An event in July halfway around the world could have an impact on tourism in Fayette County.
From July 10-20, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Committee will meet in Istanbul, Turkey, to consider adding 10 works by architect Frank Lloyd Wright to a list of 1,007 World Heritage sites, 22 of which are in the United States.
It could be the culmination of efforts that came to light on Jan. 30, 2015, with an announcement by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.
“Frank Lloyd Wright is widely considered to be the greatest American architect of the 20th century,” Jewell said. “His works are a highly valued and uniquely American contribution to the world’s architectural heritage.”
If approved in Istanbul it would be the first World Heritage listing for the United States in the field of modern architecture. The Wright works would join such examples as the Sydney Opera House, the Brazilian capital city of Brasilia and the Bauhaus School in Germany.
“It’s the highest honor a site can get, cultural or natural,” said Lynda S. Waggoner, vice president of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and director for the past 20 years of Fallingwater, the Mill Run home designed by Wright for Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann of Pittsburgh.
The home was built between 1936 and 1938 over a 30-foot waterfall, with an adjacent guest house built in 1939. It was in an area where the Kaufmanns provided a summer camp for employees of what then was the family’s department store chain, including its well-known flagship in downtown Pittsburgh.
Fallingwater cost $155,000 to build in 1930s dollars – or about $2.5 million in 2016.
It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1966, three years after Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann’s son Edgar Jr. donated Fallingwater to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
And it is on a list of 10 buildings Wright designed between 1905 and 1957, two years before his death, submitted for consideration by the UNESCO panel.
Other Wright-designed landmarks on the list range from the Unitarian Universalist Unity Temple in Oak Park, Ill., to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City to the Marin County Civic Center in California.
“We had to write that nomination, which was over 400 pages long,” Waggoner said. “It was read by a number of people to make sure we caught what we thought. It took us a couple years just to write the nomination.”
It was a careful effort by a woman who may know Fallingwater as well as anyone. She grew up in nearby Farmington, was a tour guide there in her high school days, then returned to Fallingwater in 1985 as a consultant, before becoming full-time curator in 1986 and site administrator in 1987.
Among her other achievements Waggoner is past president of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, past vice president of the Greater Pittsburgh Museum Council and past chairman of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.
“In the United States there are relatively few cultural sites,” Waggoner said, comparing the paucity here with what can be found overseas, from the pyramids in Egypt to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites in the United States largely includes natural landmarks, such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina or Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Cultural landmarks include Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Statue of Liberty in New York and Monticello in Virginia.
The Fallingwater director said UNESCO recognition could increase the popularity already found there from overseas, if Fallingwater and the other Frank Lloyd Wright works are added to a United Nations list visitors use in their travel plans.
“We have 165,000 people (per year) visiting Fallingwater,” Waggoner said. “For 74 percent of them they are coming at least four hours to come here and they stay overnight.”
However, she’s ready to resubmit a nomination if the UNESCO panel turns down the Wright entry.
“You never know,” Waggoner said. “Of the other famous site, many of them have come up two or three times before they are inscribed (on the World Heritage list). It is a panel of countries from all over the world that reviews these nominations.”
More of the impact of the Kaufmann family can be found in a new exhibition at Fallingwater.