Passion fuels preservation effort of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Scottsdale ‘laboratory’

A look at Taliesin West in the evening. (Photo credit: Andrew Pielage)

Encountering Fred Prozzillo’s delicate demeanor and quiet style might not give the impression of a man enthralled in a labor of love.

In a conference room tucked away at Scottsdale City Hall, Mr. Prozzillo sat in the back corner ready for an opportunity to explain to the city’s Historic Preservation Commission the scope of renovation plans to unfold at what he referred to as Frank Lloyd Wright’s “laboratory.”

Fred Prozzillo

“From 1938 to 1959 this really was his laboratory,” he told the Commission Thursday, Jan. 5 at One Civic Center. “But when you start to talk about preservation of a place that was constantly changing how do you approach that?”

Taliesin West in north Scottsdale is widely regarded as an architectural masterpiece, a training ground for up-and-coming architects and a tourist attraction already seeing more than 100,000 visitors a year.

Mr. Prozzillo, the director of preservation at Taliesin West, received his master’s degree from instruction at the architectural landmark and is now charged with being a voice in how the structure will be experienced by future generations in perpetuity.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation continues to work with the city of Scottsdale in an effort to better facilitate preservation efforts at Taliesin West as renovation project plans must pass through city guidelines to maintain historical significance.

“Taliesin West was added to the Scottsdale Historic Register in 2006 because it is considered to be a component of the development of arts colonies in Scottsdale, which have had an important influence on Scottsdale’s culture and its economic and physical growth,” said Scottsdale Historic Preservation Officer Steve Venker in a Jan. 5 statement.

“Taliesin West is considered one of Wright’s masterworks from his Second Golden Age (1936-1959) because it embodies many of Wright’s architectural principles: use of natural light; integration of the structures into the landscape; use of local materials; merged indoor/outdoor spaces; and open interior spaces.”

Mr. Venker contends a historical register helps keep the spirit of Mr. Wright alive in how he envisioned his buildings would stand the test of time.

“The Scottsdale Historic Register increases public awareness of Scottsdale’s heritage by the identification of historic and cultural resources,” he said. “The designation and recognition of significant local resources is essential to the protection, preservation and enhancement of the buildings and structures that best represent Scottsdale’s past.”

A point of discussion Jan. 5 at the Historical Preservation Commission was emergence of a preservation master plan document devised by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation providing for internal plans for possible renovation efforts.

“The Taliesin West Preservation Master Plan was approved by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and it is a different (one) than the Taliesin West Historic Preservation Plan that was approved by the Scottsdale Historic Preservation Commission,” he pointed out of the purpose of the study session discussion.

“These two documents include similar information, but they have different intent and purpose. The FLWF document outlines the overarching philosophy and direction for the present and future preservation of Taliesin West, and the SHPC document sets forth the objectives for the preservation of Taliesin West and identifies the standards which will be used by the SHPC and Scottsdale Historic Preservation Officer to review applications for proposed projects at Taliesin West.”

Mr. Prozzillo points out the two documents work exclusively of each other.

“They are really two very different documents,” he explained to the Commission. “Anything that we need to do to restore the buildings will require a permit. This document really guides us on how we present our information to the city. The preservation master plan was developed as an in-house document to guide our work into the future. The preservation problem there is extremely complicated.”

While the preservation effort is a complicated one, foundation officials contend it was worth unraveling.

“In 1974 Taliesin West was added to the National Register of Historic Places,” said Jeff Goodman, Taliesin West communications director, adding Taliesin has national significance.

“In 1982 it was designated a National Historic Landmark. In 2016 it was nominated as part of a serial nomination to UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. That nomination is still in process.”

Mr. Goodman says being a part of Scottsdale’s historic landscape brings the connection home to Scottsdale residents.

“It reinforces Taliesin West’s significance to the history of Scottsdale and as an asset to the community as a whole,” he said.

A different angle of Taliesin West as the sun sets in north Scottsdale. (Photo credit: Foskett Creative)

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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