When my father was a young man beginning his career as the Los Angeles cultural affairs commissioner (not as fancy as it sounds back then), he had occasion to take a train from Phoenix to Los Angeles. He stood in line at the station to get his ticket and was annoyed to see a small man bustle past everyone and shove his way to ticket window demanding to be served. He was further annoyed when this same guy entered his compartment and sat down opposite him. My father ignored him and stared out the window at the western landscape. An hour into the journey the man said, "you're an artist, aren't you?" My father, who had studied painting, said, "how did you know?" The man said he could tell by the way he looked at the landscape. My father looked down at the man's luggage and saw it was engraved with the initials FLW. The penny dropped.
And so began a relationship that continued to bear fruit for years. The Los Angeles Art Department had jurisdiction over Barnsdall Park, which housed a number of Frank Lloyd Wright's structures, including the famous Hollyhock House. My father eventually persuaded him to design a temporary municipal gallery on top of the hill, and they remained friends till the great man died.
I never expected to have a second generation parallel experience, especially in Colorado Springs, but so it came to pass when, thanks to her friend and champion, Elaine Freed, I met Frank Lloyd Wright's granddaughter thirty years ago. Liz and I hit it off pretty well right away, and during a period of personal turmoil I even went to live with her for a few months in the large house she was care taking in Palmer Lake (I should add that when my wife kicked me out she asked Liz if she would take me in, and Liz said sure). We had some great evenings out there in that house with a view north that went on forever, with nary another domicile in view. When I got back she would have some dinner waiting: frozen peas and simple chicken. She claimed to love food and always waxed enthusiastic over her own hastily prepared dinners, but really they were terrible. She was no Julia Child and I began to understand why good kitchens and comfy chairs were never features of Wright houses.
(It should be noted that Liz also provided sanctuary for our producing director for a time too. She liked lively guys I think).
The indifferent food didn't matter one bit because the talk was so good. Liz was one of the greatest ranters I have ever known. She would launch into a tirade against our stupid town, our idiot politics, bad architecture, dumb foreign policy that was breathtaking in its gusto, a never ending cataract of Whitmanesque energy. Sometimes I would have to yell to interrupt: "Could you shut up for a moment Liz?" It was the only way to change the current. She would stop, smile, and say "Of course, Murray, what do you have to say?" And then she would actually engage in real dialogue. It was never idle talk: Liz only wanted to deal with the largest of subjects. She expected you to bring it with you came. She read everything, and was always annoyed at how dismissive and dim arts people were about science. She loved making her good brain work. She was an old fashioned humanist: she thought we could and should figure out how to live, and live better. She had totalitarian instincts like her grandfather, but also endless curiosity.enthusiasm and generosity. We had some good times in Palmer Lake.especially when I made a fire and a singed black squirrel who had taken up residence in the chimney came charging at us out of the fireplace, sparks shooting from his tail.
Liz moved like a whirlwind through everything, at top speed. I think she would have made an excellent centaur: head held high and proud, and reaching back to slap her flanks, saying giddy up. She complained regularly about the commute to town which she made daily in her white Bronco-- "here we all are happily moving down the interstate at 80 miles an hour, and some idiot has the nerve to go the speed limit in the left lane. What's the matter with these people!" Almost to the very end, when her joints failed her and she could barely stand, sit or walk down a hall, Liz kept moving. Endless energy never ceasing until death. She was Shaw's life force incarnate.
She didn't suffer fools gladly but had the aristocrat's interest and respect for working people. She told me to pay our house cleaner more; "$20 an hour is not enough!" she would pronounce,with the usual exclamation points.
She told great stories, about her legendary family and about life in 50's in Colorado Springs, when there was much drinking, a little scene, and people went home by moonlight, hopping home from rock to rock near the Garden of the Gods.
But above all Liz had taste, discernment and the sense that art, really great art, really matters. It was her soul's blood. Much of this was inherited from her family. When I told her that for me seeing Falling Water in Pennsylvania made me burst into tears, she understood. I told her it was as good as anything, I thought it was as good as good as Chartes, and she agreed. She campaigned for great and distinctive architecture, harangued for it, loved it, and did her best to make it. And for this she was cherished by her peers. People looked after her.
Liz (often with her husband Gordon) designed several of the most beautiful houses in Colorado Springs. See the Beadles House, for example. You can't beat it.
Her houses were rigorous, uncompromising, classic in form and function, and the best of them are very tender too. They were partly designed to make you a better person from living in them. though I think she was always a little wary when people actually moved in, and put up paintings she did not approve of, and bred children who left large bright toys all over her clean tiled halls. Liz was perhaps not as great an architect as her grandfather (no shame there; one else was either), whom she so much resembled in spirit and largeness of vision. She too had a wonderfully imperial ego, and at times could be an oracular bore. But Liz was a woman, sensitive to women's issues, and deeply committed to relationships. She was really so deeply kind. She meant a great deal to many people.
No one will take her place. I think she led one of the most realized and fulfilled lives I know of, from the time she carried her daughter in a sling while working over a drafting table until the end, arranging her affairs, and continuing to dream in epic fashion. always looking for the next new idea. Liz had real grandeur and true nobility. You recognize it when you are in its presence.
We won't see her like again, but how lucky I was to have had her company and strong warm light. Others lucky like me will say the same.