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More Cultural Heritage Destroyed


If there’s one thing we can say about the Saudi government, it’s that their commitment to subtlety is unmatched except by the Russians.

At least when Mexico decided to build that monstrosity of a church with the conveyor belt to see the original Virgin of Guadalupe image, they didn’t tear down the original cathedral. Ugh.

…..In other historic preservation news, the Times has done a really admirable job lobbying to save this Frank Lloyd Wright house in Phoenix from destruction. I mean, who knew there was anything worthwhile to see in that giant scab upon the desert?

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  • It would be nice in a schadenfreude-ish kind of way to see riots in Egypt about this.

    • Yeah, I was just thinking that this is the sort of thing that would go over well with the Muslim fundies. The Wahhabi princes have sown the wind; they may yet reap the whirlwind.

      • Chet Murthy

        Doubt it. The uber-fundies believe that any celebration of any particular individual is idolatry, from what I remember. And preserving some dusty old mosque? Gotta be idol-worship, natch.

        • rea

          The Wahhabis feel that way. Most Sunnis and all Shiites disagree, not to mention the Sufis.

          The Wahhabis have Saudi money and control over the holy sites, not to mention al Qaeda, which gives them more prominence than their actual numbers would indicate.

      • Constructing a mosque to be the world’s largest building – replacing smaller, older mosques with a gigantic, modern one – is perfectly in line with fundamentalist Islam.

        The notion that bigger and newer is not always better than old and small is a very contemporary one. It didn’t creep into Western society until the Romantic poets, and didn’t achieve any kind of mainstream acceptance until the end of the 20th century.

        The ancient Muslims who built those mosques would have torn them down and replaced them with MegaMosque in a heartbeat if they had the chance – just as the people working in colonial-era buildings in Boston would have been thrilled to tear them down and replace them with skyscrapers. Doing so now is perfectly in keeping with a fundamentalist vision.

        • Constructing a mosque to be the world’s largest building

          Just you wait until we break ground on the Mosque of America ™!

  • greylocks

    Your pilgrimage tourist dollars at work.

  • Major Kong

    Nice people. Sure glad I almost got my butt shot off protecting them in 1991.

  • Amok92

    Sorry but I just can’t get excited about the loss of a couple of nice old buildings built for a crummy Abrahamic religion in a city that 3/4 of the world is too impure to visit. The destruction of Ebbets Field was far more tragic than this.

    • Barry Freed

      Shorter Amok92: I am an ignoramus, a philistine and a bigot.

      • Oh, be fair.

        If someone demolished an 8th-century stone church in Europe and replaced it with a gigantic mosque, I’m sure he’d be just as casually dismissive.

  • Warren Terra

    The Frank Lloyd Wright story is tragic. The small amount of description in the story makes it clear that it’s a great building – Wright built it for his own family, after all – and apparently the local “Historical Monument” law only protects buildings for three years, after which the philistine who bought it will get to raze it and build a couple of McMansions, like he’s wanted to all along.

    • This is at least the 3rd prominent story the paper has done on the building. It’s really advocacy. Which I’m totally fine with.

    • Kurzleg

      If you’ve been inside a FLW building or home, then it’s hard to understand why you’d want to destroy it and replace it with something else. FLW had an insight that few have.

      And appropo of nothing, but I took in “Gattaca” recently, and I was struck by the building used for the space academy. Turned out to be the FLW-designed Marin County Civic Center. Figures that they used a building from 1960 designed by a person approaching 90 to depict the interior and exterior of a building 150 years in the future.

      • Vance Maverick

        Also well-known for having served in THX-1138.

        Erik, how do you balance the claims of cultural heritage and people? Obviously the Sauds aren’t making the case well that these changes benefit current pilgrims…but in principle could you see knocking down a relic for the sake of observance today?

        • No.

