June 8 is the 150th birthday of American innovator Frank Lloyd Wright, known for creating concepts in his architectural designs that went behind simply providing shelter and daring to build a house hanging over a waterfall. There are two buildings in Wichita designed by Wright, named the greatest American architect of all time by the American Institute of Architects.
Over the course of a 70-year career, Wright designed on paper roughly 1,000 structures, including offices, skyscrapers, schools, museums, churches and hotels. About 500 of his designs were built; 400 remain standing, including roughly 60 that are open to the public. The only two Wright-designed structures in Kansas are here in Wichita and both are open to the public.
Allen House in College Hill operates as a museum to show Wright’s prairie house style, which emphasized horizontal lines, earth tones and a continuous blending of interiors and exteriors. USA Today has named it one of the top 10 Wright home tours due to its restored condition and the amount of original furnishings.
The house was completed in 1918 for newspaper publisher Henry Allen, who went on to become governor of Kansas and a U.S. senator, and his wife, Elsie, who worked as the education director for what is now Mark Arts. The Allens lived in the house for nearly 30 years, followed by two other private owners. In 1990, the museum foundation acquired the property and began a process to restore it to the 1918-1923 timeframe. The home features more than 30 pieces of original furniture designed by Wright and an even larger collection of the Allens’ art and personal furnishings.
Allen House offers regular tours several days a week to the public. Prices are $10-$40 for tours ranging from 90 minutes to three hours. Allen House is having an open house event from 5 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 8, to commemorate Wright’s birthday. The cost is $10 for members, $15 for non-members and includes refreshments, music by ICTtrio and a chance to explore the house, terrace and the garden house, which has not been open to the public until now. Howard Ellington, executive director and restoration architect of the Allen House, will be selling and signing his book, “Allen House in Wichita.” The event is capped at 250 people and is close to selling out, so reserve your tickets today at flwrightwichita.org or call 316-687-1027.
Corbin Education Center on the Wichita State University campus is also in Wright’s prairie style, and it’s easily recognizable with its 60-foot spires that light up at night, the turquoise-colored concrete and ornamental steelwork. The structure is on the north edge of the WSU campus, adjacent to 21st Street.
The building was one of Wright’s last projects; he finished the design in 1958 and died in 1959. The $1 million building was completed in 1964 and it is still used for classrooms and administrative offices. Visitors are welcome to look around on their own anytime the building is open. Fridays are the best days to visit because classrooms aren’t in use that day; you can park for free in the adjacent parking lot for up to two hours.
A wall display inside the north wing of the building gives an overview of Wright’s Kansas projects and there’s a brochure on the Corbin building available in the foyer of the dean’s office. The wall display shows that there are other known Wright designs in Kansas that were not built, however, including a second building at Wichita State that significantly influenced the circular design of downtown’s Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center.
WSU is holding a free open house at the building from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday, June 9, to celebrate Wright’s birthday. Employees will be on hand to talk about the building and show the remaining original interior elements like desks and chairs. No RSVP is necessary.