CORONAVIRUS

Cedar Rock online: Pandemic leads to digital tour options at Frank Lloyd Wright site

When the historic Lowell and Agnes Walter House at Cedar Rock, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, wasn’t able to open on schedule for the season in May because of the coronavirus pandemic, the people in charge of the house saw an opportunity.

They decided to create a digital tour of the house, so people could glimpse inside even when they couldn’t visit in person. It’s part of a broader effort to digitize tours of around 530 Frank Lloyd Wright buildings around the world.

“Many Frank Lloyd Wright organizations are looking to promote and advertise a tour series. We’ve been hoping to be part of that for many years but haven’t really had the time and resources,” said Kathryn Hund, manager of Cedar Rock State Park for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “This year, with the pandemic, there was even more interest in doing that.”

The Friends of Cedar Rock reached out to local video production company Bait Shop Productions, which offered to create the video free of charge.

“Initially, Frank Lloyd Wright sites collectively were reluctant to offer virtual tours — they were afraid people might be less inspired to go out to the house,” Hund said. “Now we think of it more as a way to whet their appetite to come out to see the site. This is another way for us to reach out to the public and share the site with them.”

The video is available on the Friends of Cedar Rock website, friendsofcedarrock.org, and YouTube channel.

“I’ve always been a real fan of the place. I’ve several times; it’s a really cool, amazing house. I’ve always been a casual fan of Frank Lloyd Wright and have visited a couple other places he designed. I think it’s really neat we have one in our backyard,” said Bait Shop Productions owner Nate Whited.

The house, in rural Quasqueton on the Wapsipinicon River, is an example of Wright’s Usonian residential architecture, with an emphasis on living simply, in harmony with nature.

Whited said those elements are evident to any visitor to the house.

“I just like the way it just blends in with the natural environment. Especially when you’re sitting in the main room, it’s really difficult to remember you’re indoors, because it’s so wide open, you just feel like you’re just under a canopy, you’re not really inside a dwelling,” he said. “Then you go down to the riverfront and the boathouse, and it’s like an extension of the environment. It’s just a really fun design, and a neat place to just hang out for a while.”

Built between 1948 and 1950, Wright’s influence is evident throughout the house, as he not only designed the building but picked the furnishings, furniture and accessories. Agnes Walter donated the home to the Iowa Conservation Commission in 1982.

“Cedar Rock is really an excellent example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work. Things that are specific are the garden room of the house, which is best enjoyed in person, but the virtual tour gives you an overview of the transition from the light to dark areas Frank Lloyd Wright created,” Hund said. “Another favorite spot with visitors is the river pavilion or the boathouse. The production company partnered with a local drone business, and, it’s a really cool way to see the boathouse that you can’t get when you just visit.”

In addition to the video, the site also created a virtual hiking tour on the grounds outside the house. Visitors will find signs throughout the park with QR codes. When scanned with a smartphone, they provide information about the natural resources and history of the site.

“It’s a way to experience the house without being inside,” Hund said. “We had envisioned it as something for social distancing, but I think in the future it will help give people more information about the house.”

As Gov. Reynolds has lifted restrictions on museums, the house, at 2611 Quasqueton Diagonal Blvd., Independence, has now opened to the public. Reservations are required, groups must be nine people or less and masks are recommended. People who wish to visit should email cedar_rock@dnr.iowa.gov or call (319) 934-3572. Tours are available 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday, through October. There is a suggested $5 donation.

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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