Relocation of Historic Frank Lloyd Wright House to Crystal Bridges a First

Sharon and Lawrence Tarantino are spending their long winter days in New Jersey placing numbers on almost every piece, every component of the home they’ve owned for 26 years.

The home is the Bachman Wilson House in Millstone, N.J., designed in 1954 by America’s best-known architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

In a few weeks, sometime in the spring, the fully dismantled structure will be carefully loaded into vehicles provided by J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. and moved some 1,300 miles west to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. It will then be carefully unloaded, moved to its new home on the museum’s 120 acres and reassembled, piece by numbered piece. The resurrected house will then be open to visitors, an example of historic American architecture sharing an Arkansas locale with a historic collection of American art.

It is the first time that a Wright house has been completely dismantled, moved and then reassembled, according to Janet Halstead, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.

“It’s like an archeological site in reverse,” said Rod Bigelow, the museum’s executive director. It’s exactly like a “paint by numbers” piece, only it’s a “build by numbers,” Sharon Tarantino said.

And it’s a time-consuming and painful process for Tarantino and her architect husband, who together so carefully restored the house that they bought in 1988. But it’s a necessary process if the house is to survive.

The Bachman Wilson House sits near the Millstone River. The house is an example of what Wright called Usonian architecture, a house that sought to marry quality architecture with modest materials at a price affordable for the middle class. Wright designed it for Abraham Wilson and Gloria Bachman, whose brother, Marvin Bachman, had studied with Wright.

Like all Wright residences, the house was carefully incorporated into its surroundings. But increasingly frequent flooding threatened the very existence of the house, and the Tarantinos began looking 18 months ago for someone to buy the structure and move it someplace safe.

Sharon, a designer, and Lawrence have practiced together since 1985, and in their career have worked on about a dozen Wright houses. They have received a number of awards, including the Wright Spirit Award in 2008 from the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.

Now the couple are carefully overseeing the deconstruction of their home, “every step of the way,” Sharon Tarantino said. Assisting them is their contractor, the Patullo Brothers Builders of Bridgewater, N.J.

“They’ve worked extensively on renovation and restoration type projects, and we’ve worked with them on several projects in the past, so we have a very close relationship with them,” Tarantino said. “They are very careful in their procedures and the way they do things.”

The Tarantinos prepared “as-built” drawings, which show on-site changes to the original construction plans. They then developed a dismantling plan, creating drawings that outlined each stage of the dismantling procedure.

That document includes a catalog of the house’s building components, listing every board and batten in the house. The house is a modular system, in which battens, which hold the boards, are nailed or screwed into place with every piece joining together using tongue and groove design.

The couple have already removed the furniture and the house’s built-ins. “There’s quite a bit of built-in furniture, because that was one of Wright’s signatures: the board and batten, a lot of glass, the built-ins, the radiant heat floor,” Tarantino said. “These were all very important to the Usonian period.”

As a component is removed, the Tarantinos place identification on the back, which the contractor who reassembles the house will use as a guide.

The couple bundle the board and batten components into units that can be carried by one or two men. “And then we have them organized into rooms so that everything stays very well together,” she said. “It’s organized in such a way so that the contractor will have a much easier method of reconstruction.”

“We plan on coming to Crystal Bridges during the reconstruction a couple of times to review certain milestones that are important in the reconstruction process,” said Tarantino, who declined to share the purchase price of the house.

Other Wright houses have been broken down and moved from one site to another, the Wright Conservancy said, but none before has ever been completely disassembled, piece by piece, and then reassembled.

In their search for someone to save their house, which they had listed for sale on the conservancy website, the Tarantinos approached Crystal Bridges in the autumn of 2012 and made a presentation to the museum in January 2013.

“We had learned about the museum and we learned about Fay Jones, that the Walton family house was close to the museum property,” Tarantino said. “When we learned about that, that’s when it sparked a light bulb and we thought, ‘Well, there are these relationships.’ That’s when we decided that we should try to pursue that.”

E. Fay Jones, the Arkansas native and internationally renowned architect for whom the school of architecture at the University of Arkansas is named, had been an apprentice of Wright. Jones’ Thorncrown Chapel near Eureka Springs placed fourth on the American Institute of Architects list of top 10 buildings of the 20th century. And the Walton family home, not far from the museum, was designed by Jones.

“That’s the thing about Crystal Bridges and Fay Jones,” Tarantino said. “We felt that wherever [the house] was to go there had to be an important link to Wright in some way.”

Once the Tarantinos visited the museum and saw the site, they knew who they wanted to buy their house. The combination of beautiful natural surroundings, an outstanding and architecturally impressive museum of American art and the Wright-Jones connection was powerfully convincing.

Taking apart their beloved home, one they spent years restoring, is hard, Tarantino said. “But we feel that now it’s being saved and that generations to come will be able to enjoy and learn from it. And it’s going to be in a place that has respect, with a museum of American art. It couldn’t be at a better place.”