Eyewitness 1963: Kaufmann makes a gift of parents' Fallingwater

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Ohiopyle State Park and Fallingwater were made for each other, Gov. William Scranton told invited guests at a Fayette County "acceptance ceremony" 50 years ago this month.

Scranton was the featured speaker at the Oct. 29, 1963, event to mark Edgar Kaufmann Jr.'s gift of his deceased parents' summer home 45 miles southeast of Pittsburgh to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

"The Conservancy also received $500,000 in trust for maintenance of the 500 acres and grants of $30,000 per year for five years for support of an educational program," according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story that appeared on Oct. 30. The money, which came from the Edgar J. Kaufmann Charitable Foundation, is equivalent in modern currency to $3.75 million for the maintenance fund and $225,000 annually for educational efforts.

Construction on the iconic building, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, had begunbegan in 1936 on a site adjoining a waterfall on Bear Run, a fast-moving stream in Stewart Township. Fallingwater had beenbecame the long-time home of Kaufmann's late parents, Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann, The senior Mr. Kaufmann had been president of the department store that carried his family's name. The house was about 45 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

The site was close to one of Pennsylvania's newest recreational facilities, Ohiopyle State Park, which was still under development when the house was given to the conservancy. Gov. Scranton said the Kaufmann house and land around it "will be conserved, not as empty shrines but as a living, vibrant agency for service to mankind."

State officials hoped that Fallingwater "will become a cultural focal point for the State Park, which this administration is building with the aid of the conservancy in this naturally beautiful area," the governor said.

Cooperation between the state and the non-profit conservancy "symbolizes the American genius for the cooperation of individuals, private organizations and the government in the establishment of great cultural and recreational enterprises," the governor said.

Edgar Kaufmann Jr. said Wright had designed Fallingwater "as a declaration that in nature man finds his spiritual as well as his physical energies, that a harmonious response to nature yields the poetry and joy that nourish human living."

Kaufmann had studied art in Europe and architecture as a Wright apprentice. After working for several years at his family's store, he went on to write books about and teach architecture, art history and design. He also was industrial design director at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. He died in 1989 at 79.

Gov. Scranton used his 1963 visit to Fallingwater to drum up support for the Project 70 referendum that was on the Nov. 5 election ballot.

It would allow the state to sell $70 million worth of bonds to buy land for state parks, reservoirs and "conservation, recreation, and historical preservation purposes." It also provided matching money for local governments to take on similar projects.

New parks would bring more tourist dollars into the state, the governor said in an Oct. 30 Pittsburgh Press story. Improved recreational facilities also would "make our Commonwealth more attractive to industries seeking locations for new plants," he said

The statewide measure passed six days later.

Ohiopyle was the first and the largest state park developed with Project 70 funds. Others local projects financed with bond proceeds included Moraine State Park and Laurel Ridge State Park.

Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 724-772-0184. See more stories in this series by searching "Barcousky" and "Eyewitness" at post-gazette.com.

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