John F. Brothers/Herald-Standard

Fallingwater, the home Frank Lloyd Wright designed for the Kaufmann family in the 1930s, is one of 10 Wright works nominated for UNESCO “world heritage” status.

An event in July halfway around the world could have an impact on tourism in Fayette County.

From July 10-20, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Committee will meet in Istanbul, Turkey, to consider adding 10 works by architect Frank Lloyd Wright to a list of 1,007 World Heritage sites, 22 of which are in the United States.

It could be the culmination of efforts that came to light on Jan. 30, 2015, with an announcement by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

“Frank Lloyd Wright is widely considered to be the greatest American architect of the 20th century,” Jewell said. “His works are a highly valued and uniquely American contribution to the world’s architectural heritage.”

If approved in Istanbul it would be the first World Heritage listing for the United States in the field of modern architecture. The Wright works would join such examples as the Sydney Opera House, the Brazilian capital city of Brasilia and the Bauhaus School in Germany.

“It’s the highest honor a site can get, cultural or natural,” said Lynda S. Waggoner, vice president of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and director for the past 20 years of Fallingwater, the Mill Run home designed by Wright for Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann of Pittsburgh.

The home was built between 1936 and 1938 over a 30-foot waterfall, with an adjacent guest house built in 1939. It was in an area where the Kaufmanns provided a summer camp for employees of what then was the family’s department store chain, including its well-known flagship in downtown Pittsburgh.

Fallingwater cost $155,000 to build in 1930s dollars – or about $2.5 million in 2016.

It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1966, three years after Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann’s son Edgar Jr. donated Fallingwater to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

And it is on a list of 10 buildings Wright designed between 1905 and 1957, two years before his death, submitted for consideration by the UNESCO panel.

Other Wright-designed landmarks on the list range from the Unitarian Universalist Unity Temple in Oak Park, Ill., to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City to the Marin County Civic Center in California.

“We had to write that nomination, which was over 400 pages long,” Waggoner said. “It was read by a number of people to make sure we caught what we thought. It took us a couple years just to write the nomination.”

It was a careful effort by a woman who may know Fallingwater as well as anyone. She grew up in nearby Farmington, was a tour guide there in her high school days, then returned to Fallingwater in 1985 as a consultant, before becoming full-time curator in 1986 and site administrator in 1987.

Among her other achievements Waggoner is past president of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, past vice president of the Greater Pittsburgh Museum Council and past chairman of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.

“In the United States there are relatively few cultural sites,” Waggoner said, comparing the paucity here with what can be found overseas, from the pyramids in Egypt to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites in the United States largely includes natural landmarks, such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina or Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Cultural landmarks include Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Statue of Liberty in New York and Monticello in Virginia.

The Fallingwater director said UNESCO recognition could increase the popularity already found there from overseas, if Fallingwater and the other Frank Lloyd Wright works are added to a United Nations list visitors use in their travel plans.

“We have 165,000 people (per year) visiting Fallingwater,” Waggoner said. “For 74 percent of them they are coming at least four hours to come here and they stay overnight.”

However, she’s ready to resubmit a nomination if the UNESCO panel turns down the Wright entry.

“You never know,” Waggoner said. “Of the other famous site, many of them have come up two or three times before they are inscribed (on the World Heritage list). It is a panel of countries from all over the world that reviews these nominations.”

More of the impact of the Kaufmann family can be found in a new exhibition at Fallingwater.

“It is going to look at the houses the Kaufmanns built before Fallingwater, in Pittsburgh at Fox Chapel and then a house they built after Fallingwater in Palm Springs,” Waggoner said. The former, La Tourelle, was designed by Benno Janssen and built in 1925; the latter, a winter retreat in the California desert, was designed by Richard Neutra and built in 1946.

“They will get the evolution of an architectural connoisseur,” Waggoner said.

Tourism brought nearly $662 million to Fayette County in 2013, the last year for which figures are available from the state tourism office’s study of the economic impact of travel in Pennsylvania. That’s out of $1.8 billion spent in the three Laurel Highlands counties (Fayette, Somerset, Westmoreland).

