Frank Lloyd Wright was furious with my great-uncle Tommy. The mercurial architect was at work on his masterpiece SC Johnson Research Tower in Racine, Wis., and he had a problem. The glass tubes he wanted to wrap around corners of the tower had a tendency to let in not just the light, but also the rain.
Thomas H. Truslow Jr., a general sales manager at Corning Glass Works, proposed a solution of flexible waterproof strips directly to Johnson executives, bypassing Wright.
The architect seethed. “Are you then unfamiliar with the way of work with an architect,” he wrote in a typed letter on Nov. 10, 1948. He added an angry question mark in green ink.
“The scheme is not the Johnson Company’s,” the typing continued. “It is the architect’s.” Then more green scribbled rage: “Mine.”
Wright summoned Uncle Tommy to meet at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. They got on great. Wright liked the waterproof strips. My uncle came up with classy, glassy adornments for two more Wright projects.
Near the end of his life, as his great-nieces and -nephews got married, Uncle Tommy, who didn’t have children, would invite them to his house in Geneva, N.Y., to pick a wedding gift from the paintings and figurines he had collected over a lifetime of adventures. When my turn came, the letter wasn’t even on display, but that’s what I wanted. Uncle Tommy thought I was cheating myself.
Now it hangs prominently in my house, a tribute to the pluck of a salesman.
David Montgomery, 55, of Takoma Park, Md., is a Washington Post staff writer.
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