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Long Story Short: Frankly, my dear



You can’t keep a good Frank down: Two artists who aren’t letting death stop them


Frank Lloyd Wright

The great architect died sixty years ago, but his Buffalo-built designs continue to accumulate. There’s the posthumously constructed Blue Sky Mausoleum (constructed in 2004 from 1928 plans), the Fontana Boathouse (Commissioned in 1905, built in 2007), and the Buffalo Filling Station (designed in 1927, built 2014).


And now, if Henry Stinson has his way, another Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building will soon go up in Buffalo.


The details:

Stinson is the owner of the Buffalo Grand Hotel (formerly the Adams Mark) on Church Street, and he wants to make his facility into a world class destination for tourists and bridal parties. He’s planning to add an elevated wedding chapel Wright designed in 1959, the year he died. It was intended for Berkeley’s Fairmont Hotel in California, but never built. Stenson’s plan is to attach the two-story free-standing chapel to a brick balcony on the facade of the hotel, connected by a green copper bridge extending out toward the Skyway. A copper spire will extend seventy feet into the sky, “visually complementing the nearby cathedral spires.”


If the project is approved, its distinctive “futuristic” appearance should make it an instant landmark. The deal for wedding couples includes a ride in a 1958 Austin Princess Limousine, which Stinson purchased to match the vintage of the chapel.


As fate would have it, a Minneapolis salvage company just happened to have two tractor-trailers full of furniture and millwork from the Wright-designed Paul Olfelt House in St. Louis Park, which some idiot bought and gutted. Stinson purchased everything and plans to install it in an adjoining bridal suite opposite the chapel.


The takeaway:

Let’s not kid ourselves; this will not be a true FLW building. The FLW Foundation no longer licenses the architect’s plans, so the original design will be used "as an inspiration" for the hotel addition. Which might be fortunate for Stinson, because Wright’s specifications would likely be too costly to follow exactly. But the facsimile—if approved—should make for an exciting downtown addition.


Speaking of facsimiles: Frank Zappa

Composer and guitarist Frank Zappa died twenty-five years ago of pancreatic cancer, but the iconoclastic classical, jazz, doo-wop, experimental, avant-pop, comedy rock musician is still touring alongside his band. Well more precisely, a “holographic” facsimile of Zappa appears as part of The Bizarre World of Frank Zappa, now on a nine-city tour. The multimedia show includes a live band comprising longtime and legendary Zappa musicians.


On April 20, the Kodak Center Theater in Rochester, hosted the second performance ever. If the show’s a hit, you can expect it to return to the region in the future.


Bogus pomp

The Zappa “hologram” was created by Eyellusion, a company co-owned by Ahmet Zappa, son of Frank and Gail Zappa. I feel obligated to put quotation marks around the word “hologram,” because the effects in the show are actually CGI projections, using an ancient stage technique known as “Pepper’s Ghost.” Hologram just sounds cooler.


 “Zappa” only appears a few times throughout the show, but the faux guitarist fits in convincingly with living members of the band. However, as a hardcore fan who witnessed Zappa in concert a few times, Holo-Frank’s body language lacked some intangible quality. Most of the show involves wild CGI graphics anyway, which Ahmet Zappa—who incongruously sang and danced a couple songs—claims were designed with hallucinogenic-enhanced audiences in mind. 


While the band may have been up to the task, the audio engineer was not. The real Zappa was persnickety about sound quality, but here the bass drum overpowered other instruments, and the all-important vibes were lost beneath a sometimes-unintelligible wall of sound. The crisp precision of Zappa’s instrumentation was intermittently present at best, with one notable exception, the unreleased Farther Oblivion. This was reminiscent of Zappa at his best.


Another Zappa coming

Zappa fans who missed this show will have another chance to savor the sound of their hero. Dweezil Zappa—Frank’s older son—will bring his tour, Hot Rats Live: Plus Other Hot Stuff 1969, to Asbury Hall at Babeville, September 4. At one point, Dweezil and Ahmet were famously engaged in a public dispute over the family trust and the use of the Zappa name. That seems to have been all ironed out now.


The takeaway:

Not since Lon Chaney Jr. has anyone’s offspring so steadfastly carried on their famous father’s legacy. Zappa put out over sixty albums in his lifetime, and thirty more were released since his death. He was inducted into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame, and his reputation as a composer has grown since his death. Several biological species and one asteroid have been named after him. And his two sons are walking in his footsteps. Pretty good for a musician with no commercial potential.



There goes the sun king

When New York State agreed to build and partly equip a solar energy factory on a remediated brownfield at Riverbend, it seemed like an up-and-coming business. SolarCity, a subsidiary of Tesla Inc., promised the facility would eventually employ 3000 workers. Now it’s just one year before Tesla is slapped with a $41.2 million penalty if it doesn’t meet an agreed-upon job target. To do that, the company needs to double the current labor force of 700 workers. But first quarter earnings for 2019 are the lowest in more than five years. For most businesses, that would mean layoffs, not more jobs.


The scent of Musk

Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced last week that the company has developed a third version of its solar energy-harvesting roof tiles, the primary product of Tesla Gigafactory 2, as he named the Buffalo facility. Musk thinks these solar panels, which mimic conventional roofing material, will be standard on “the house of the future.” But he keeps pushing off the date when production of the tiles will ramp up, and he won’t set a firm timeline. Just last month, Musk said that 2019 is “definitely going to be the year of the Solar Roof and Powerwall,” but now he says rollout might extend until next year. Musk claims that all the company’s energies have been going into its Model 3 sedan, but that’s been plagued with problems too.


What will it cost?

Tesla is also working on a pricing and deployment strategy, in which customers pay as little as $99 upfront. Following the Tesla recommendations, the per-square-foot cost of a Tesla solar roof is $21.85. Regular asphalt shingles cost between $1 and $2 per square foot. The full cost for a 2,500 square foot home is around $54,000, plus more for Powerwall batteries to store energy. Of course, Tesla tiles are guaranteed for the life of the house, or “infinity” (or, a cynic might say, as long as Tesla lasts). How much and how quickly you save depends on many factors. Homes with solar roofs earn up to $88,000 on energy savings over twenty-five years. There’s also a thirty percent Solar Investment Tax Credit that homeowners can qualify for. On a newly built home, with a young buyer, this should be attractive. Tesla has a website that allows homeowners to figure out their cost, and roughly what they’ll earn back.


Solar doldrums  

For now, however, installations of all Tesla solar panels have dropped thirty-eight percent from last year. Tesla cut its solar business sales staff, stopped selling through Home Depot, and eliminated door-to-door sales. Instead, it expects potential buyers to find them online.



From the start, the entire SolarCity saga has been the subject of criticism and legal actions regarding allegations of inflated job promises, cost overruns, construction delays, bid rigging, and the financial health of both SolarCity and Tesla. There are probably people waiting for the business to fail, particularly Governor Cuomo’s critics. Mayor Brown says he hasn’t heard from Musk in a while, but he also hasn’t heard anything indicating they won’t make their job goals. We’ll see.



Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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