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