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New duties – Faith Rockenstein takes reins at Gordon House

By James Day

For Faith Rockenstein, it was love at first sight. The accomplished artist, arts educator and long-time museum manager, who has traveled widely in the U.S and abroad, was blown away a couple of years ago when she entered Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

“I was just overwhelmed,” she said.

Faith Rockenstein, general manager, outside of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Gordon House adjacent to the Oregon Garden.

Rockenstein decided to stay in Oregon and eventually found her way to Silverton. Once in town she hooked up with the Silverton Art Association, where she teaches, shows and serves on the board.

Earlier this spring she added general manager of the Gordon House to her workload. Rockenstein, two other employees and a cadre of volunteers and docents, are charged with helping tell the story of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house, the lone such home in Oregon.

“I love Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture,” Rockenstein said. “This is a wonderful work of art. It’s not just a house or a building.”

The house is an example of Wright’s Usonian style, which debuted in the 1930s and was designed to be affordable housing for working families. The Gordon House was built in 1963 and was moved to Silverton from the Wilsonville area in 2001. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.

“Usonian houses all had a simple floor plan,” Rockenstein said, noting that Wright used high ceilings and windows to “make the home feel big.”

The Gordon House is approximately 2,100 square feet and features 12-foot-high ceilings on its main floor. Wright also designed the furniture and kitchen  utensils, said Rockenstein, who as she spoke was sitting at a 15-degree angle on a couch built into the west wall. The 15 degrees was one of Wright’s trademarks, she said.

The Gordon House reopened to tours March 19 after approximately two years of COVID-induced visitor limitations. Rockenstein is hopeful of once again being able to use the facility for weddings, other special events, including musical performances, and overnight visits. She also hopes to reach out to add programs for children and schools.

The house received a minor spruce-up during the pandemic. The longest beam in the house, which is built in two sections, was reinforced with steel underneath the same wooden exterior that exists elsewhere in the house. Like any renovation/reconstruction in a historically registered structure, permits were required to do the work.

Looking forward, Rockenstein is hoping to recruit more volunteers and docents to bolster her small staff. She admits that she is “still learning about the building” and wants to make sure that she and her staff “don‘t burn out.”

Also ahead for Rockenstein is updating the landscaping for the property. Wright designed the Usonian models to have a strong visual connection between the interior and exterior spaces. Rockenstein says that there are some intriguing possibilities, particularly given the Oregon white oaks that surround the Gordon House.

“That’s the big one, doing the landscaping,” Rockenstein said.

Some of the oaks that surround the house contain bird boxes and Rockenstein said including wildlife must be part of the landscaping plan.

And, Silverton, she said, is the perfect place to make all of this happen. It has a good local music scene and art,” she said. “I feel like I fit here. The people here are welcoming and open. I love Silverton.”

Taking a Tour

The Gordon House, just past the entrance to the Oregon Garden at 879 W. Main St., is open to tours Wednesday through Sunday at noon, 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. 

Go to thegordonhouse.org/visit to book a tour. 

Those interested in volunteering or training to become a docent should email [email protected].

Wright’s Birthday Event

The Gordon House celebrates architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s 155th birthday with cake and a
casual tour from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 4. 

There will be a $5 entry fee due at the door. 

Call 503-874-6006 for more information.

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