Frank Lloyd Wright in San Francisco

The Xanadu Gallery is the only existing Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building in San Francisco.Originally constructed in 1912, the building was the home of the V.C. Morris Gift Shop, and it was the Morrises who commsioned Wright to expand and remodel their store. Considering that the commission was for a retail space, it seems odd that there are no display windows, aside for a small terrarium-like entry structure. A little web research yielded the answer to this puzzler. When asked by the owners about the lack of exterior display, Wright replied “We are not going to dump your beautiful merchandise on the street, but create an arch-tunnel of glass, into which the passers-by may look and be enticed. As they penetrate further into the entrance, seeing the shop inside with its spiral ramp and tables set with fine china and crystal, they will suddenly push open the door, and you’ve got them!”

All built-in furniture, shelves, and tables are original. The most notable feature, however, has to be the large sprial ramp that leads to the second floor gallery. Although the gift shop was designed 5 years after the Guggenheim, it was actually constructed before the iconic New York museum, allowing Wright to use the gift shop as a sort of testing lab for the Guggenheim’s famous spiral.

The massive brick exterior definitely has the Wright look, but with its simple facade and ornate entry, it also brings to mind the work of his mentor, Louis Sullivan. Particulary his late-career Midwestern banks, aka “jewel boxes.”

The V.C. Morris Gift Shop has the distinction of being one of only seventeen Wright buildings that the AIA has deemed “essential for preservation” due to its contribution to American culture.

photo by Carol M. Highsmith

5 Replies to “Frank Lloyd Wright in San Francisco”

  1. Going to school in Chicago, I was exposed to a great deal of FLW’s work. However, I didn’t know much about this project.

    Those photos are beautiful. I think that the simple facade is particularly appealing. The deep raked horizontal joints are a typical FLW detail, and create some nice shadows on an otherwise plain facade.

  2. Wow, i had never seen this project before, but it is really beautiful. That facade is so strong yet so subtle, it seems to create quite a tension. That interior looks quite exciting too, I will have to look it up!

  3. I did the electrical work here during a remodel in the early
    80’s. The lighting was equal to and complimented the structure.

    There is a small low dome that leads to the back. If you are talking as you walk under it you can hear your voice reflected first in front of you then above you then behind you.

    The man was good.

  4. I happened upon this store in the sixties and found it stunningly beautiful. I had no idea it was designed by Wright, but I certainly was not surprised when years later I found that it was. It makes a powerful impression entirely on its own merits.

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