The Prairie Skyscraper

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In the soft and green rolling hills of Osage County, described by TV’s Pioneer Woman as the ‘middle of nowhere’ is Bartlesville, Oklahoma: the oil capitol, headquarters of Phillips 66 and the location of Frank Lloyd Wright’s only skyscraper.

Price Tower, named for pipeline company owner Harold Price, is one of only 2 vertically oriented structures Wright built in a lifetime of low slung, horizontal buildings

A road trip detour, after I’d read about the Prairie project sent me to explore Osage County and check out Price Tower.

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It’s situated a little out of the original downtown. Not too close to other tall buildings and in a funky office neighborhood with company headquarters, old shopfronts and a noisy restaurant or two.

To see these lovely older buildings in Bartlesville, is to understand the power of the oil and gas industry in Northern Oklahoma. In 1904, just 7 years after the first well was dug, there were 150 oil companies with an office in Bartlesville!

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Price originally envisioned a one to four story structure, possibly designed by Cliff May who had already built a home for the family. His sons, however, were influenced by local architect Bruce Goff to get the absolute ‘best architect….Get Frank Lloyd Wright’.

After a phone consultation, and in the thrall of Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” the family traveled to Taliesin West in Phoenix where Harold was impressed to note that the house Wright had built was 35 years older but similarly modern to the family’s May home! FLW convinced them that a tower would cost no more per square foot than a small boxy office building, and pitched a multi use concept with rental office suites and apartments along with the corporate headquarters. Brilliant salesmanship.

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By late August 1952 with the site secured, Wright began work on the plans. It grew to a 19 story tower rising from green parklands and tree lined streets.The metaphor of “a tree that escaped the forest” was consistent with his use of green copper vertical shutters, and a tall slender structure. 

At the International Petroleum exposition in Tulsa, Wright unveiled a model and announced the project. The May 1953 event drew 250,000 visitors, many oil executives, fellow oil producers and Price’s clients. Lots of buzz.

Construction, with the inevitable cost overruns, was completed and the building opened to the public in February 1956.

It was the most famous new building in America, with visitors coming from around the world to see Wright’s Prairie skyscraper. Although tall buildings were nothing new, multi-use high rise offices and apartments, particularly outside  the major cities, were unusual.

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Visiting now, the coolest thing about Price Tower is that it contains a hotel, operated by the non profit that runs the building and adjoining art center (designed by Zaha Hadid). Not luxurious but a singular Oklahomey Frank Lloyd Wright experience with a ‘behind the scenes’ docent tour as part of the deal.

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So you stay in one of the corner suites, travel in one of the 4 minuscule triangular elevators ( 2 people and a small suitcase max!) and then hang out in the Copper Bar and cocktail as the sun sets over the prairie. The crowd is eclectic…lots of young IT professionals who work for Phillips 66, design aficionados who drive to Bartlesville specifically to stay in and photograph the building and itinerant academics and workers who are tired of the hotel chains. 

Over Manhattans we met a Navajo linguist who gave us a list of out of the way sites to explore, visitors from Tulsa celebrating an anniversary and sharing lots of Osage legend: like where George Clooney liked to eat during the filming of “Osage County” ( Frank and Lola’s), what the Pioneer Woman is REALLY like, how the Tom Mix museum is the most fun museum in the county and be sure not to miss the Bison Preserves.

So much good stuff!

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http://www.pricetower.org

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Gateway Arch….really big public art.

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As soon as I knew I was going to a conference in Milwaukee, I pulled out the road maps and started dreaming.

Too many things on my “to do list of life” list located in the Mid West, so it was hard to decide what I could fit in and where I could go.

Images of the Arch, and the Mississippi,  and an old Nelly interview floated thru my mind…

I decided to fly in to Chicago, get a rental car and do a driving pilgrimage to St Louis .

 

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I didn’t know what I would find and as I drove down the interstate towards St Louis, in grey skies and drizzly rain I wondered, would I see it as I drove in?

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Yes!

There it was.Gleaming and soaring above a subdued downtown, emerging from a parkland forest of trees and on the west bank of the Mississippi River, the site of the founding of St Louis.

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A sculpture and symbol of all that I love about America. The dynamism and optimism that propelled settlers across the continent. 630′ of soaring, stainless steel symbolizing Westward expansion.

Remarkable in so many ways, not the least the fantastic decision to create a huge, dramatic piece of public art.

Where else? Mt Rushmore?

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Designed by Eero Sarrinen, Finnish-American architect and industrial designer, and Hannskarl Bandarl, a German-American engineer.

Saarinen, now famous for his futuristic structural curves and precise simplicity in buildings,  monuments and furniture, won the design prize after competing with his father.His first win!

