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I would be remiss in not mentioning that the Kaufmann family was full of palace intrigue. While they accomplished much together, it was an era of wealthy men and their mistresses, with the wives looking the “other way.” There was even a very juicy scandal when old E.J. had showered one of his mistresses with over a quarter million dollars in jewelry, only to try to return it when she broke up with him. He had purchased it from one of his rivals – Horne’s – and was sued for non-payment. As I always like to say, sometimes the upper crust can definitely be a little flakey.

Kaufmann Desert House

In 1946, E.J. Kaufmann hired one of Wright’s protegees to design a summer home (one isn’t enough I guess) in Palm Springs, California. Richard Neutra worked hand-in-hand with E.J. to create yet another architectural masterpiece, and once again E.J. almost wore out his architect with constant changes and interventions. But once again, E.J. created yet another architectural gem, celebrated in several national publications. It should be noted that the Kaufamann marriage was beginning to slide into a steep decline. Liliane had always managed to “look the other way” concerning her husband’s indiscretions, but he had fallen in love with his last mistress and nurse.

It took three days of waiting to get the perfect light for the Kaufmann’s photographer to capture the official photo. Perhaps Liliane’s biggest contribution to the Palm Springs home was her lying on a lounge chair to block out the light from the swimming pool,

End of an Era

On a weekend stay at Fallingwater, Liliane was found unconscious in her bedroom. E.J. decided the best medical care would be in Pittsburgh and chose to drive her there instead of seeking local treatment. She didn’t make it and passed away on September 7, 1952. E.J. would eventually marry his mistress and passed away seven months later. His new wife attempted to fight the prenuptial agreement to no avail. She was awarded the Palm Springs home and several thousand dollars. She would end up dying in an apartment fire a few years later.

Edgar, Jr. Becomes The Lord of Fallingwater

Again, this is a condensed version. The bottom line is that Edgar, Jr. was a brilliant man and in the end, may have taken a bit too much credit for his involvement in the creation of Fallingwater and his relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright. I must admit that I do find it a bit off-putting that he would never give his father full credit for building it, and kind of said his father was a bit of an unsophisticated rube in the process. I wholeheartedly disagree with this sentiment. Without E.J. Kaufmann, there is no Fallingwater, and it is possible that Frank Lloyd Wright might have died penniless.

But, Edgar Jr. did do a remarkable job of ensuring that the Fallingwater of 1938 is still alive today. After his father’s death, he removed thousands of personal artifacts from the home – what real estate agents call “staging” – and converted it to the perfect home museum that the public still views today. While living on Park Avenue in New York City, he immersed himself in the day-to-day operation of the estate which included farming, timber harvesting, and of course maintaining the actual home itself. He was a regular weekend visitor, as there was a train that was available from New York City to Pittsburgh at that time.

Edgar Jr. was instrumental in conveying the entire estate to The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which still operates the site today. Edgar Jr. passed away in 1989, and his art collection brought in $100 million at auction.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been to several Frank Lloyd Wright homes, all spectacular. But I can tell you that visiting Fallingwater can best be described as a spiritual experience. It’s in the middle of nowhere, and you have to slow down to find the entrance…there’s a gatehouse at the entrance to check your pass, and a small parking lot with a very nice visitor center and gift shop. Once you check-in, you’ll be seated until it’s time for your tour. The tour guides are extremely knowledgeable and friendly. Once your group is called, take a deep breath. A five-minute walk leads you to the bridge that brings you to the house…still slightly hidden…building the anticipation.

Frank Lloyd Wright was famous for “hiding” the entrances of his homes. Fallingwater is no different. He squeezes you into a tight place before he unveils his artwork. I believe he called it “compression,” and I have personally witnessed it in several other of his designs. By this time, your anticipation is building…and there it is: the main room in all of its glory. The stonework, the fireplace, the built-in seating, and the breathtaking staircase that leads to Bear Run.

It’s really almost too much to take in. But the tour moves along: the terraces, the bedrooms, the windows…I’m glad I went there twice because you can never take everything in on one visit.

While I could certainly keep going, this has been my condensed version.

I sincerely hope that you enjoyed this, and here are a few links to continue a deeper dive into Fallingwater:

There’s another FLW design about 20 minutes away. Might as well take that in too, while you’re in the middle of nowhere.


Phil Kerner

Phil Kerner

Phil Kerner is a life-long Erie, Pennsylvania resident. Married to The Queen, father of four sons, grandfather to Gracie Mae.