Nearly everyone has heard of Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece Fallingwater, located in the beautiful Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania. A tour of the iconic home, which seems to grow out of its natural surroundings and is positioned over a waterfall, is a memorable experience. Not many, however, know of the unique property located a short 20-minute drive away called Polymath Park, where two more Wright-designed architectural homes are available, for not just tours but to spend an unforgettable overnight.
This 125-acre little piece of heaven in Laurel Highlands was acquired by Tom and Heather Papinchak with the dream of turning it into a preservation park. The forest park was originally intended to be a unique development designed by Wright apprentice, Peter Berndtson. Created in 1962, the plan allowed for 24 dwellings constructed in their own private 300-foot circular clearing in the woods. Only two houses, however, were actually built, the 1964 Balter House and the 1965 Blum House.
The Wright-designed Duncan House was moved from Illinois and carefully rebuilt in 2007. Jn April 2019, the latest addition, Mäntyla, meaning “of the pines," opened for tours and overnight lodging. Built for the Lindholm family of Cloquet, Minn., this beautiful home was donated to the non-profit Usonian Preservation, which was formed for experiential education purposes at Polymath Park. The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy along with Peter and Julene McKinney, (the previous owners of Mäntylä) worked to secure the house at Polymath Park.
All four of the Polymath homes are what Wright called "Usonian," meaning a livable and affordable design for the people of the “United States of North America.” The basic design was an L-shape, with a flat-roofed living room, kitchen, and dining area centered on a large fireplace. Designed in the 1930's, this low-cost, single-story home started at $15,000 and 1860 square feet. The components could be manufactured elsewhere, shipped anywhere in the country, and assembled in about four months. Native materials were also incorporated, as well as large cantilevered roof overhangs for passive solar heating and natural cooling, natural light and radiant floor heating. Although Wright envisioned thousands of them, fewer than 100 were made and not all have survived. That’s why this gathering of four homes in the beautiful Laurel Highlands is so special.
When the tour van first approaches the homes in the beautiful hardwood forest, they appear to have sprouted out of the ground for they blend in so well with their environment. The fames architect said, “No house should ever be on any hill or on anything. It should be of the hill, belonging to it, so hill and house could live together each the happier for the other.” Frank Lloyd Wright lined the outside walls with windows and glass doors, called “sheltering” walls or “light screens,” so “light, air and vista permeated the whole with a sense of unity, … and the inside and outside could relate.”
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the newest edition- the Mäntylä House, a “Grand” Usonian home, which stunningly showcases Wright's architectural traits and craftsmanship. With a larger footprint than the neighboring three, this home features a large variety of extreme angles that draw your attention to the surrounding natural world. Pines have been planted to mimic the original site and inside, an added gift- the collection of 1950's furnishings. To spend the night in a home such as this is deeply inspiring and is an opportunity found in very few places throughout the world.
In these days of green and sustainable buildings, Wright’s philosophy of “organic architecture” where the building should develop out of its natural surroundings and harmonize with their inhabitants and with their environment, resonates completely with the thinking of today. But Wright developed this style of architecture during the same time that Ford made his first automobile, and Orville and Wilbur Wright figured out flying, and women still could not vote, more than 100 years ago.
Wright was truly a visionary whose homes need to be preserved for future generations.
Indeed, the Papinchaks' goal of Polymath Park is preservation of these unique homes and perhaps future Wright structures if the opportunity arises.
Polymath Park offers an immersive experience from the tours, overnight stays, and dining at the award-winning onsite Tree Tops Restaurant. Through a collaborative partnership, Polymath Park tour tickets can be purchased at Fallingwater and on their website www.fallingwater.org.
For more information or to book an overnight stay, please call 1-877-833-STAY (7829) or visit www.polymathpark.com.
Polymath Park is 5 miles from the Donegal exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Proceeds from rentals go towards maintenance of the houses and to architectural education programs. Polymath Park is 23 miles from Fallingwater and 29 miles from Kentuck Knob, another of Wright's Grand Usonian homes.