Coronavirus having huge impact on Pa.’s unique architectural treasure Fallingwater

Fallingwater History

MILL RUN, PA, — A connection with nature — that’s what Frank Llyod Wright’s Fallingwater represents. In 2020, it’s what many did this year as COVID-19 changed everything.

“We did something much closer that didn’t require staying in hotels or anything like that,” said Ken Ambrose, of Rockville, Maryland. “And still let us be outside explore nature, so that was our plan this year.”

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Ambrose and his family visited Fallingwater, located in Fayette County. It was supposed to be a landmark year for Fallingwater. The historic home of the Kaufmann family was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2019.

Justin Gunther, Fallingwater’s executive director, said the landmark being on the UNESCO list is imperative. “That means is you have outstanding universal value to all of humanity, meaning everyone in the world can benefit from a experience,” he said.

It’s a big honor, as there are only 24 places in the United States on that list, most of them being national parks. Two of 24 are in the Commonwealth: Fallingwater and Independence Hall.

“We were really expecting 2020 to be a banner year for visitation here at the site,” said Gunther. “In a typical year here at Fallingwater, we get about 170,000 visitors that are coming from all over the world. And this is a bucket list destination.”

The coronavirus changed that. Just as it struck in March, Fallingwater started its 57th tour season.

“It was a huge, huge hit to us when the virus came in the spring, and we had to shut the site completely down,” said Gunther.

During the spring, the site will see about 1,500 school groups in addition to other visitors. Tickets, food and museum store sales, along with donations, bring in $200,000 a week in revenue. Gunther said much of the revenue goes right back into the site to preserve it.

Once Fallingwater could reopen in the green stage, it was only at 50% capacity in June. Gunther said because of COVID-19 restrictions and for the visitors' safety, they only offered exterior tours.

“We’ve taken a huge hit on our revenue,” said Gunther. “And what that does is it impacts our ability to care for the resource that we have. So in addition to kind of putting some programming on hold, we’ve also had to put major repairs on the house on hold.”

These include surface cracks happening on the stone footers that rest on the streambed. Also, the car bridge has started to crumble. Designed in 1935 and made out of mostly concrete over a waterfall, this complex structure requires regular preservation.

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“While it may look great on the surface, we do our best to maintain it,” said Gunther.

Gunther said they will likely feel the effects of the closure for a while but adds as people come back to walk through the grounds, they will be supporting Wright’s idea: to be one with nature.

“Pennsylvanians should be extremely proud that they have these two international resources within our state,” said Gunther.

Even while the weather is getting colder, tours at Fallingwater are continuing until Nov. 29, 2020. No tours are done on Wednesdays. They can be done self-guided or guided in a group of six or fewer.

The details and prices of tours are located here.

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