Margot Aronson, a longtime Conservancy member and daughter of Elisabeth (Betty) and Stuart Richardson, the original owners of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Richardson House in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, died on January 30, 2023, at the age of 80.
The Richardson House, a hexagonal-module Usonian, was designed by Wright in 1941, but because of World War II, it was not completed until 1951. The Richardsons, with their two daughters Margot and Edith, moved in on October 23, 1951. At the time, the house, which was comprised of a single story on a slab foundation, was regarded by the townspeople as bizarre. Even forty years later, Stuart was still described by fellow workers at his employer, Prudential, as the very tall man with a pipe and a weird house. However, the Richardsons, including Margot, did not regard it as such, quickly adapting to the logic of Wright’s design and finding comfort and stimulation in the building’s materials, construction details and accommodating layout.
Margot lived in the house until departing for Barnard College, where she earned a B.A. in English literature in 1964. She received an M.A. in eighteenth-century English literature from Columbia University three years later, after which she joined the Peace Corps. She subsequently married and had three children with husband Joel Aronson. They later divorced.
Margot’s parents sold the Richardson House in 1972 and retired to Florida. Margot continued her education, obtaining a Master of Social Work at the University of Maryland in 1985, graduating with honors. Thereafter, she practiced as a clinical social worker in the Washington, DC, area and was active in advocacy and legislative affairs on behalf of professional organizations in her field.
“In 1996, the Conservancy honored original Wright clients at its annual conference, held in Seattle. Margot came as her family representative for the Richardson House. While there, she met my husband John Payne who, with me, had purchased her family home a few months earlier. A strong friendship developed, and thereafter she and her husband Ed kept a close and benevolent eye on our efforts to restore the house to the state that Margot remembered so fondly. At one point, she even held a reunion at the house for her high school classmates. Throughout this period, Margot kept her mother informed of our progress, and Betty’s letters commenting on our work became family treasures. On one eventful occasion, Margot and Ed brought Betty to see the house, where she appeared with a cape and walking stick that would have made Wright proud. Fortunately, she approved of what we had done.”— Edith Payne, former Richardson House owner
In the 1990s, Margot married Edward M. Levin, a Harvard-trained lawyer with deep knowledge of Chicago’s progressive movement, a Midwesterner’s appreciation for Wright, an abiding interest in the social concerns of his law school classmate Ralph Nader, and an unexplained affinity for all things related to Minnie Mouse. Following a distinguished career in government, he retired in 2001, thereafter teaching courses in grants law and ethics. Ed died in 2015 after 23 years of marriage to Margot.
Until shortly before her death, Margot remained active in Conservancy matters, serving on its publications and, most notably, homeowners committees, and making generous financial contributions to its endeavors. Most recently she brought the concept of the quarterly “Drop-in” to the homeowners committee, and those have become one of that committee’s most successful new program launches. Throughout her time as a Conservancy member, she added to our understanding of Wright’s work by bringing together Wright homeowners and aficionados for conversation, and by articulating from a personal perspective, as only an English major could, the magic of Wright’s built work.
“Margot lived a full life. She traveled the world; helped people & communities; sought education – both formal and informal; had drive and determination, was intelligent and self-assured; met people from all walks of life, and stayed friends with many of them. She was passionate and stubborn, and had an impact on most people she met.”— Stephanie Aronson Loayza
Margot is survived by her 3 children and 5 grandchildren: Jeff Aronson (Eunice, Samantha, Wyatt, Sebastian), Derwood, Maryland; Stephanie Aronson Loayza (Carlos, Santana, Cassandra), Woodbine, Maryland; and Alexandra – Ali Aronson (Christian), Silver Spring, Maryland. Margot is also survived by Ed’s children and grandchildren, to whom she was never a ‘mother’ but whom she absolutely adored: Daniel Levin (Cari, Sam, Jeremy), Michigan City, Indiana; and John Levin (Anne, Rachel, Abby), St Paul, Wisconsin.
A celebration of life memorial service will be held from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 25, 2023, at River Road Unitarian Universalist Church (6301 River Road, Bethesda, Maryland). More information is available online.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks for memorial pledges to be made to the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, or the Erin Levitas Foundation.
Growing Up Wright: Margot Aronson and the Stuart Richardson House
In the Winter 1996 issue of the Conservancy’s BULLETIN (Volume 5, Issue 4), Margot reflected extensively on her memories of growing up in the Richardson House. The full issue is reproduced below.
Posted February 28, 2023