William Slatton during construction, 1962, above and below, right
William Slatton, metal worker for Frank Lloyd Wright, helped create the Onion House
-Article courtesy of Keith York, "Modern San Diego"
“The highlight of my life was being at Taliesin for two and a half years… There were several of us that really worked hard while we were there… we worked through the night all the time… we were working day and night…and got to know one another very well…” - William Slatton.
William E. ‘Bill’ Slatton was born in 1933 in Texon, Texas a small town named for the Texon Oil and Land Company who discovered oil nearby in 1928. Slatton would later recall that this was the first productive oil well in the Great Permian Basin. As a young man, on the oil derricks during World War II, Bill Slatton honed his welding craft – a skill he learned as a hobbyist building a dunebuggy for himself. Following high school, Bill attended Georgia Institute of Technology. After one year, out of money, and following his father’s passing, he moved to California with his mother. Bill joined the US Army and spent two and a half years at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
Inspired by a high school drafting class, and his brief connection to Georgia Tech’s architecture program, a young William Slatton continued to think about his prospects as a designer. “I was in the Army with Dick [Armand Z. ‘Dick’ Bollaert – Ed.]…he made his career out of carpentry…his grandfather worked as an engineer for Mr. Wright in Chicago,” Slatton would later recall. Armand’s mother wrote Frank Lloyd Wright a letter stating that the two boys wanted to study with him. Armand and Bill would work together rebuilding Taliesin West’s drafting room from floor to ceiling while the Fellowship was in Wisconsin for the summer.50
“I was married in North Carolina the summer before I went to Mr. Wright’s. [His wife] Anne, was pregnant so she stayed with my mother in California. While I was the Wrights’ ‘family server’, Mrs. Wright mentioned that they had received a telegram saying my baby was born…. I recall arriving in October, 1956 and Anne joined me several months later,” Slatton would recollect. According to Taliesin records Anne Slatton Davis was at Taliesin in 1957.13 “We had a private apartment in the farmer’s cottage midway between Taliesin and the private homes. Anne wasn’t entirely comfortable during her stay…she had a baby in March and was tired during her recovery…so she left to stay with her parents again…but then she spent the summer with us (as Dick and I rebuilt the drafting Room)…,” Slatton would remember.
Bill Slatton worked alongside Frank Lloyd Wright between 1956 and the year of his mentor’s passing in 1959.50
“I arrived, on the GI Bill, on Saturday afternoon. At my first Sunday morning breakfast, someone came up to me and told me that Mr. Wright wanted to speak with me… The night before Tom Olsen’s car battery had fallen out so I welded it up for him. Tom told Mr. Wright about my welding abilities… and Mrs. Wright was asking for a roof up over their theater pavilion… so Mr. Wright asked me to weld up the theater roof… building the steel roof for the big pavilion was my job for the first 4 months I was at Taliesin. Mr. Wright wanted it to look ‘light and floating. Following that he had me build a model for a wedding chapel for a big hotel in Oakland… and I couldn’t get it right. Mr. Wright asked me to build the model as if I was welding it up… Then there was the time I was asked to weld up a bunch tables for Easter. I took apart many of the roofs at Taliesin and rebuilt them in steel. As you walk to the office at Taliesin, there’s a small fountain, it used to be turned the other way and made a loud noise… Mr. Wright asked me to rebuild the fountain and to surprise him when he returned from making a speech in Tucson. I ended up turning it around and cutting holes in the boiler… much to the delight of Mr. Wright when he arrived back. When Mr. Wright died I helped pack up the trucks as they left for Wisconsin, ” Slatton recalled.
Mr. Slatton arrived in San Diego, a struggling draftsman, and found work in architect Harold Abrams’ office in 1959. With Kendrick Bangs Kellogg, whom he had met shortly after his arrival and while building models for architects like Leonard Veitzer, Slatton joined forces (though both were yet to be licensed) to create the Onion House on the Kona Coast of Hawaii. “The Onion House was like being back at Taliesin,” Slatton would later recall.
In the years ahead he would work in the offices of William Lumpkins, Loch Crane, Lloyd Ruocco, Homer Delawie and Frederick Liebhardt. When the Ruocco Delawie firm split up, Bill stayed with Lloyd Ruocco - only to eventually work for Homer Delawie’s firm alongside Alfonso Macy and Jack Matteson.