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Work commenced in 1963 and it opened to the public in 1967. It cost $13 million dollars ….around $175 million today, 50 years later.

More than 4 million people a year visit the site , many taking the claustrophobic tram inside to the top.Not me …just a visit to the museum and a lazy hour wandering the parkland and gazing up.

No surprise that St Louis is home to other smaller sculpture and public art spaces ( the Serra Scupture park and Citygarden).

The timeless innovative design and simple beauty of Gateway Arch , “reflective in sunshine,soft and pewterish in mist,crisp as a line drawing one minute, chimerical the next” exceeded any and all my expectations and creates marvel and awe in everyone who visits.

 

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Georgia territory

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Abiquiu in Northern New Mexico is the place where Georgia O’Keeffe lived and painted.

“When I got to New Mexico, that was mine.As soon as I saw it , that was my country”

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The stunning, stark beauty of the high desert landscape had been her inspiration since her first visit in 1929.For 20 years she travelled from New York to Abiquiu each summer, often staying for six months in solitude, to paint the skies and desert, colored rock formations, distant mountains and Chama  river valley.

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Smaller found objects like bleached bones and rocks, exotic cactus flowers and the wood and adobe structures also found their way onto her canvases. Three years after her husband’s death she moved permanently to New Mexico and eventually owned two homes .

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The first in Ghost Ranch, was high and secluded. Nestled beneath 700-foot cliffs it looked over to the flat-topped Pedernal. “Pedernal is my private mountain” she said frequently.”God told me if I painted it enough I could have it.”

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The second, initially used as her winter residence, was in the small town of Abiquiu at an elevation  of 6400′ and overlooked the Chama River with its  green trees and fields.

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Both locations surrounded her with a wealth of imagery for her paintings.

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Visiting Abiquiu over Christmas I was struck at each turn of the road  how recognizable the landscape is because of our familiarity with O’Keeffe’s work.

Driving north towards Ghost Ranch we knew we were getting close when Chimney Rocks came into sight.

Photographs taken quickly (with the phone!) out the window of the car amazed us with their color and clarity. Georgia O’Keeffe was quoted as saying that most of her art was done in New Mexico before she put her brushes to the canvas.

There is almost no tourist infrastructure in Abiquiu. An Inn with a small but good restaurant. A road house /gas station famous for breakfast burritos. Georgia’s home in town is only open for tours in the warmer months and her home at Ghost Ranch can only be toured via enquiries at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. Ghost Ranch, now owned by the Presbyterian Church is a retreat, conference center,geology museum and place of learning.Each year there are hundreds of classes to take, many residential.

What is there and intensely accessible, are breathtaking vistas that shock. Skies that amaze with crystalline blue beauty, the whitest clouds and nearly every night billions of sparkly stars.Every road takes you somewhere you want to explore:cliff dwellings, pueblos, monasteries and churches, rocks and petroglyphs and tiny adobe hamlets.

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We rented a little stone house and pinched ourselves every morning when we looked out the windows, across Georgia’s valley.

State of Enchantment , as marked on the car number plates…not really a cliche!

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http://www.okeeffemuseum.org

http://www.GhostRanch.org

http://www.abiquiuinn.com

Salvation Mountain

 

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2 hours south of Palm Springs, on the desolate eastern shore of Salton Sea, there’s remnants of a WW2 facility called Slab City.

Home to snowbirds and squatters, families on hard times and eccentrics,
it’s now famous as the home of Salvation Mountain, one man’s 30 year celebration of faith.

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Desert detritus, (adobe, house paint, rocks, sticks and straw) fashioned to his greater good, Salvation Mountain attracts visitors from across the globe and casts a spell on all who visit.

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Created by Leonard Knight , the installation is 3 stories high and 100′ wide…a swath of technicolor love.Cameoed in ‘Into the Wild” Leonard shares his belief in God and Love and tells the story of his conversion, his place in the world and his love for this remote, rundown location.  

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Described by Barbara Boxer, California’s Congresswoman as ” a unique and visionary sculpture. A national treasure, profoundly strange and beautifully accessible”.

It’s open from dawn till dusk everyday.

Not so far from Los Angeles….but a kindred surreal experience given the history of Salton Sea, the brilliant and disconcerting mash up of present day Palm Springs and the harsh Coachella landscape, and the lovely poignancy of this outsider artist and his legacy of love.

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http://www.salvationmountain.org

Mission Inn

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How many times did I fly by on the 91, intent only on Palm Springs grooviness?

Impatient for warm breezes, misting margarita nights and mid century fabulousness?

