One of Frank Lloyd Wright's striking -- but functionally least successful -- designs, the S.C. Johnson Research Tower in Racine, Wis., opens for free public tours for the first time Friday, after a year-long restoration. Tours will continue through Sept. 28.
Completed in 1950, the facility 60 miles north of Chicago is where scientists created products that include Raid, Glad, OFF! and Pledge. It gained National Register of Historic Places status in 1976, but closed in 1982.
As the Chicago Tribune notes, "It's easy to paint Wright's 15-story S.C. Johnson Research Tower, an exquisite mini-skyscraper wrapped in red brick and glass tubes, as a functional flop. The tubes leaked badly … and its inside was so unrelentingly bright that employees demanded that the company provide sunglasses. The tower proved difficult to expand and just as hard to escape. It has one 29-inch-wide, twisting staircase, a shortcoming that could have proved lethal had fire struck."
Still, the structure is noted for its treelike interior floors supported by a central taproot foundation sunk deep into the earth. New exhibit areas will chronicle the development of the building with archival photos and correspondence. Another exhibit features a mock-up of a circa-1950s research lab. The restored tower is part of a two-hour tour of company facilities that also takes in the Wright-designed S.C. Johnson Administration building. Reservations are recommended.
In Chicago, two Wright-focused tours resume in June, offered by the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust. The Wright Around Chicago bus tour (June 4-Aug. 27) takes visitors to the architect's best work in the city and nearby Oak Park, Ill. A guided bicycle tour, Pedal Oak Park (June 6-Sept. 28), leads to 22 of his structures in the Frank Lloyd Wright-Prairie School of Architecture Historic District in Oak Park.
The bus tours are from 9:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays. Cost is $150 ($125 for trust members) and includes a box lunch.