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The Wright Stuff

Hidden away deep in the Lowcountry is a rare architectural gem with the unusual name Auldbrass. The only project in the South designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Auldbrass' 326 acres lie along the Combahee River, near the town of Yemassee, and are dotted with buildings displaying the trademarks of Wright's distinctive aesthetic - steeply angled walls, pagoda-like cupolas, delicately milled exterior woodwork, on low-lying structures that seem rooted in the soil and surrounding landscape.

Window detail, staff quarters

Auldbrass was the 1938 brainchild of lumber magnate Leslie Stephens, who assembled parts of several old plantations that had fallen into disrepair (he used the name of one of them, Old Brass, for his new venture) and asked his fellow Midwesterner Wright to design what Stephens envisioned as a modern "plantation" for hunting and outdoor recreation. Wright, always sensitive to the terrain into which his structures would be inserted, was fascinated by the grounds' many live oaks and mimicked their twisting trunks and branches by designing building walls that leaned inward at an 80-degree angle. He used cypress for much of the exterior cladding of the main house, guest house, stables and kennels, further tying the structures to their surroundings, and even designed downspouts based on the Spanish Moss that festooned the property.

courtesy Anthony Perez

Ambitious in conception, Auldbrass was never fully completed. World War Two and its shortage of building materials halted construction until the late 1940's, and by Wright's death in 1959, only the main house, guest cottage and a storage barn had been built. At Stephens' death in 1962, his daughter and son-in-law struggled to maintain the property, opening it to tours and getting it placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Sold to a lumber company in the early 1970's, the property deteriorated due to its high maintenance costs until the Beaufort County Open Land Trust managed to find a buyer willing to place a conservation easement on the property and undertake a full restoration.

The Wright-designed swimming pool

The new owner was, and still is, film producer Joel Silver ("Who Killed Roger Rabbit", among a long list of films), a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright. Silver, who bought the property in 1987, has ever since been working to fully realize Wright's original conception and has generously allowed the Open Land Trust to offer tours over three days in the fall of every odd-numbered year to support the organization's mission. This year's dates haven't been announced as yet and the property is not open to the public at any other time, hidden away in Lowcountry solitude.

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