It took a visiting friend, and the chance to show off a piece of Ron and Nancy Reagan trivia that finally turned me off the freeway and into historic downtown Riverside. Home of the amazing Mission Inn.

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The Inn occupies an entire city block. A fantastical melange of arcades and gardens and turrets and towers, it started life as a 12 room boarding house in 1876 and was “completed” in 1931.

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Over the years guest wings were added, along with cloistered walkways and gardens, music rooms and galleries, chapels, spanish patios, towers and restaurants and it became a major tourist destination for wealthy east coasters and europeans.

During the 30 plus year construction the eccentric & visionary owner, Frank Miller traveled the world, collecting treasures and now the artifacts have been valued at over $5 million.

Days Inn it is not!

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The St. Francis Chapel has 4 four huge Tiffany stained-glass windows and two original mosaics. The “Rayas Altar” is 25′ by 16′ across, carved from cedar and completely covered in gold leaf. And in the  “Garden of Bells,” Miller collected 800 bells, including one from the year 1247 described as the “oldest bell in Christendom.”

There are so many artisan touches it’s an instagram blowout: spanish tiles, iron gates, chandeliers, windows, art and antiques.

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To drop in is to experience a truly unique historic hotel.

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Ignore the valet parking and park just down the street.This re energized downtown is full of historic Californian architecture and it’s shaded streets and businesses are the cultural, urban hub of the Inland Empire.

With temperatures well above a hundred in summer, the cool, dark lobby and umbrellared courtyards are a perfect respite ….. the cafes are lovely.

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It’s worth bypassing the outlets or leaving just a little earlier to allocate a gracious hour on your way home from the desert especially if you can’t bring yourself to pull over enroute to Palm Springs!

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ps: Richard and Pat Nixon married at the Mission Inn and Nancy and Ronnie honeymooned there.

Rock Anthem Power Ballad

journey-unauthorized Hard to believe I had missed a whole school of music, and one amazing song in particular… Lots of Oz Rock (and that’s an Encyclopedia of Greatness), West Coast sound, Dance and Trance, hearing the Sex Pistols and knowing, in that moment, everything had changed .

So I moved to London.Hung out in clubs and pubs, danced and devoured everything the UK music scene could offer.

Saw The Clash, The Specials, UB40, Siouxsie and the Banshees, XTC, Black Uhuru, The Pretenders,Elvis C, Graham P, U2 ( when Bono was plump) and pilgrimaged wherever The Jam went. Epic nights of music .

A decade later, a marriage and move to LA, it took freeways, interstates and local radio to beat me into submission….

YOU WILL LOVE BIG AMERICAN STADIUM ROCK

YOU WILL SING POWER BALLADS AT THE TOP OF YOUR LUNGS ..

YOU WILL THINK DON’T STOP BELEIVIN’ IS THE GREATEST SONG EVER WRITTEN.

In spite of a preference for West Coast road trips it’s hard to argue with the big and loud and wide and deep of commercial radio in the midwest. An the incredible power ballad gorge-a-thon when you drive from Milwaukee to St Louis, to Detroit and Cleveland and Chicago.

The genre kills: inescapable, emotional, ubiquitous .Journey with skinny Steve Perry screaming “Don’t Stop Believin” is the rallying, pump-up song for the White Sox, the Dodgers and nearly every second high school football team.

It’s the best selling song in digital download history ( until Imagine Dragons”Radioactive”…yuk)

Released in 1981, I missed it first time around.Apparently it reached only 100 on the Aussie charts, just a little better in the UK.

Described somewhat sourly by music critics as a “Kareoke Pop Ballad” .You’ve got to be kidding!?! Who can sing it like Steve Perry? I like the Jezebels Triple J version , but it’s a little knowingly hipsterish and twee, love the Glee cast rendition ( you tube people) and can’t believe I found a thumpy amped up dance version downloaded in my library ( tequila?)

I forget how much I love it when I”m just living my regular,day to day SoCal life .

Steve, Journey and The Song fade into a mushy background like books I read long ago or old boyfriends.

However, I’m reminded of Al Gore’s wry comment describing “winners, losers and that lesser known, third category”.

Song as Olympic Games opener anyone?

Season 2 finale of Lillehammer and Trond Fausa Avrag’s heartbreakingly vulnerable Torgei tries out for the local production of Glee…

“Just a small town girl

Livin’ in a lonely world

She took the midnight train

Goin’ any where

Just a city boy

Born and raised in South Detroit

He took the midnight train

Goin’ any where

A singer in a smokey room

The smell of wine and cheap perfume

For a smile they can share the night

It goes on and on and on and on

Don’t stop believin”