You leave the house with camera in hand, devoting this afternoon to exploring Maiden Lane. It’s one of the few pedestrian-only thoroughfares in the city and, most importantly, it’s the location of the only Frank Lloyd Wright building in the Bay Area.
As the consummate urban dweller, you enjoy the sounds of the city. From the rumble of traffic and whiz of passing bicycles to the people conversing on the corner of Market and Geary Streets, it’s become the soundtrack to most of your outings.
Turning left on Maiden Lane, you notice the familiar sounds becoming subdued, transforming to just a faint hum in the distance. Perhaps the historic buildings made from brick and stone absorb the noise. The structures stand shoulder-to-shoulder, lending a distinct coziness to the lane.
You keenly observe each building trying to determine which one is Frank Lloyd Wright’s. And when you do locate it, you’re momentarily confused. This is it? You weren’t expecting it to look so… well, plain. Except for a wrought-iron door beneath a curved archway, it’s rather unremarkable. You wonder how many people walk past not knowing what it is. A treasure concealed by the illusion of commonplaceness.
The decidedly underwhelming exterior gives way to a much grander interior. You pass through a tunnel, half-brick and half-glass, before emerging in front of a white spiral ramp. As an enormous circle contained in a rectangular building, the ramp divides the space into raw, organic shapes. There’s a small room beneath the sweeping midsection, and another nestled directly at the foot of the ramp. Up on the second landing, small alcoves and niches radiate out from the central focal point.
Wright used this space as a physical prototype for his design at the Guggenheim Museum. With a domed skylight directly overhead, daylight causes the feature to glow with an ethereal light. You walk around the building exploring all the recesses and, before you know it, the afternoon light has melted from the walls to be replaced with dusky evening.
Walking back through the glass-and-brick tunnel, it strikes you that the building was a clothing store. You were so taken in by the architecture that you overlooked the shop. A true testament to Frank Lloyd Wright’s work.
Outside, the bistro lights hanging overhead give off a soft yellow glow. It’s welcoming and cozy, inviting you to linger a bit longer. You order from a nearby café and take an outdoor table to look over the exterior once more. Knowing what’s within, the simple façade holds a new fascination. One of the many surprises in the Yerba Buena Gardens neighborhood.