V.C. Morris Gift Shop
- Financial District, San Francisco
- Building Type:
- Retail Shop
- 140 Maiden Lane, San Francisco, California
- Current Name:
- Xanadu Gallery
- Current Use:
- Retail Gallery
- Current Condition:
- San Francisco Landmark
The noted California Architecture historian, David Gebhard, described this little gem of a building as an example of Wright’s ability to take a mundane building type and “adroitly maneuver it into an architectural monument.” Occupying a party-walled site on a small alley off Union Square, the front façade is all that is visible from outside. The nearly blank elevation clad in golden-colored roman brick with raked joints manipulates the scale, making the small building appear larger than it really is. The entry, an off-center splayed Romanesque arch, carries several feet inside conveying the sense that the interior has been carved from a solid mass. Inside the theme of monumentality is achieved with a part of a circle in a square, a classical motif with roots in antiquity and a strategy Wright employed in several prominent buildings and projects. A circular ramp, similar in concept to that used in the Guggenheim Museum in New York, a project that overlapped for a time in the architect’s office with the Morris store, defines the main interior space. A smooth cream-colored plaster finish on the curving ramp parapet and adjacent walls and an evenly diffused wash of daylight from hidden skylights further contribute to an ambiguity of scale. The effect is seemingly intimate and vast at the same time and sets off the artwork and fine wood casework displays making them appear all the more precious.
The nearly blank façade with expressed rectangular panel eccentric main entry and linear bands of illumination are modern themes. The clarity of the interior planning makes for a satisfyingly resolved central volume. At the same time the circle-in-the-square layout results in a number of intimate peripheral spaces.
Sources: Romanza: The California Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, David Gebhard, Chronicle books, 1988.
Photo: Scott Zimmerman