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10 Stunning Museums in North America

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Last month, we took a look at some of the most beautiful museums in Europe. Now it’s time to hop across the pond and explore some of the loveliest museums in North America.

1. Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City

This might just be the most beautiful museum in all of North America, if for no other reason than its pure opulence. Throughout its history, Chapultepec Castle has served as a royal palace and home to many of the country’s presidents. In fact, you’ve probably seen the castle before without even recognizing it—it was used as the setting for the Capulet Mansion in 1996’s Romeo and Juliet.

Construction started on the building in 1775, but after the original owner passed away and other legal issues ensued, it didn't have any long-term purpose until it was converted into a Military Academy in 1833. The castle really started to take shape during the Second Mexican Empire when Emperor Maximilian lived there with his wife, Empress Carlota. The Emperor hired top European and Mexican architects to improve the building’s style and to make it more habitable. After the fall of the Empire in 1867, the new president soon decided the site would make a great presidential residence. In 1939, President Lazaro Cardenas established the castle as the home to the National Museum of History and it has remained a museum ever since.

An interesting bit of trivia: Chapultepec Castle is one of only two royal castles in the Americas, and the only one in North America. 

2. Museum of the Revolution, Havana

Speaking of past presidential residences, Cuba’s Museum of the Revolution is also housed in what was once the country’s Presidential Palace. The palace was originally designed by Cuban architect Carlos Maruri and Belgian architect Paul Belau and was first inaugurated in 1920. It features Neo-Classical elements and the luxurious interior was decorated by Tiffany & Co. After the end of the revolution in 1959, it was almost immediately converted into a museum dedicated to the revolutionary war, although some portions also discuss Cuba’s War of Independence against Spain.

3. Renwick Gallery

You can’t have a list of North American museums without including at least one Smithsonian building. The Renwick Gallery—the American craft and decorative arts portion of the Smithsonian collection—might not be the institution's most famous collection, but it is in one of the most impressive buildings, which is also a National Historic Landmark.

The building, designed by James Renwick, Jr., was always meant to be a museum, and when it was originally opened, it housed the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The collection and building were so impressive, it was nicknamed the “American Louvre” when it first opened. The building was almost completed in the 1860s, but it was seized by the U.S. Army in 1861 and used as a warehouse for records and uniforms of the Quarter Master General’s Corps. In 1869, the building was returned to the owner and the museum was finally opened in 1874. After the Corcoran Gallery outgrew the space, it became the federal Court of Claims in 1899. The Court of Claims also ran out of space eventually, and even planned to demolish the building, but Jacqueline Kennedy saw the value of the structure and saved it. In 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson gave the building over to the Smithsonian.

4. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

Originally opened in 1933, the main building of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City features a classical Beaux-Arts style that was largely based on the Cleveland Museum of Art’s design. But while the main building is quite nice, it’s the 2005 expansion that really sets this museum apart. The expansion, designed by Steven Holl, increased the size of the museum’s space by 55 percent. This unique design features five glass towers Holl calls “lenses” that allow natural light into the underground Bloch Building. While most art museums shy away from the use of natural light because it can harm the items on display, the specialized glass used in the towers filters out most of the harmful UV rays.

5. Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee

Like the Nelson-Atkins Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum’s most beautiful architectural achievement is actually relatively new. While the museum was first opened in the Milwaukee County War Memorial in 1957, it’s the Quadracci Pavilion and Reiman Bridge, both designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and completed in 2001, that earned the museum a place on this list.

The white concrete pavilion features a moveable shade structure that can be opened up during the day to let in light and folded over the structure during poor weather and at night. The pavilion is home not only to the temporary exhibits gallery, but also to the museum’s store and its restaurant.

6. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Frequently referred to as just “the Met,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest museum in the U.S. and one of the ten largest in the world, occupying a total of 2 million square feet of space. The main building, located just outside of Central Park, was opened in 1872, but it has changed drastically since that time.

When the museum first opened, the high Victorian Gothic design by architect Calvert Vaux was already considered dated; only 20 years later, a new plan was developed to engulf the Vaux building. The current Beaux-Arts entrance was completed in 1902 and since then, more wings have been added, modernistic glass sides have been installed, and the rear of the museum was remodeled as well. The changes have led to the building occupying a space more than 20 times its original space. On the roof, you can get a great view of Central Park and Manhattan’s skyline while enjoying the roof garden’s café and statue exhibitions.

7. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City

Sam valadi, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Often referred to as simply “The Guggenheim” (though it is now one of four Guggenheim museums worldwide), this New York City landmark was officially opened by the Guggenheim Foundation in 1959. The museum first occupied a rented space in 1939 and was called the “Museum of Non-Objective Painting." But after Solomon R. Guggenheim passed away in 1952, the name was changed in his honor.

