In 1946, Frank Lloyd Wright seemed to have landed the client who would finally fulfill his decades-long ambition to build a skyscraper. East Texas oilman Rogers Lacy had commissioned him to design a hotel occupying a full block in the heart of downtown Dallas. A chorus of publicity orchestrated by John Rosenfield of the Dallas Morning News promoted the project, but it stalled despite Wright’s relentless efforts to flatter, browbeat, and otherwise persuade his client to proceed. All hope of building the tower ended abruptly with Lacy’s death in 1947. Nine years later, Wright finally achieved a more modest prairie skyscraper some 300 miles to the north in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, funded by pipeline magnate H. C. Price.
The Rogers Lacy Hotel would have filled its block with a 12-story base wrapping an atrium surmounted at the southeast corner by a six-story penthouse and a slender tower, topping off at 47 stories. Proposed amenities included underground parking, restaurants, meeting rooms, shops, a nightclub, and accommodations for travelers and long-term residents. The design heralded a new era of innovative building materials, structural systems, and environmental controls. It also incorporated a “tap root” structural system — Wright’s term for the reinforced concrete core supporting cantilevered floors, analogous to a deeply rooted tree, which facilitates the pinwheel geometry that animates the tower’s shape. Both the tap root concept and plan geometry appear in the also-unrealized St. Mark’s-in-the-Bouwerie Towers project of 1929, designed for New York City. In the Dallas proposal, Wright braced the core with a concrete shaft housing ventilation ducts and utilities and rising the full height of the building. The hotel project also furthered his more recent efforts at the S. C. Johnson & Son buildings in Racine, Wisconsin, to “move the outdoors indoors” with internally focused, air-conditioned spaces enclosed by a translucent envelope. He proposed a curtain wall of “iridescent fish scales” composed of overlapping plate glass panels containing an interstitial layer of translucent plastic or fiberglass. Within, guests lounging (to the extent Wright’s furniture allowed) in the suffused daylight would feel little need for views of the city beneath their feet.
Had it been built, the hotel would surely have become a destination unto itself, sought after by architects and tourists alike.
Richard Cleary is professor emeritus in the School of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin where he taught architectural history. He lives in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, on the shore of Lake Michigan. His current research addresses spatial practices in sports.