San Francisco Landmarks

San Francisco Landmark #72: V.C. Morris Building 20 February 2012
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San Francisco Landmark #72
V. C. Morris Building
140 Maiden Lane
Built 1948-1949

Of the approximately three hundred existing buildings designed by Frank LLoyd Wright, this is the only one in San Francisco.

Wright remodeled an existing 1911 building to be a retail store for the Morris family. Although the exterior is striking in its simple geometry, the interior was revolutionary in its curving ramp which leads from the ground floor to a circular mezzanine. Many architectural commentators consider this design to be a precursor to Wright's design for the Guggenheim Museum ten years later.

In the February 1950 edition of Architectural Forum, Elizabeth B. Mock wrote:

Inside [one] finds release in the world of undreamed fantasy, all gold and gray and white, dominated by a ramp that spirals up like a Jacobos ladder - or a wave checked in its break - toward light that filters through a translucent screen of plastic disks and half-bubbles, clustered in brass tubing and suspended beneath skylights.

The circular spiral of the ramp is the pervading theme, developed in endless variation: reduced to disk or hole, elongated as cylinder or tube, blown into domes and spheres. Shapes of mass and void become complex, involute, as these basic forms cut through each other ln space and light, yet it is all so vigorously organized that the total effect is one of singleness, breadth and peace. The visitor tends to extend his pleasure from the building to the wares displayed in the satiny black walnut cases and the circular wall niches. His transformation into a customer is accomplished with dignity and dispatch.

Mr. and Mrs. V .C. Morris operated their Maiden Lane store until their deaths in the early 1960s.

Source: Adapted from Planning Commission Resolution No. 7274 dated 5 December 1974.

The building was restored in 1998 by Aaron Green, a former associate of Wright. The restoration included the reinstallation of some original furnishings and fixtures which had been stored in the basement and the reproduction of others which had been lost.

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