Auldbrass Plantation, the only plantation Frank Lloyd Wright ever designed, has never struggled to pique public curiosity.
Today, word of the plantation has spread worldwide.
But when construction on the project started nearly 80 years ago, it was only locals — who could only catch a glimpse of it from the street — who were whispering about it among themselves.
In 1938, Leigh Stevens first approached Wright and asked him to design Auldbrass.
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At that time, Wright had already created dozens of buildings that would change the course of American architecture, reaching a level of fame no other architect of his time had accomplished.
Still, in the small town of Yemassee, Wright and his plantation weren’t always looked at with such prestige.
As construction on Auldbrass began in 1940, locals started to talk about “crazy house” and word spread quickly.
During the fall of 1941, The Charleston News and Courier asked permission to write a story about the project. Apparently it was Wright, not Stevens, who granted the newspaper permission, according to David G. De Long, author of “Auldbrass: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Southern Plantation.”
When the article ran in December of 1941, it mocked the plantation’s design, calling it an “angled crazy house.”
“One of the nation’s oddest pieces of construction is under way near this little, sleepy railroad junction,” the article read. “... The story of Auld Brass is legend in this section of the Low Country. And the story is that Mr. Stevens, with a considerable amount of money, suddenly got the idea he wanted a plantation in the southland, but he didn’t want anything which even remotely resembled anything anybody else might have in this section of the country.”
The article went on to later say that the plantation “looked to most of the people of Yemassee like something which surpassed even their most uncomfortable nightmares.”
Photographs accompanying the story showed the farm building as nearly complete and the main house in its very early stages. Interior views of the staff cabins showed angled walls, a gaped roof and hexagonal furniture.
In the description of the buildings’ roofs, the article said that “in the grotesque plan of the thing” they “uncomfortably resemble a preview of milady’s new line of spring hats.”
When Stevens read the article, he was outraged and immediately declared that photography would no longer be allowed, and he closed the plantation to all visitors.
A couple of weeks later, The Charleston Sunday Observer picked up the story and ran a full-page spread with the headline “The ‘Crazy Plantation’ near Yemassee, S.C., has native folk a-talking — and swooning!”
In seven separate photos, young women modeled in odd positions to exaggerate the building’s unique features. One caption referred to a woman as “nearly cross-eyes from the views.” While another caption read: “It’s a relief the young women find something commonplace like a farm tractor which brings them back to earth.”
The following day, Stevens wrote a letter to Wright, which said, “I am badly in need of a gate design as I am pestered by visitors.”
Today, the plantation is owned by Hollywood producer Joel Silver, and every two years he opens it up to the public as a part of a fundraiser for the Beaufort County Open Land Trust.
Locals and visitors tend to refer to the complex by its official name now. But once you know it, it’s hard to forget its loving nickname, “the crazy house.”