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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Duncan House ready for visitors

Pittsburgh Post GazetteWednesday, June 13, 2007
By Patricia Lowry,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A ribbon-cutting ceremony tomorrow will mark the end of one era and the beginning of another for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Duncan House, which began its life in a Chicago suburb and now is the star of Polymath Park, a new 125-acre resort in the Laurel Highlands.

Nearly a year after ground was broken in a Western Pennsylvania woodland, the prefab Usonian house will open to the public this weekend for tours and overnight accommodations.

Built in a Lisle, Ill., in 1957 for Donald and Elizabeth Duncan, the Duncan House was deconstructed in 2004 and reassembled over the past 12 months near Acme in Westmoreland County as part of Polymath Park Resort. The retreat also includes two homes by Wright apprentice Peter Berndtson — the Balter House and the Blum House, both built in the 1960s for Pittsburgh businessmen.

Thomas D. Papinchak, a Westmoreland County home builder, had been renting the Balter and Blum houses on an annual basis from their most recent previous owner, who named the grounds Polymath Park.

Now the resort’s owner and CEO, Mr. Papinchak, who declined comment before the opening, has established the Usonian Preservation Corp., with a five-member board, as the nonprofit entity that will direct the proceeds from rentals toward maintaining the houses and telling their stories through educational and civic programs. The for-profit arm of the business will draw its income from corporate and private events.

Located near Wright’s Fallingwater (15 miles away) and Kentuck Knob (30 miles), the Duncan House is one of only four Wright buildings in the country that accommodate overnight visitors.

Lodging is available in the Duncan House and Balter House, with the Blum House eventually serving as the visitor center, cafe, spa and gift shop. There’s a two-night minimum for sleepovers, priced at $325 per night for the Duncan House, which has three bedrooms and sleeps six; and $265 per night for the Balter House, which has four bedrooms and sleeps six. Those prices are for three guests; for four to six people, add $50 per person.

Hours for the Blum House Visitor Center, which is not expected to open until August, are noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday through Aug. 31. Call ahead for spa and cafe reservations.

The Boulder Room, in the lower level of the Duncan House, features a stone fireplace, Cherokee red concrete floor, patio and wall of windows to the outdoors. It’s equipped for electronic presentations, music and seminars for corporate or private use, with a 120-seat capacity.

Mr. Berndtson’s 1962 master plan for the site, which he named Treetops and Mountain Circles, called for 24 houses, each set within a 300-foot circular clearing in the woods, which today are laced with about five miles of hiking trails. The land between the houses was to have held community facilities such as tennis courts, a baseball diamond, swimming ponds and orchards.

But only two houses were built: the Balter house in 1964 for James and Frances Balter and the Blum house in 1965. Harry Blum, along with brothers Max and Louis, helped build their father’s metalworking business into Blumcraft, an international company still based in Oakland. He died in 1998.

This weekend, Polymath Park will be open for tours, but as always, by reservation only. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For tours of all three buildings, admission is $22. For the Duncan House only, admission is $16. Children under 12 are admitted free but must be closely supervised by an adult. Public tours also will be offered on some Sundays and weekdays; call for information and reservations: 1-877-833-STAY (7829) or visit

The other Wright-designed houses available for sleepovers are the Bernard Schwartz House in Two Rivers, Wis. (1939); the Louis Penfield House in Willoughby, Ohio (1955); and the Seth Peterson Cottage on Mirror Lake in Wisconsin (1958). The rental rates at all three are in line with the Duncan House rates.

The Duncan House’s first overnight guest, on June 18, hails from Louisiana. Other future guests live in Maryland, Illinois, England and Ireland; visitors from Pittsburgh, Detroit and Australia have stayed in the Balter House, open since November.

“A lot of the people are coming to see Fallingwater and staying with us, which we suspected would be the case,” said resort spokeswoman Laura Nesmith.

Polymath Park is five miles from the Donegal exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

(Patricia Lowry can be reached at or 412-263-1590. )

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