A half-century after his death, Wright's popularity remains high. His efforts to create a democratic and distinctively American style of architecture continue to excite the imagination of Americans.
Tourists descend on Wright houses as on European cathedrals. Publishers issue field guides to his buildings that come complete with maps and GPS coordinates. Wright's designs can be found on mouse pads, needlework kits, and refrigerator magnets.
Still, the vulnerability of some of his houses became evident last November when the owner of an obscure Wright-designed summer house in Grand Beach, Mich., tore down the house to clear the lakeside lot for a newer and larger house. The Carr summer residence, as it was called, was dilapidated, termite-infested, and uninhabited. And yet to many Wright enthusiasts, tearing down even a minor Wright house seemed almost sacrilegious.
"You wouldn't throw out a Picasso painting just because it wasn't one of his greatest works," says Mr. Scherubel. "So from the perspective of Frank Lloyd Wright houses, even a small cottage is important because it's part of an entire body of work of a great artist."
The demolition of the Carr residence stung especially because it ended a run of nearly three decades without the loss of a Wright building. Although more than 100 of Wright's buildings fell in his lifetime and in the decade and a half after his death, none were known to have been lost since 1974, as both interest in historical preservation and Wright's reputation have risen. In the meantime, millions of dollars were lavished on prominent Wright buildings to restore the architect's original design.
And yet the variety and sheer abundance of Wright's work poses a challenge for preservationists. He designed houses in scores of communities across the country, working for clients ranging from wealthy businessmen to middle-class professionals.