Fawcett House of Los Banos

FLWright's design on valley farmland gets first-hand expertise in awarded restoration
Fridays on the Homefront
The award-winning restoration of the Fawcett House (above), a Frank Lloyd Wright design built on Los Banos farmland in 1959, will be feted at two awards banquets in October, one hosted by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, the other by the California Preservation Foundation. All Fawcett House photos: David Swann Photography
Fridays on the Homefront
Fridays on the Homefront
Arthur Dyson, Fawcett House's restoration architect.
Fridays on the Homefront

The back story to preservation awards being showered this fall on a Frank Lloyd Wright home starts with a California country squire and his wife seeking out the master to design something unusual for him: a farmhouse.

"It's one of the better works that he did, I think, and one of the least known," says longtime Fresno architect Arthur Dyson, who designed the lauded restoration of the Fawcett House in Los Banos. "It's very different than any of his other homes…It's probably the only real farmhouse he did, the only one in California at least."

One would think Dyson should know, having started his career in 1958 as a teenaged fellow at Wright's Taliesin West institute in Arizona and serving as its dean from 1999 to 2002.

The preservation work on the Fawcett House will be feted at awards banquets October 5 and 18, respectively hosted in Los Angeles by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and in San Francisco by the California Preservation Foundation.

Another admirer of the Fawcett House is also being honored that night by the conservancy—Wright scholar Henry Whiting II, who interviewed Randall ‘Buck' Fawcett about the house in 2002 and also married his daughter. Whiting wrote a charming memoir about the 1959 home that tells of Buck and wife Harriet taking snapshots of the Fawcett ranch to show Wright in Arizona.

"As Wright was thumbing through the photographs," Whiting writes, "he said, ‘Not much beauty there.' Buck replied, ‘Actually, Mr. Wright, the Central Valley of California contains the most fertile agricultural land in the world, and you should consider it an honor to build a house there!"

After this somewhat rocky start, the architect-client relationship grew, says Whiting, as was the case with eight other couples he has interviewed about working with the master. Ultimately, Whiting wrote, "the commonly-held myth [that Wright was]…intractable and impossible to work with was belied" and the experience was "unanimously a high point of their life."

Wright designed one of his Usonian homes for the former Los Banos and Stanford football hero Buck Fawcett and wife Harriet that was oriented to shield from valley heat and wind, but provided views of the coastal mountain range to the west.