Frank Lloyd Wright House Already Drawing Museum Visitors

Interest in the reconstruction of the Bachman Wilson House on the grounds of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville is so great that people have been bringing lawn chairs to watch the work progress.

That’s according to Scott Eccleston, the museum’s director of facilities and grounds. He’s overseeing the three phases of the reassembly of the house, designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Crystal Bridges announced its purchase of the 1,800-SF concrete and mahogany house in January, along with its plan to move the house to the museum’s 120-acre grounds from Millstone, New Jersey, where frequent flooding threatened it. The disassembled house arrived in Bentonville in late April, transported almost 1,300 miles to Arkansas by J.B. Hunt Transport Services of nearby Lowell.

Phase one, now underway, is site work, including the building of a road on the carefully landscaped grounds to accommodate construction traffic and utility installation.

Phase two will be construction of the basement and slab, and phase three will be the actual reconstruction of the house, piece by numbered piece.

“I’ve had no less than 20 architects around the country ask if they can be part of the job,” Eccleston told Whispers. “We’ve probably had 10 companies offer to rebuild the house at a discounted rate. They just want to be part of it.”

Working with the museum from “day one” on the project is Hight-Jackson Associates of Rogers and its CEO, Ron Shelby, who studied under Arkansas architect Fay Jones, who in turn studied under Wright.

“He could have definitely handed this off and he’s like, ‘No. I want this. I’m going to run this. I want to see this thing all the way through,’” Eccleston said.

HSA Engineering of Fort Smith is the mechanical engineer; Morrison-Shipley, which has offices in Fort Smith, Bentonville and Searcy, is the civil engineer; and Bill Faber Construction Co. of Bentonville will be the general contractor reassembling the house.

The house itself now lies in pieces in a Bentonville warehouse, awaiting reconstruction, which should begin by about Oct. 1, Eccleston said.

Have there been any surprises?

“I think the biggest surprise is you take a house that was built in the ’50s and it’s all tied in; it’s one piece,” he said. “And then you take piece by piece apart and you hit a little bit of the Arkansas humidity and you start to see that the boards have a little bit of freedom. So it’s going to be quite the challenge to have these old bones of this building go back into form. But we can do it. We can do it.”

In addition, a few pieces of the house must be replaced, and trying to find mahogany of comparable quality and dimensions — well, that’s another challenge. “It’s not something that you can typically go to Lowe’s and buy,” Eccleston said.

“It all has to go back like the perfect puzzle,” he added. It’s believed to be the first time that a Wright house has been completely dismantled, moved and then reassembled. Eccleston declined to say how much the effort was costing Crystal Bridges.

The museum hopes to have the Bachman Wilson House open to visitors May 1, but Crystal Bridges is trying to accommodate visitors wanting an in-person view of the process.

“You wouldn’t believe how much access we give the public,” Eccleston said. “You can literally go across Crystal Pond and set up and you can watch board by board going up in October.”