From grand seats of government and elaborate transportation edifices to unusual homes where famous people lived and little children played, travelers enjoy journeying to admire America’s diverse architecture.
“Many buildings are not only beautiful, they also tell stories,” said Myron Baer, managing director of Orpheo, parent company of Grand Central Terminal Tours. “That’s often what people want to know. It’s like walking through a piece of living history.”
Stunning architectural attractions can be found in many places around the globe but here are four to consider for a group tour visit.
Grand Central Terminal
New York City
Opened in 1913, the beaux-arts landmark was slated for the wrecking ball in 1978.
“It was saved from destruction due to the efforts of Jacqueline Kennedy,” Baer said. “It’s an absolutely magnificent building with lots of stories to tell from peacetime to wartime and much more.”
Today the station is a retail and dining destination as well as home of the MTA Metro-North Railroad and a subway station. Docent-led tours or self-guided audio tours focus not only on the architectural highlights of the terminal but also provide real stories about the history and little-known secrets.
“What surprises most visitors is the immense size of the terminal and the attention to the smallest design details,” Baer said.
Look for the oak leaves and acorn architectural details adorning the terminal. They are symbols of the Vanderbilt family who financed construction of the building. Cornelius Vanderbilt chose them as well as the family motto: “Great oaks from tiny acorns grow.”
Stop to admire the crown jewel of Grand Central, the information booth clock. Valued at $20 million, the clock is set by the atomic clock and is accurate to within 1 second every 20 billion years.
While visiting Grand Central Terminal and “the city that never sleeps,” native Manhattanite Myron Baer suggests group tours take time to see Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and Times Square. “You haven’t seen New York until you see Times Square lit up at night.”
For more information on Grand Central Terminal, call 212-464-8255 and visit grandcentralterminal.com/tours.
The U.S. Capitol is not only filled with history, it is where history is being made. Located at the eastern end of the National Mall, the Capitol is home to the United States Congress. It is considered the nation’s most symbolically important building.
“We have seen a steady increase in visitors for the past 10 years,” said Tom Casey, director of marketing and communications. “Every group has their own reasons for coming, but the U.S. Capitol is a unique place that combines art, architecture, history and civic education. As the home of the U.S. Congress, history is made here almost every day.”
Dr. William Thornton, a physician and amateur architect, was chosen as building architect. On Sept. 18, 1793, George Washington laid the U.S. Capitol cornerstone to mark the construction. The landmark building opened Nov. 17, 1800.
Admission and tours are free. A brief orientation film, Out of Many, One, describes how Americans came together as a nation to govern ourselves. Exhibition Hall features original and rarely seen documents, plus videos and artifacts.
Group tours go inside the Capitol dome designed by Philadelphia architect Thomas U. Walter to see the ceiling painting. Called “The Apotheosis of Washington” in honor of George Washington, the fresco was painted over 11 months by Italian artist Constantino Brumidi.
While touring the Capitol, Casey suggests adding the U.S. Botanic Garden and Library of Congress to a visit. “They are both great ways to further explore the U.S. Capitol Complex,” he said.
For more information on the U.S. Capitol, call 202-226-8000 or go to visitthecapitol.gov.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater
Mill Run, Pennsylvania
Built over a waterfall, Fallingwater is the only major Frank Lloyd Wright work to come into the public domain with its original furnishings and artwork intact. Travel + Leisure magazine said that Fallingwater is “one of the 12 landmarks that will change the way you see the world.”
“In designing Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright was inspired by the dramatic natural beauty of its mountain location. However, because of its rural location approximately 90 minutes from Pittsburgh, making the trek to visit can sometimes be challenging,” said Kristen Wishon, communications specialist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. “Traveling with a group can add convenience to the journey, as well as the added benefit of a group discount.”
Designed in 1935 by Wright, Fallingwater was built as a private residence and weekend home for the family of Pittsburgh department store owner, Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. In 1963, the Kaufmann family donated Fallingwater and the surrounding 1,500 acres of natural land to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Fallingwater also has a visitor center, café, store and art exhibit.
While in the area, Wishon recommends that groups visit other nearby Wright-designed homes — Kentucky Knob and Polymath Park.
“When you become a ‘Friend of Fallingwater,’ you also receive a reciprocal membership at more than 30 other Frank Lloyd Wright sites around the country,” Wishon said.
For more information on Fallingwater, call 724-329-8501 or visit fallingwater.org.
Children once had pillow fights in the Miller House’s famed “conversation pit” and roller-skated on the expensive terrazzo terrace circling the house. This was a home where a family with five children lived.
“You definitely get a sense of the family from the many personal touches,” said Shelley Selim, associate curator of design and decorative arts, who oversees the Miller House. “Our guests really enjoy hearing more about the incredible couple that commissioned this project.”
Commissioned in 1953 by Cummins Inc. official J. Irwin Miller and his wife Xenia Simons Miller, the house was the home of only one family. J. Irwin died in 2004 at the age of 95. Xenia died in 2008 at age 90. Both died in their beloved home.
Donated by the Miller family to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Miller House is considered an icon of midcentury modern architecture.
“It is a product of three of America’s most celebrated designers — architect Eero Saarinen, interior designer Alexander Girad, and landscape architect Dan Kiley — collaborating at the height of their careers to make one harmonious, total work of art,” Selim said.
Completed in 1957, the stone and glass-walled house has a first-of-its-kind “conversation pit” in the living room. Recessed below floor level and accessed by four steps, the pit allows beautiful views to the outside through windowed walls.
Columbus is graced with more than 70 buildings and pieces of public art designed by some of the world’s great architects. Smithsonian magazine called Columbus a “veritable museum of modern architecture.”
For more information on the Miller House, call 812-378-2622 or visit columbus.in.us.
Article by Jackie Sheckler Finch