On September 21, the San Antonio Express-News ran a cover story about the Flying L Dude Ranch in Bandera, which is planning to establish a Frank Lloyd Wright museum in the property’s pilots lounge. The article states that Wright designed the lounge and nine other concrete villas on the property. The Flying L even received a Texas Historical Marker to that effect.
According to architectural historian Stephen Fox, however, the lounge was actually designed by San Antonio architects Harvey P. Smith and DeHaven Pitts of the firm Smith, Pitts & MacPherson. An article in the Daily Texan from March 1947, “Architects’ Show Exhibits Future Streamlined Drag,” attributes the ranch to the firm.
William Allin Storrer, a Wright scholar and visiting professor of architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, seconds Fox’s assertion. “The building at the Flying L Ranch has none of the characteristics of [Wright’s] designs at the time the pilots house was built.”
“The architectural misattribution of buildings to famous architects based on perceived similarities to the work of a famous architect is a common occurrence,” Fox says. “Harvey P. Smith and De Haven Pitts were not Frank Lloyd Wright, but they were significant San Antonio architects in their own right. The fact that, in the late 1940s, they designed a complex of buildings that display the impact of Wright’s Usonian modern architecture speaks to Wright’s appeal to his contemporaries. That Wright did indeed design a building for the San Antonio Transit Company in 1947 (alas, not built) may indicate why Smith, Pitts & MacPherson gave the modern program of a fly-in dude ranch a Wrightian inspired architectural interpretation.”
The ranch has a fascinating history and its gala opening was even featured in Life magazine. At the time of its construction, it was the first dude ranch with an airpark, with guests flying directly in to ride, hunt, fish, and even rope calves from airplanes. Its lack of connection to Wright, however, makes it a less than ideal location for a museum about the great architect’s life and work.
Read the full San Antonio Express-News article here.