Wright designed precious few hotels.
This was going to be a top 10 list, but to the chagrin of every student of architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright did not make 10 hotels. With over 500 projects to his credit, Wright designed precious few hotels. All but 2 have been completely demolished.
So without further delay here is my top 2 ways to stand in a Frank Lloyd Wright hotel lobby:
This would have to be the Park Inn Hotel in Mason City Iowa. Because, technically, it is the only Wright hotel that is complete and still in use today. It originally opened as a 41-room hotel with an accompanying bank in 1910. After decades of wear and tear, and a flurry of money and attention, the hotel was brought back to life and is now a 27-room hotel. It has incorporated the area that used to be the bank into additional modern hotel rooms. Compared to most Wright houses and buildings, The Park Inn lobby is not the kind of space that shouts, “Frank Lloyd Wright”. but you get a sense of his style and design.
However, this is a Japan blog, so I’m really going to focus on number 1.
The Tokyo Imperial Hotel lobby in Inuyama Japan. Right off the bat, I need to clarify a few things; Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel no longer exist in its entirety. And, it no longer exists in its original location. The original hotel opened in 1922 and took up 40 acres of land in central Tokyo near the Ginza district and Tokyo Station. After serving a long run as “the” hotel for a foreigner staying in Tokyo, it was demolished in 1968.
It would have never been seen again if it were not for two Japanese saviors named Dr. Yoshiro Taniguchi and Motou Tsuchikawa. They had the genius idea of saving it and any other significant building of the historic Meiji restoration period. They brought them all to a rural lake-front area of Inuyama Japan. There they set up Meiji-Mura; a park that shows off the fascinating era when western architects met Japanese builders to “modernize” the new Japanese Empire. It would have been nice to grab the whole Imperial Hotel, but the reality is that we are still lucky enough to be able to see its front lobby and pool.
A somewhat controversial building at the time, The Imperial was meant to be a mix of Japanese and western designs. During its initial reception it did not look Japanese or western, it looked like nothing anyone had ever seen before. Yet upon closer inspection there are Japanese patterns and designs incorporated into the smallest details, even down to the Wright designed China dinnerware. Its symmetrical layout, with left and right wings, were influenced by the winged shape of Kyoto’s Byodo-in temple (mostly known for being on the back of the ¥10 coin). Its overall shape slopes up from the sides and front to a central plateaued roof, mimicking one of japans most reverent symbols; Mt Fuji.
After the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 leveled all of Tokyo, The news was reported back to America that all of Tokyo had been leveled. Wright refused to believe that his building had been leveled, even after hearing the news from reporters. He told them it could not be true. Ten days later a telegram came from Tokyo, it read;
“Hotel stands undamaged as a monument to your genius”. Wright promptly showed it to the reporters and said effectively; “How do you like me now?”
It was truly a monument to his genius and the revolutionary design concepts he had stubbornly insisted on implementing. Things like seismic separation joints, cooper roof tiles, and the way he combined concrete and steel. He even built the hotel on a bed of mud, claiming it would be able to float during an earthquake. He talked them into more money for a front pool claiming that you could use the water to put out any fires. These all played a part in the Imperial Hotel standing tall after the earthquake. Including the pool actually being used to put the fires out. It was a key factor in reviving his somewhat stagnant domestic commissions.
I rank it the number 1 lobby over its only rival in Mason City for several reasons. It is true that the Historic Park Inn has been renovated and is a fully functioning hotel, but even a small slice of the massive 230 guest, twin-wing Imperial Hotel is enough to stop you in your tracks. With its long action-packed history, walking through the lobby is like walking through a slice of time. The hotel was the center of activity in Tokyo for most foreign visitors at the time. This is the lobby that hosted almost any foreign dignity that passed through Japan, as well as the likes of Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio.
So there it is: My top 2 ways to stand in a Frank Lloyd Wright hotel lobby. The list is short so I suggest you go and see both.
Park Inn lobby photo by Bobak Ha’Eri via wikipedia