The Pennsylvania Resort Where You Can Rent a Frank Lloyd Wright House

PunkToad, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
PunkToad, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Eighteen years ago, Thomas and Heather Papinchak purchased a home near Acme, Pennsylvania, as a quiet retreat in the woods. They didn’t know that just a half-mile away were two underappreciated houses with an incredible design legacy: They were built by Frank Lloyd Wright's protégé Peter Berndtson in Wright’s signature Usonian style. Thomas Papinchak, a building contractor, only discovered the homes when some college students threw a rowdy party there and the noise caught his attention.

The couple were already fans of Wright’s iconic architecture, and when the two houses were offered for sale three years later, the Papinchaks snapped them up. That marked the beginning of Polymath Park, a resort where guests can book overnight stays in not just these two houses, but two more designed by Wright himself that have been moved to the southwestern Pennsylvania property.

A USONIAN OASIS

In the 1960s, two prominent Pittsburgh families, the Blums and the Balters, were looking to build summer homes near each other about 40 miles outside the city. Harry Blum was a partner in his family’s metalworking company, Blumcraft of Pittsburgh; James Balter was president of the Morris Paper Company, a leading Pittsburgh firm started by his father. Both were members of the same social circle as Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann, who had commissioned Wright to design his most famous residential work, Fallingwater, in nearby Mill Run, Pennsylvania. The Blums and Balters wanted their houses built in Wright’s style, but the architect had died in 1959—so they turned to Berndtson, who trained under Wright at the Taliesin school in Wisconsin.

Berndtson designed homes for Blum and Balter using Wright’s Usonian design elements, like red concrete floors, horizontal profiles, and an indoor-outdoor plan connecting the structures to the surrounding landscape. He also wanted to build 24 similar houses on the land, creating an entire community in the Usonian style. The two families, however, preferred their privacy and put a stop to Berndtson’s effort.

Balter House interior at Polymath Park
The interior of Balter House in Polymath Park
Courtesy of Polymath Park

The families used their summer retreats for two decades, but sold them in the 1980s to owners who occasionally rented them out—like to the college students who “helped" the Papinchaks discover them. “I was in complete shock when the Balter and Blum houses went on the market” in 2003, Papinchak tells Mental Floss. After buying the homes and their massive lots, the couple decided to keep the previous owners’ name for the property: Polymath Park.

THE DUNCAN HOUSE ARRIVES

While the couple restored the homes, another Frank Lloyd Wright house was on its way to the neighborhood.

In 2004, a group of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, residents had bought the Duncan House, a single-story Usonian home built in 1957 in Lisle, Illinois, to save it from being torn down. They were in the process of moving it to Johnstown in pieces, and Papinchak offered his services as a contractor on the project. When the project's investors decided not to continue funding in 2006, Papinchak bought the house outright to rebuild it at Polymath Park.

As the house was taken apart, every beam and stone was assigned a number that corresponded to a master plan showing the proper place of each piece. Papinchak and his team of four spent a year carefully putting the house back together, refurbishing it as they went along. It wasn't always straightforward reassembly—Wright had used 30- and 60-degree angles within the structure, which required Papinchak to get a little crafty, since most homes feature 90-degree angles. There were also the cantilevers and overhangs, signature Wrightian elements, which required some careful engineering.

“It was truly surreal to personally rebuild Wright’s Duncan House with my small crew,” Papinchak says. “I enjoyed every moment, but didn’t fully realize what was accomplished until the grand opening, when I saw the positive reaction from not only the local community, but the Wright world at large.”

In 2007, the Papinchaks opened Polymath Park to the public. Wright fans could tour the three Wright-related homes on the property and rent them out for overnight stays, which proved popular with architecture buffs visiting Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, another nearby Wright work.

REBUILDING THE LINDHOLM HOUSE

But Polymath Park is not done growing. The Papinchaks are hard at work rebuilding another relocated Wright home— Lindholm House, also known as Mantyla—piece by piece.

“I first became aware of the house about 10 years ago,” Papinchak says. “I had given a tour at the park, and afterwards a gentleman mentioned his neighbor was living in a Wright house that was being encroached on by commercial property.”

Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Lindholm House in Minnesota
Lindholm House in its original Minnesota location, before it was moved to Polymath Park
Courtesy of Polymath Park

Originally built in 1952 in Cloquet, Minnesota, for gas station owners Ray and Emma Lindholm, Lindholm House had remained in family hands for its entire existence. Initially, Lindholm descendants Julene and Peter McKinney weren’t ready to sell the property when Papinchak reached out to them. But maintaining the aging home had become increasingly difficult, and the couple was worried about the house's survival with the commercial development around it.

They consulted the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, an organization dedicated to preserving the architect’s works, and decided that relocating the house was the best choice to protect it. The decision wasn't made lightly—Wright purposefully designed his houses for specific sites, integrating the architecture with the landscape, so moving any of his structures would break Wrightian principles. Only in instances where a building’s survival is threatened will the conservancy consider a move, which is how the Lindholm House qualified for relocation.

With their previous experience in moving a Wright house, the Papinchaks joined forces with a relocation contractor and an architect from the conservancy for the new project, and this time, the McKinneys agreed to send their home to Pennsylvania.