          I would argue that old buildings can be worked with, worked around, even modified a bit. If you want to build a mosque that holds a million people, I don’t think it’s really necessary to eliminate a few older, far smaller mosques. Build it next door.

          • DrDick

            That makes sense to me, especially when the older mosques are of such cultural and historic significance.

          • Jon H

            Or build around the older structures. A building big enough to hold that many pilgrims ought to have little trouble encompassing a few smaller structures.

            • In fact, a structure that large desperately needs some focal points, and most likely, some character.

              Talking about the preservation as a cost we should bear because it’s the right thing to do, like eating our veggies, so misses the point.

    • Jeebus, look at this house! (There are 9 photos in a gallery at the link.) Why on earth would you want to tear it down? It’s beautiful. Even if you’re an architectural idiot you ought to recognize it’s the only house like it in the neighborhood and maybe it’s got intrinsic value beyond the $1.8M you paid in June or even the $2.3M you want to sell it for 4 months later. Given the short time frame, I question your threatening to tear it down. I think you’re trying to leverage the city or some organization to buy it and give you even more than the $1/2M profit you’re asking.

      • John

        The owners seem to be enormous philistines.

        • Yeah, the owners come across as greedy morons.

          Which makes them par for the course among real estate developers.

  • Barry Freed

    I knew someone when I lived in Morocco, an American convert and Sufi who had lived for many years in Medina and had once conceived of doing a guide to the sites and famous places where early Sufis and Muslim scholars had lived and other historically important places who eventually threw up his hands and walked away from it because everything was being destroyed at such a rapid place. I remember him saying something about one place which was associated with some famous event in the career of the Prophet which had become a McDonald’s parking lot.

  • Barry Freed

    “at such a rapid pace” ugh.

  • Craigo

    When the Catholics reconquered Moorish Spain, they generally chose to preserve Islamic architecture despite the religious strife that as running rampant at the time. You know you’re an asshole when you make the Spanish Inquisition look good.

    • Anonymous

      Well played, sir, quite well played indeed.

    • LeeEsq

      The Ottoman Empire also preserved the Byzantine churches in Constantinople. Now the Spanish turned the mosques into churches and the Ottomans transformed churches into mosques but still.

      The Spanish also preserved the Aztec, Mayan, and Incan structures to.

      • At least in Mexico, the Spanish tore down whatever Aztec, Mixtec and other structures they could. The cathedral in Mexico City is literally built upon the ruins of the Aztec temple. The Mayan structures were less important to the Spanish because a) they weren’t a relevant power by 1519 and b) the Yucatan and Guatemala was far away from what really interested the Spanish. But the Central Valley of Mexico had its architecture pretty ravaged by the Spanish.

      • PhoenixRising

        Um, if your definition of “preserved” stretches to cover “used the nicely quarried blocks from the Mayan temples they destroyed to build cathedrals”, as in Merida, Yucatan, I suppose that could be true.

        More true in Sevilla–what was the world’s largest cathedral, when built, has the original equipment in the form of a minaret, which funnily enough is copied on a number of colonial era churches in New Spain (US Southwest and Mexico).

    • efgoldman

      When the Catholics reconquered Moorish Spain, they generally chose to preserve Islamic architecture…

      Not for religious reasons, but for practicality. Why take years, or decades, taking down and replacing a perfectly good building.

  • Manju

    Somethings amiss with the Frank Lloyd Wright story.

    The developers bought it in June for $1.8M, even though “the dirt alone…would be worth $1.2 to 1.4”. To make matters more bizarre, Wright’s granddaughters sold it for $2.8M.

    The developers apparently had no idea that it was a FLW. Why not? Did they buy from the stupidest seller of all time?

    Now its on the block for $2.4M, a potential 600K profit in 4 months, or 1.8M annualized.

    I get the feeling that somebody buried the lede.

    • Jon H

      Maybe the Wright granddaugthers’ buyer couldn’t keep up the payments.

