ridge Turns 50

Tuesday, December 17, 2002 - by John Shearer
Home on Missionary Ridge designed by famed architect. Click to enlarge.
Home on Missionary Ridge designed by famed architect. Click to enlarge.
- photo by John Shearer

A local architectural jewel is celebrating its golden anniversary this year.

The Missionary Ridge home of Seamour and Gerte Shavin at 334 N. Crest Road – the only residence in Chattanooga designed by world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright – was completed and moved into by the Shavins in June 1952.

The Shavins, who will be featured along with the home on a program on WTCI Channel 45 in early 2003, are actually among a dwindling number of original families across the country who are still living in a Wright home and who had personal contact with the architect as clients.

Mr. Shavin, whose career has included being in building materials sales, and Mrs. Shavin, a New York City native, had bought the panoramic ridge lot in the late 1940s and had planned on using a local architect. However, he moved out of town, so they eventually decided to write Mr. Wright for a recommendation. He wrote them back saying he would be glad to try to design it. At the time, Mr. Wright was designing a number of so-called Usonian homes for middle class families.

The Shavins ended up spending a couple of nights with him at his famed home, Taliesin, near Madison, Wis., and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. They found Mr. Wright totally at ease with himself and a man who had no air of pretension.

Although Mr. Wright, who died in 1959, did not visit the home during or after its construction, the Shavins did work closely with one of his apprentices.

The home, which looks like art as much as architecture and is uniquely both a sight to behold and cozy, features a kitchen, den and bathroom at the top of the hill, and sleeping areas down some stairs on the lower, or eastern, side of the hill. The den/living room is the focal point of the home. It features an unusual fireplace and plenty of glass in one corner to allow the eyes to wander both outside the home and around the interior.

Of course, that was part of the intention of Mr. Wright, said Mrs. Shavin. “The outside is framed from how the inside is,” she said. “He made sure he mitered every corner so your eyes see beyond the corner.”

Such unusual features continue to be a source of stimulation and enjoyment for the Shavins, despite the fact that they have lived in the home a half century. “Living in the house all these years has helped me understand what Wright’s intent was or what his philosophy of space was,” said Mrs. Shavin.

While the home has been emotionally exhilarating, it has not been a physically demanding house in which to live. Although any 50-year-old home requires upkeep, Mr. Shavin said that the crab orchard stone and treated Louisiana cypress wood of which the majority of the house is composed has had to have no maintenance over the years. The couple has not had to worry about repainting every few years, as is the case with most homes, he said.

A visit with the Shavins is pure entertainment for any serious student or admirer of the famed architect. The two do not focus so much on a chronology of the home’s history, but instead like to discuss what they believe Wright intended with the home. They can both discuss Wright on a very intellectual level.

They also gladly let interested people who write, call or simply drive by the house see the structure up close, and they certainly do not like to be put on any kind of pedestal themselves because they happen to live in a Wright home. In fact, they do not even care to have their picture taken in front of the house, as they believe that detracts from the scene.

Mr. Shavin said they were simply two people with a dream to live in a Wright house, even though they were of limited financial means. As a result, they encourage other people to dare to dream. “There is a sense that when there is an inner knowing of what you want, you will work hard to get it,” he said. “But when there is a question of if this is what I want, you end up floundering. There are people who settle for much less than what they want and then they remodel and remodel.”

The two are also firm believers that one must spend some time in a Wright home to get the full experience, rather than just touring one that has been turned into a museum.

“People will go in and ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ about the home and look at little corners,” said Mr. Shavin. “But the point is that you cannot take Mr. Wright apart. There is something about the continuity of Mr. Wright that is like life itself.”

Mrs. Shavin said she would feel intimidated living in a Wright home that has been restored to mint condition and also serves as a museum. She added that they had been concerned about what might happen to their home after they are no longer living in it, as she certainly does not want it turned into a museum.

But recently, their daughter, Karen Shavin, who now lives in Baltimore, has expressed an interest in inheriting the home and living in it.

So, the Shavins no longer have to worry about the future but can instead continue focusing on the present and letting their minds and eyes be stimulated by the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright.

“I have the feeling I am surrounded by great beauty,” said Mr. Shavin.



Graceful lines of Wright creation
Graceful lines of Wright creation
- Photo2 by John Shearer

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