Chattanooga is unique for being one of the few cities or towns in the South featuring a home designed by the highly acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
And these days, the home at 334 N. Crest Road on Missionary Ridge is unique as well among Wright residences. The reason is that it is one of only a handful across the country still lived in by the original owner.
Since 1952, Gerte Shavin has resided in the structure she built with her husband, Seamour Shavin, who died in 2005.
“I’m still enjoying it, yes,” said Mrs. Shavin over the telephone recently.
Although a number of Wright houses were built in the years before the architect’s death in 1959 and shortly afterward, she is aware that she is part of a dwindling group.
“It’s going down,” she said. “The number of original Wright owners is dropping.”
Knowing her unusual role, Mrs. Shavin hopes in the near future to write down and document more of the history and some of her personal reflections of the home in which she now resides with her grandson, Zachary Crabtree.
She has already been doing that on an informal and oral basis, as she has tried to accommodate the various requests she occasionally receives from people interested in Mr. Wright and her home.
“I get calls,” she said. “I do enjoy some of the people who do come. I feel I owe it to Mr. Wright to show it to the people who are interested.
“It has an interest with my living in the house, so I’m glad to show it to people.”
And in contrast to many of the Wright homes that are now museums, Mrs. Shavin encourages visitors to sit down in the living room and get more of a feel for what living in the home is like. After all, that is how she experiences the home.
“It’s made for living, and how to differentiate between a house and a museum is a paradox you have to face,” she said. “It’s a house and a museum.”
All of this was likely not on the Shavins’ minds when they were simply making plans to build a home on the ridge lot six decades ago. But after a local architect they had planned on using moved out of town, Mr. and Mrs. Shavin wrote Mr. Wright on a whim.
They told Mr. Wright they liked his style and asked him if he had any local architect he could recommend. Mr. Wright told them he could try to design the home himself.
Mrs. Shavin and her husband went and spent a couple of nights with him at his famous home, Taliesin, near Madison, Wis., where they found a relaxed and unpretentious man who was at ease with himself.
Although Mr. Wright did not visit the home site before, during or after construction, the Shavins did work closely with one of his apprentices.
The Shavin home is considered of the Usonian style, which was developed by Mr. Wright at that time for middle-class families. The home features a den/living room – a focal point of the house – as well as a kitchen and bathroom on the top of the hill of the sloped lot. The bedrooms are down some stairs on the lower, or eastern, end.
Many Wright homes have been put into non-profit trusts and/or turned into museums, but Mrs. Shavin’s long-term plan is to pass the home along to her children.
“They will find a way of handling it,” she said. “They know how important it is, but you never know what comes up.”
The home is already on the National Register of Historic Places and is protected by a local historic zoning code, Mrs. Shavin said.
While the home’s exact future is still a little unclear, Mrs. Shavin is quite certain about its past and present.
“It’s been a wonderful part of my life,” she said. “I’ve come to understand it much more as I’ve grown older.”