Frank Lloyd Wright

A look at SAMARA, The John and Catherine Christian House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright on Tuesday in West Lafayette. The 2,200-square-foot Usonian house in West Lafayette was designed by famed American architect in the mid-1950s.

WEST LAFAYETTE — Famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright died in 1959, but he left a vision and design for Samara’s evolution true to his vision.

But adding to Wright’s West Lafayette masterpiece is on hold until some much needed repairs are done to the 64-year-old house.

More than $1 million in grant money, announced Tuesday, is headed to Samara to repair damage on the house one block east of Northwestern Avenue and at the end of a cul de sac on Woodland Avenue.

“Samara is truly one of America’s treasures,” Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks, said. “Not only because the home was designed by America’s most famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, but because it’s one of the most complete, fully implemented Wright-designed projects, with original landscape, graphic motif, interior furnishings and exterior details.

“We’re pleased that it has risen to such national prominence.”

Wright’s design of Samara included a large file created by Wright with interior and exterior projects to add to the house, Samara curator Linda Eales said. Each year, John and Catherine Christian, who commissioned Wright’s design and worked with him to construct the house in 1955 and 1956, selected a project from the file to continue Wright’s vision for the house.

The Christians lived in the house until their deaths — Catherine in 1986, and John in 2016, Eales said.

Since 2018, the house has been a museum, although the coronavirus has closed the tours for the last six months, she said.

Sixty-four years of snow, wind and rain, combined with seasons of blistering heat and freezing temperatures, take a toll on any structure, which is why the National Park Service awarded a $500,000 Save America’s Treasures grant for repairs.

The John E. Christian Family Memorial Trust, Inc., added $503,000 for the projects.

Eales pointed to two noticeable projects that need attention.

“That rain spout there has caused the gravel and sand that was underneath the concrete to wash away, which has caused the terrace to drop,” Eales said Tuesday, after news of the grants was released. “That has got to be repaired.”

The erosion rendered all of the lanai doors in the house unusable, she said. That hints that there might be more to the problem than fixing a mere drainage issue.

“Another problem we have is the lanai wall. It has separated from the building, and it’s kind of scary looking,” Eales said.

“We have a board meeting on Friday,” she said when asked what the next step is.

“We’ve hired Gunny Harboe,” she said, noting that Harboe’s firm has done an assessment of Samara. He’s pretty famous in the (Frank Lloyd) Wright world.”

When a historic house like Samara is scheduled for repairs, it’s not as simple as hiring a recommended handyman.

Harboe’s crews have used ground-penetrating radar to look at what’s going on under the house’s foundation, and they’ve made 3D models of interior and exterior of Samara, Eales said.

“We’re a national historic landmark, so we have to follow the rules of the Secretary of the Interior,” she said.

Harboe’s crews conducted a conditions assessment, which determined the restoration plan. A contractor has not yet been selected to perform the restoration work, according to a releases published Tuesday morning from Indiana Landmarks.

Likely next year — perhaps spring or summer — crews will gather at the home to begin the needed repairs, Eales said.

When completed, the house, its foundation and its lanai wall will be set for the next 60 years, Eales said, as she recalled the Christians’ construction of the house.

The Christians contracted with Wright in 1950 to design and build their home on the uneven lot perched 14 feet higher than Woodland Avenue.

The newlywed couple won the lot in a lottery of seven acres, and it was considered the least desirable because of the uneven terrain, Eales said.

Wright, however, loved it.

Known to be irritable and insistent on his plans, Wright and the Christians worked five years on the design of the house. The Christians lured him into a give-and-take partnership in tailoring the house, Eales said.

The Christians continued to pull projects from Wright’s files throughout their years in the home. The rug in front of the fireplace, for example, took nearly 10 years to complete, Eales said.

The first challenge was to find a company that could create the one-of-a-kind rug. Then it took six years to hand-make the rug, she said.

Other projects — a dining room set, for example — continued to add Wright’s touches to the house into the 1990s.

Before his passing, John Christian confided to Eales other projects from Wright’s file that he believe needed to be finished.

But those will have to wait.

For now, the priority is repairing the foundation and the brick lanai wall so Samara, and the $1 million in grant money will go a long way to shoring up West Lafayette’s treasured Frank Lloyd Wright house.

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