The Lindholm House was dismantled in early 2016, and as with the Duncan House relocation, each and every piece of the home was numbered to guide the reassembly process. After the pieces were shipped to Pennsylvania, the Papinchaks began the process of building the house from scratch according to the numbered master plan.

The newest of the four Wright-related buildings at Polymath Park is scheduled to open this summer, giving guests a rare chance to experience life inside a Wright-designed home—set, as the architect would have wanted, in a quiet, wooded landscape.

“Heather and I are hands-on,” Papinchak says. “We do whatever it takes to further the preservation of these architectural gems.”

2020 World Monuments Watch: 25 Historic and Cultural Landmarks That Are At Risk

Razvan/iStock via Getty Images
Razvan/iStock via Getty Images

Whether it's due to their age, size, or ubiquity in pop culture, certain landmarks can feel invincible. But that's far from the case: Each year, some of the most famous places on Earth are faced with new threats, including war, urban development, and climate change. In an effort to boost awareness of these vulnerable sites, the World Monuments Fund (WMF) has released its biennial roundup of 25 historic and cultural monuments around the world that need protection.

To finalize entries for its 2020 World Monuments Watch, the WMF evaluated more than 250 nominations from various groups and individuals. The final list includes monuments and cultural sites from five continents. Some, like Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, are threatened by weakened conservation laws, while others—like Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris—have been damaged by recent disasters.

The WMF plans to partner with the local communities around each site on the list to develop specific conservation plans to help save these landmarks. In spring of 2020, the program's founding sponsor, American Express, will donate $1 million toward the initiatives of a select group of sites from the list. To see every place included in the 2020 World Monuments Watch, check out the list below.

  1. Koutammakou, the Land of the Batammariba // Benin and Togo

  1. Ontario Place // Canada

  1. Rapa Nui National Park // Chile

  1. Alexan Palace // Egypt

  1. Notre-Dame de Paris // France

  1. Tusheti National Park // Georgia

  1. Gingerbread Neighborhood // Port-au-Prince, Haiti

  1. Historic Water Systems of the Deccan Plateau // India

  1. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium // India

  1. Mam Rashan Shrine // Iraq

  1. Inari-yu Bathhouse // Japan

  1. Iwamatsu District // Japan

  1. Canal Nacional // Mexico

  1. Choijin Lama Temple // Mongolia

  1. Traditional Burmese Teak Farmhouses // Myanmar

  1. Chivas and Chaityas of the Kathmandu Valley // Nepal

  1. Anarkali Bazaar // Pakistan

  1. Sacred Valley of the Incas // Peru

  1. Kindler Chapel, Pabianice Evangelical Cemetery // Poland

  1. Courtyard Houses of Axerquía // Spain

  1. Bennerley Viaduct // United Kingdom

  1. Bears Ears National Monument // USA

  1. Central Aguirre Historic District // USA

  1. San Antonio Woolworth Building // USA

  1. Traditional Houses in the Old Jewish Mahalla of Bukhara // Uzbekistan

A 120-Year-Old Denmark Lighthouse Rides Away From Coastal Erosion on Rollerblades

Carlo Alberto Conti/iStock via Getty Images
Carlo Alberto Conti/iStock via Getty Images

Beachgoers know all too well what happens when you plop down near the ocean during low tide—it creeps slowly closer until one enthusiastic wave soaks all your towels and escapes with your flip-flops. Luckily, you can to relocate your belongings farther inland, or simply check the tide tables before settling down to sunbathe.

For a 120-year-old Danish lighthouse, it’s not that simple. When Northern Denmark’s Rubjerg Knude lighthouse was built in 1899, there was more than 650 feet of land separating it from the coast. According to Condé Nast Traveler, that seemingly safe expanse of sand had eroded to fewer than 20 feet by the 2000s.

To rescue the 1000-ton landmark from imminent destruction, local mason Kjeld Pedersen approached the Danish government with an innovative proposition: Slide the lighthouse to safety on a pair of custom-sized rollerblades. Since a similar plan had succeeded in moving a gun repository in Skagen, a town about 45 miles from Rubjerg Knude, the government gave the green light (and 5 million kroner, or about $743,000) to Pedersen.

Last week, Pedersen and his team mounted Rubjerg Knude on a pair of roller blades attached to a track, and scooted the structure about 263 feet inland. It wasn’t exactly a rip-roaring ride—they moved it 0.001 mph. At that rate, the entire operation took almost 50 hours.

As one can imagine, Pedersen was a bit tired after such an epic undertaking.

“It’s been overwhelming for him,” Visit Denmark’s Nina Grandjean Gleerup told Condé Nast Traveler. “I think he’s told Denmark ‘Don’t use me anymore’ because of all the attention!”

Gleerup also explained that Pedersen’s humble diligence and creativity reflected the spirit of the neighboring fishing towns, Løken and Lønstrup, which are known for quaint coffee shops, galleries, and beautiful natural landscapes.

Starting to think a lighthouse would make the perfect beachfront getaway? While Rubjerg Knude itself isn’t open for overnight visitors, there are plenty of other lighthouses near the sea—book a stay in one here.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

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