For those enamored with mid-20th century innovation, Henry Moore, Herman Miller, and Frank Lloyd Wright remain iconic masters of artistic form and function. From furniture to art and architecture, these visionaries helped push the clean lines of their inventions into mainstream culture and consciousness.
Where do the correlations between mid-century modernism and Oregon’s rustic beauty exist? If you drive through the northern Willamette Valley, one such “progeny” from the marriage between avant-garde and rural is located within a 20 minute drive from Interstate 5. Situated in the small community of Silverton, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Gordon House stands as testament to personal dreams and synchronicity.
How Gordon House was conceived
When Willamette Valley residents Ed and Evelyn Gordon retired from farming, they followed their muse and made plans to build a home that would flow organically within the natural surrounding landscape. Evelyn had long appreciated Frank Lloyd Wright’s house designs—so much so, that she managed to convince Wright that the Gordon property was a place worthy of his attention.
In the late 1940s Evelyn initiated a decade-long letter-writing campaign to the famous architect. Frustrated (but undaunted) by his unresponsiveness, Evelyn finally managed to schedule an appointment in 1956 to meet Wright at his Taliesin West Studio in Scottsdale, Arizona. At the time, she was a grandmother in her 50s and Wright was 88 years old.
Intrigued by the Gordon’s description of their land that faced Mt. Hood and bordered the Willamette River, Wright agreed to design their “farmhouse.” Wright was passionate about building in every state across the US and Oregon was virgin territory to him. The prospect of marrying red cedar planks and concrete blocks with windows framing majestic mountain and riverfront views was only one facet of Wright’s decision in designing a house for the Gordons.
Synchronistic connections existed between Wright and the Gordons that suggest Gordon House was not a random project for the architect. Wright had grown up in a Midwestern farming community. Ed Gordon was a farmer (and a longstanding member of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association) who had introduced many crops to the Willamette Valley, including sorghum. Mirroring Wright’s family roots, Evelyn was an artist, writer, and musician—and both she and Wright played the piano.
Wright had previously traveled to the Willamette Valley from his studio at Taliesin West. In conversation with Evelyn, he shared his vision for building a house in what he christened “the land of the green,” and the Gordons left Taliesin West with an agreement to build their dream home for $25,000.
Transitions transform the landscape
Although Frank Lloyd Wright passed away in 1959 before the Gordon House was built, the Gordons maintained Wright’s plans. However, their $25,000 budget was not exactly attractive to prospective contractors. The couple’s resilience and persistence were admirable—they sold major portions of their original farm property and used the proceeds to build on a site near a bend in the Willamette River. Ed and Evelyn moved into Gordon House when it was completed in 1964.
Following Ed’s death in 1979, Evelyn continued to live in Gordon House until her passing in 1997. Their will left 22 acres and Gordon House to family, but younger family members were not interested in living there, and the property was sold. The new owners made plans to demolish Gordon House. At the time, land-use laws were transforming both the political and rural landscape, and the permit office was on high alert for significant land-use alterations, specifically on farmland.
Staff at the permit office were familiar with the history of Gordon House and were concerned that an architectural treasure would be lost. They began a concerted effort to save the home by involving the Portland office of the American Institute of Architects. From that initial contact, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in Chicago stepped in to help. An alternate site was located in Silverton adjacent to The Oregon Garden in 2000, and Gordon House was dismantled and rebuilt. Initial restoration took two years, and in 2002 the house opened to the public with work still in progress.
Gordon House sees value added with its OTE highway sign
According to Gordon House’s General Director Molly Murphy, the house attracts approximately 5,000 visitors per year for guided tours, and even more visit the exterior grounds on their own time. More than 100,000 visitors have taken tours since Gordon House was opened.
“This is the only Frank Lloyd Wright house open to the public between Oregon and the San Francisco Bay Area,” says Murphy.
“We hear back from many many visitors that they had no idea there was a Frank Lloyd Wright house here, but they saw our big logo sign and decided to take the exit.”
Murphy adds that Gordon House has been an OTE highway business sign customer since 2012. She says the sign and its highly visible logo captures the attention of travelers driving Hwy. 22 on their way to other places such as Silver Falls State Park.
Schedule your tour of Gordon House
Gordon House is available for guided tours three times daily, starting at noon. The hours and days may occasionally vary, so contact the house’s staff in advance of your visit. The size of the guided tours is limited, so call early to reserve your space:503-874-6006. Visit the Gordon House website at thegordonhouse.org for more information and directions.
Conducted by knowledgeable docents who help tell Gordon House’s story, there is a minimal fee for the guided tour. Admission fees fall under several categories, including discounts for The Oregon Garden Resort guests, AAA members, students, and tour groups with 10 or more participants. Please check the Gordon House website to purchase advance tickets online.
Gordon House is available for short-term rentals for meetings, receptions, or weddings and other events. Special public events are held throughout the year, and include educational sessions with schools and other organizations.
About OTE Highway Business Signs
Oregon Travel Experience recognizes the importance of helping travelers find their way to unique attractions such as Gordon House. If your commercial or non-profit business could benefit from an OTE highway business sign, call our friendly staff in the permit office at 503-373-0086 or toll-free at 1-800-574-9397. Email Sue VanHandel, OTE sign permit coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re available to take your inquiries from 7:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. You can review the highway sign FAQs and learn about other types of signs available on the OTE website at www.ortravelexperience.com. We look forward to serving you and your business soon.
*Note: If you are an existing OTE sign customer and would like to schedule an interview for a customer spotlight, telephone Maddie MacGregor in the OTE Communications Office, 503-373-0090 or email email@example.com.