Alabama’s only Frank Lloyd Wright home houses history

Alabama’s only Frank Lloyd Wright home houses history
The Rosenbaum House, now open to the public, displays Frank Lloyd Wright's characteristic approach to architecture -- lots of open space, lots of doors, lots of windows, lots of light. (Karim Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)

Alvin Rosenbaum had a childhood some people dream about.

His family’s home was designed by none other than America’s most celebrated architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

His room, like every other room in the house, had a door to the outside. He would sneak out and walk to town, buy a cherry Coke for a nickel, look through comic books, then come back to his room without anyone knowing he was gone.

You couldn’t have drawn it up better for a young fellow. His house was also a tourist magnet.

“It drew an international, curious audience, so anybody who was in town for a conference or a lecture usually wound up here for a visit,” Rosenbaum said. “The world came to us in some ways. We had many interesting visitors.”

Architecture critic Peter Blake wrote in 1960 that “during the 1930s, Wright built four structures of a beauty unexcelled in America before or since.” Three on his list were Fallingwater, the Johnson Wax Administration Building and Taliesin West. The fourth was the Rosenbaum House.

Florence’s Rosenbaum House is Alabama’s connection to Frank Lloyd Wright from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Wright is considered the most revered American architect of the 20th century. Over his 90 years, Wright designed homes, hotels, office buildings, museums, schools, churches, chapels, synagogues – even a doghouse.

The Rosenbaum House in Florence remains one of the most intriguing structures Wright ever designed. The home greets visitors with a dark, tight entryway, but after a couple of steps you are in the midst of ample light and space. The living room has a wall of glass facing the backyard.

Even as a child, Rosenbaum had a feeling he lived in a famous house. How famous?

“It was in an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York only six weeks after it was finished,” Rosenbaum said. “I went off to boarding school in Birmingham in 1961, so I haven’t lived full time in this house since then. My mother stayed in the house and we set up a foundation in 1990 to help protect the house and figure out what to do when she was gone. In 1999 we gave the house to the city of Florence.”

Rosenbaum loves his relationship to the famous house, which is now open to the public. Anyone can tour the home and learn about the genius of Wright.

“I am delighted that we have lots of visitors here,” he said. “There is a whole range of feelings. It looks very different now because I was a mess and had a lot of books. The actual living experience is very different from the museum experience.”

The home is open for tours every Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Site director Jeff Ford curates the museum.

“The Rosenbaum House is a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Usonian house that was constructed between January and August of 1940. It is one of his first 12 houses,” he said. “Usonian houses were conceived by Wright as being a starter home for young married couples of the late Depression era.”

Ford is a walking encyclopedia of all things Wright. He tells stories about the famous architect while he’s walking groups through the home.

“It is unique because it is entirely different than what came before in American architecture,” he said. “Wright’s idea was that what he did for the rich and famous, he could do for the 99 percent of people who normally would not hire an architect.”

For Rosenbaum, growing up in a Frank Lloyd Wright house will remain his claim to fame. Today he can’t get a Cherry Coke for a nickel, or read comic books for free at the drug store, but he can tell people about growing up in a childhood made of dreams.

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