Rehabilitation and Restoration to Frank Lloyd Wright-designed "V.C. Morris Gift Shop"
140 Maiden Lane
San Francisco, California
Frank Lloyd Wright's only masterwork built in San Francisco--the former "V.C. Morris Gift Shop" at 140 Maiden Lane. Commissioned in 1948 and completed in late 1949, the shop was planned as an architectural setting for the display of glass and silver, china, linens and art objects for the contemporary home. Wright's bold and dramatic solution for his retail client instantly became an international landmark and attraction.
The original owners, Mr. and Mrs. V.C. Morris, occupied the building until both passed away by 1959. From there, it moved through a variety of ownerships and uses, not all of which were sympathetic to the shop's use and aesthetic. By early 1997, when the current owner acquired 140 Maiden Lane, the building had fallen into disrepair and had lost a considerable amount of its original charm and grace through a series of insensitive interior alterations. General maintenance had been long neglected. Fortunately, the central form of the interior had survived intact throughout and the exterior had been granted Landmark status.
The new owner embarked upon an ambitious plan not only to bring the building up to current Codes but to restore and rehabilitate the space in keeping with the original historic character and intent.
Aaron G. Green, FAIA, former West Coast Representative for Frank Lloyd Wright, was retained as consultant to the rehabilitation effort. Aaron Green possessed a long history of involvement with 140 Maiden Lane, and had particularly enjoyed a personal friendship with Mr. and Mrs. Morris.
Other components of the rehabilitation effort included restoration of all finishes and colors. In particular, all cabinetry and furniture were cleaned, repaired and toucned up; all masonry surfaces, as well as the precast concrete tile floor, repaired, cleaned and sealed; all metalwork cleaned. The warm, creamy tone which Wright originally desired for the wall color was finally executed (it departs from the stark bone white that the Morris’s had insisted upon). The vacuum-formed plastic disks of the suspended ceiling were refabricated to match the original (a good many of which were cracked and discolored). Wright-designed compound-curved glass shelving and table tops were refabricated and installed. A series of unique acrylic and brass display pedestals (for mounting inside the circular portals), designed by Wright, unseen for years, were brought out of storage, restored and reinstalled. Unsympathetic lighting fixtures added to the building over the years were removed with overall lighting and power supply upgraded.
Aaron Green Associates was awarded for the historic preservation effort with the “Twenty-Five Year Award” from the AIA California Council.
As Project Architect, my responsibilities involved undertaking historical and archival research, producing all architectural Construction Documents, coordinating consultants to the project, steering the project through agency review and permitting, as well as serving as Construction Administrator. Of particular note, my initiative involved inventory of several hundred pieces of original cabinetry dismantled long ago by previous tenants and stored in the basement with little indication as to its purpose or placement. Working with original blueprints and photographs, I was able to solve the challenging puzzle and set upon the task of guiding a cabinetmaker to reinstall as much the original cabinetry as the new owner would permit.
All photos by Cesar Rubio.