  • herr doktor bimler

    A dictatorial regime trying to destroy all memory of a past before the existence of the dictatorship? Didn’t see that coming.

    • Maybe you did but don’t remember.

    • LeeEsq

      Muslim majority countries tend to have tricky relationships with their pre-Islamic or even early Islamic histories. Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Indonesia, and Malaysia tend to rather proud of their pre-Islamic history. Most countries neutral towards it. Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and other peninsular states rather hostile towards it and even not that fond of the relatively confusing early Muslim period either.

      • John

        Turkey’s interesting, because, from what I recall, the pre-Muslim past with which they connect is not that of Anatolia and Thrace, but of the nomadic Turkic peoples of the Central Asian steppes.

        • Amanda in the South Bay

          Yeah, because Byzantium is (geographical) Turkey’s predecessor.

  • Wido Incognitus

    LOL, what if the Israeli government tried to do this to the Dome of the Rock or al-Aqsa Mosque? Anyway, there are some important Islamic sites outside of Saudi Arabia, even if they are not as important.

    • Rhino

      I am actually quite amazed they have not.

    • LeeEsq

      The Israeli government spent more on the up keep of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque than the Jordanian government did when it controlled the Temple Mount. Seriously, if you look at pictures of the Temple Mount before and after the Six-Day War its an amazing difference.

      • Rhino

        You mean the American taxpayer spent more, don’t you?

        • LeeEsq

          You really have no idea what you’re talking about other than contempt for Israel. Israel doesn’t get disproportionate aid compared to other countries and money given to Israel tends to be well spent compare to other countries by the Israeli government.

  • ploeg

    First off, Frank Lloyd Wright built his winter home, Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, AZ. So whatever you might feel about the “giant scab on the desert,” it’s simply what Wright himself picked.

    Second, Wright properties in general are costly to maintain. Fallingwater is particularly notorious for this, as it is built on top of a stream and thus has to be constantly monitored for leaks and mildew. I don’t know how it would be with the house in question, though judging solely from the pictures it would be a horror to keep cool in summer at minimum (which was probably fine by the Wrights as they were typically in Wisconsin at that time of year). All of this is a roundabout way of saying that a Wright home is a nice place to visit but most would not want to live there, so it’s no wonder that the developers were able to pick up the property as cheaply as they did. It probably didn’t help that the place looks like it was built with cinder blocks (which would be typical of Wright, as Wright was endlessly fascinated with cheap materials such as plywood; you can experiment with cheap materials, and if you make a mistake, just throw it away and get another piece).

    • ploeg

      Of course, the preceding discussion is offered in the spirit of the Hillside Studio & Theater Tour tour guide who had a deep and abiding appreciation of the architecture but who did not back away from talking about the ax murders.

    • Manju

      Thanks ploeg. “Ax murders” and “costly to maintain” answers my questions above.

      But I remain surprised. Assuming “costly to maintain” has long been known, the murders knock down the price by 1, presumably nominal, million dollars under what Wright’s grandchildren sold it for? I don’t know when they sold it, but in real dollars, that’s even more of a discount.

      And classic Ferraris are costly to maintain. But that doesn’t stop them from selling for gazillions. I’m surprised there’s no equivalent premiums for Wrights.

  • Fine, I’ll say it: screw Frank Lloyd Wright. He was an anti-urban, anti-neighborhood, anti-street life suburbanist.

    Buildings designed to have no entrance from the street, or even an entrance visible from the street – bleah! Frank Lloyd Wright was the founder of the school of architecture that gave us the home you can only enter from the garage. He might as well have been Howard Roarke, designing his vacation community to make sure no one ever had to interact with another human.

    • Manju

      And when Rand complained that she could never afford the house Wright designed for her, he told her to just go out and make more money.

      So he may be the only known person to go to the right of Rand, economically.

    • Manju

      I like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe more myself.

    • Rhino

      Certainly, that is a point of view.

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