MILWAUKEE - Taliesin opens for the season in April, and officials there expect big crowds, despite the recession. Or maybe because of the recession.
The number of visitors to Frank Lloyd Wright's home in Spring Green, about 120 miles west of Milwaukee, increased 10 percent from 2007 to 2008, after flat attendance the two previous years.
Advanced reservations are up 65 percent over this time last year, said Carol Johnson, president of the nonprofit Taliesin Preservation Inc. Gift shop sales were up about 10 percent, she said.
But Taliesin West, Wright's winter home and studio in Scottsdale, Ariz., saw a drop in tour attendance by nearly 15 percent and gift shop sales by 4 percent last year.
Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation President Phil Allsopp said he suspects part of the difference is tourists tend to fly to Arizona because big cities are so distant. People can drive from Milwaukee and Chicago to Spring Green in three or four hours.
Allsopp called the interest in Taliesin "fabulous."
"We really can't figure out why, but we're are not complaining about it," he said in a recent phone interview from his office in Scottsdale.
The foundation operates Taliesin in Spring Green and Taliesin West, does student outreach programs and runs the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives.
Sarah Klavas, brand manager for the state of Wisconsin, said people tend to pick destinations they can drive to, rather than fly to during tough economic times. She didn't have statewide numbers for 2008 yet, but anecdotally she said Wisconsin businesses were optimistic about last summer, despite high gas prices and flooding.
Carol Johnson, president of Taliesin Preservation Inc., which maintains the 600-acre estate and buildings in Spring Green, said the number of tours increased last season with demand.
She thought visitors may have been interested in seeing Taliesin after reading Nancy Horan's best-selling "Loving Frank: A Novel," based on the relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney. Johnson also suspected people were staying closer to home.
"People are taking advantage of what's in their backyard of sorts," she said.
Johnson said fundraising for Taliesin also has done well, reaching its goals the past two years.
The more people come for tours, the more visible Taliesin is and the more people are likely to donate, she said.
All the money raised goes to upkeep and renovation on Taliesin, which Wright used as a laboratory of sorts, changing and expanding it until he died in 1959.
The National Park Service declared Taliesin a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
Wright was born in 1867 in nearby Richland Center and spent many summers working on his uncles' farms in Spring Green.
Johnson said it could be at least 10 years before restoration is done on Wright's home in Spring Green and on the six other buildings.
She estimated at least $50 million must be raised, and that wouldn't include maintenance.
At Taliesin West, Allsopp said attendance and gift shop sales may have dropped, but the foundation raised three times more money in 2008 than 2007.
He attributed that to stepped up fundraising efforts and increasing the positive perception of the foundation.
Taliesin, which is not heated, has exterior, limited weekend tours starting April 1. The full tour schedule starts May 1.