The bureau’s still relatively-new public relations director Anna Weltz said that same study found that tourism-related businesses employ 5,818 people in Fayette County. Overall, 11.8 percent of the workforce in the three Laurel Highlands counties are employed in tourism.

The evolution of Frank Lloyd Wright also can be seen elsewhere in Fayette County, at one of the last homes he designed, Kentuck Knob on 89 acres east of Uniontown.

With or without the UNESCO honor for Wright’s work, Weltz still sees an uptick in the number of visitors to Fayette County.

“Our lodging partners have reported to us that reservations for 2016 are trending higher,” said Weltz, who was hired last fall.

She said more rooms are available, with a Comfort Inn and Suites opening with 80 rooms last August in Uniontown.

Also last year, a 15-month, $30 million renovation of Nemacolin Woodlands was completed, including transformation of 263 of 318 guest rooms on the 2,000-acre resort.

That project also involved 32,000 square feet of meeting space in the conference center. Additionally, nine more holes will be added by summer 2017 to the Mystic Rock golf course, which this year will have one of the longest seasons in its 22-year history, through Nov. 1.

Other changes expected this spring include completion of a new addition to the main entrance, front drive and Chateau Lafayette entrance and an expansion of the Paradise Pool complex to include a new outdoor pool, hot tub and bar area.

Another feature touted at Nemacolin is its Lautrec Restaurant, which in February was honored again as one of 56 five-star restaurants (two in Pennsylvania) by Forbes Travel Guide (which gave Lautrec its first five-star rating in 2009). Coincidentally, Lautrec is one of 27 restaurants with both a Forbes five-star rating and AAA’s Five-Diamond award.

Its Chef de Cuisine Kristin Butterworth is the youngest and only female chef in charge of a restaurant with that dual distinction.

In February, for the third time in her six years at Nemacolin, Butterworth, 34, made an appearance at the James Beard Foundation’s Five Star Winter Night of Elegance, bringing her spin on what rural Pennsylvanians enjoy to the non-profit promoter of culinary education: A dinner of chicken and waffles.

Chicken liver pâté, that is, with rosemary waffles, pickled elderberries, pecans and bourbon barrel–aged maple syrup.

Meanwhile, work continues on a 54-room Cobblestone Hotel and Suites in Connellsville. A completion date for that project was not available.

Tourism goes far beyond the Mill Run and Farmington attractions. A new visitors’ center was opened in September 2014 at the waterfalls in Ohiopyle State Park, an attraction for all sorts of activity, on the rapids of the Youghiogheny River and the Great Allegheny Passage that rolls from Pittsburgh, McKeesport and Connellsville to Cumberland, Md., and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal trail into Washington, D.C.

“It’s all here — a river that thrills the boater and angler; trails that delight the hiker, biker and birder — all enhanced by the rugged, unspoiled beauty that is the Laurel Highlands’ trademark,” state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said at a formal dedication of the center last June. “All (combine) annually to draw almost 1.5 million visitors, not just to the park, but also to the many communities whose economies and business they support along their way.”

The center is open year-round from dawn-to-dusk, with information specialists on hand from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily between May and October, to 6 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

“In 2015, our visitors’ center staff welcomed visitors from all 50 states and Australia, Argentina, Finland, France, India, Japan, New Zealand and beyond,” Weltz said.

Additionally, there are many locations that made their mark in American history, from the National Park Service’s Fort Necessity National Battleground off Route 40 in Farmington, to a stretch of the Youghiogheny River at Connellsville that was known as Stewart’s Crossings in 1755.

That’s when British Gen. Edward Braddock arrived on his way to a fateful French & Indian War encounter along the Monongahela River near modern-day Kennywood Park. Re-enactments will take place at 1 p.m. on June 25 and 26.

More details about tourism in Fayette County are available from the Laurel Highlands Visitors’ Bureau at www.laurelhighlands.org.

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