V.C. Morris Gift Shop by Frank Lloyd Wright

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    V. C. Morris Gift Shop, 1948

    ©2014 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1948, the V. C. Morris Gift Shop has connections to the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Wright was first contacted about designing the museum in 1943, but it took until 1959 before it was completed. 

    In the meanwhile, V.C. Morris wanted to renovate a bare-bones 1911 warehouse on San Francisco's Maiden Lane to house a gift shop. Wright took on the commission, experimenting with a multi-level design around a central atrium. In fact, the Morris Gift Shop gave Wright a chance to refine his ideas and build his first spiral ramp.

    The building's distinctive arched brickwork was intended to lure passers-by into the shop's airy interior, accomplishing that while rejecting the traditional concept of store windows. The facade is simple but striking and its look changes with the light. Removing every other brick created a vertical grille to the left of the arch, which is backed by recessed lights.

    Matt Taylor writes about it and his experience working across the street and watching people pass by: " They would be walking along the Lane and suddenly stop and look at the large massive brick wall of the front. This wall is unbroken except for an arch at one end of the building. The walker would walk to the arch, peer in - and here was the surprise - find themselves already “in” the environment before opening the door. Usually, they would walk in, and - usually - come out a half hour later with a package under their arms."

    Once inside, you'll see a circular central area, flanked by an ascending spiral ramp, circular openings for displays cut into its ramp. At the top of the ramp, you'll be close to the suspended light fixtures that look almost like bubbles floating in the air. 

    The shop is the only Frank Lloyd Wright building in the city of San Francisco and is also recognized by the American Institute of Architects as one of seventeen Wright buildings that best represent his contribution to American culture.

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    More About the V.C. Morris Gift Shop - and More of California's Wright Sites

    Interior, V.C. Morris Gift Shop/Xanadu Gallery
    Thomas Hawk/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

    For many years, the building was occupied by the Xanadu Gallery. They welcomed visitors when they were open, but they moved out in the summer of 2015 and owner Marsha Handley sold the building to a new owner whose portfolio includes Los Angeles’ landmarked Bradbury Building.

    According to the San Francisco Chronicle reporting in February 2016, the building has been empty since then. The city is working to expand its landmark designation to protect original elements of the interior.

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    What You Need to Know About the V.C. Morris Gift Shop Building

    Map to the V.C. Morris Gift Shop
    Adapted from Google Maps

    The former gift shop is at 

    140 Maiden Lane
    San Francisco, CA (near Union Square)

    The building still serves the purpose for which Wright designed it, luring in both architecture aficionados and shoppers.

    You can see some nice black-and-white photos and drawings here.

    More of the Wright Sites

    The V.C. Morris Gift Shop is one of eight Wright designs in the San Francisco area, including two of his most important works. Use the guide to Frank Lloyd Wright in the San Francisco area to find all of them.

    The shop is also among the 17 Wright buildings named his most important works by the American Institute of Architecture, three of which are in California. The others are the Hollyhock House in Los Angeles and the ​Hanna House in Palo Alto.

    Wright's work isn't all in the San Francisco area. He also designed nine structures in the Los Angeles area. Use the guide to Wright Sites in Los Angeles to find out where they are. You'll also find several houses, a church, and a medical clinic in some of the most unexpected places. Here's where to find Wright sites in the rest of California.

    More to See Nearby

    For a contrast in retail design, compare the shop to the Apple Store nearby on Union Square. It's an open construction with a grand mezzanine, seamless glass and glass-fiber ceiling panels backed by thousands of tiny LEDs to create “the softest form of light there is,” as Stefan Behling of architecture firm Foster + Partners called it.

    You'll find examples of Victorian style architecture all over San Francisco, including the famous Painted Ladies of Alamo Square. Other sights with particular architectural interest include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the deYoung Museum and Renzo Piano's Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, and the Transamerica Building.