The famous building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, who spent 15 years working on the design, sketching out 700 prototypes before finalizing on the cylindrical building that is wider at the top than at the bottom. The building ended up being Wright’s last major work and he died six months before the museum was opened to the public.

8. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

If you’ve ever seen Rocky, then you’re already familiar with one of the impressive aspects of this massive museum—the gorgeous stairs, which have since been dubbed the “Rocky Steps.” But unless you’re training for the fight of your life, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has a lot more to offer than just stairs. In fact, the museum is one of the largest museums in the United States, with a collection of more than 227,000 objects.

While the museum itself was originally opened in 1896, the current building wasn’t completed until 1928. In 2006, the museum announced its first major expansion, which was designed by Frank Gehry and built entirely underground below the famous stairway so it would not alter the museum’s façade—though Gehry promised it will still be an amazing feat of architecture that will impress museum goers. While the expansion is not yet complete, when it is, the museum’s display space will be increased by 60 percent.

9. Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

This museum was founded in 1900 and moved into its current space in 1910—well, part of its current space, that is.

While the 1817 Gregorian Manor is still part of the Art Gallery of Ontario, the museum itself has expanded at least six times since 1916. The most recent modification to the building was designed by Gehry and required the destruction of the 1992 Post-Modernist wing. One of the challenges faced by the architect was to unite the many wings of the building into one cohesive form. While there was a lot of negative criticism prior to the renovation’s completion, the building received widespread praise by architecture critics when it was finished. In fact, the New York Times wrote, “Rather than a tumultuous creation, this may be one of Mr. Gehry's most gentle and self-possessed designs… a masterly example of how to breathe life into a staid old structure.”

On an interesting note, while Gehry was born in Toronto, this 2005 project was his first work in his homeland of Canada.

10. Museo Soumaya, Mexico City

Yes, another Frank Gehry museum masterpiece, although this time he worked as an engineer while Mexican architect Fernando Romero created the original design. The Museo Soumaya was only opened in 2011, though the museum has been collecting work and displaying from famous European artists since 1994 and has already gathered 66,000 pieces of art. The exterior of the building is covered in 16,000 hexagonal aluminum tiles and the floors are made from marble imported from Greece.

I’m sure many of you have favorite museum buildings, so feel free to share your pick for the most beautiful North American museums in the comments.

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Courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence
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5 Frank Lloyd Wright Homes You Can Buy Right Now
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Courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence

It can be hard for homeowners to sell Frank Lloyd Wright houses, even if they are live-in works of art. Some prospective owners don't want to deal with pilgrims or rubberneckers, while others simply aren't fans of Wright's style, or his penchant for building in far-flung locations. The upside? The architect's mega-fans have a better chance of scoring a genuine Wright original, occasionally at a relatively bargain price. From suburban Minnesota to rural New York, here are five drool-worthy Wright residences that you can purchase right now.

1. THE PAUL OLFELT HOUSE IN ST. LOUIS PARK, MINNESOTA

Exterior shot of the Paul Olfelt House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
Courtesy of the Berg Larsen Group, Coldwell Banker Burnet

Address: 2206 Parklands Lane, St. Louis Park, Minnesota 55416

Asking Price: $1.3 million

History: In the 1950s, Wright designed one of his moderately priced Usonian homes for clients Paul and Helen Olfelt, who lived with their young children in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. A fan of Wright’s work, the couple had written the architect a letter requesting that he design their family one of his stylish single-family residences.

“We hoped for a refuge from the world for part of our day, a place where we could enjoy nature and the beauty of man’s creativeness in harmony with nature,” Olfelt, a radiologist, wrote in 1969 in the journal Northwest Architect. “We wanted a home that by virtue of its character would help us and our children be dissatisfied with the ordinary.”

Wright accepted the commission and briefly met with the Olfelts to discuss his vision, although he never visited the actual site—a tree-filled cul-de-sac—in person. The three-bedroom home's design was completed shortly before the architect’s death in 1959, and the Olfelts officially moved into the home in September 1960, and listed it for sale for the very first time in 2016. It’s still on the market, just waiting for a lucky Twin Cities area buyer to snap it up.

Bona Fides: The Paul Olfelt House comes equipped with a wood-burning fireplace; a fully equipped kitchen; and a master suite with both a dressing room/closet and an en suite three-quarter bath. It also includes many furniture pieces—including chairs, ottomans, desks, lamps, and tables—that Wright custom-designed for the home. Many, if not all, of these items are included the home’s sale price.

Fun Facts: The home has a basement, which is “rare for Wright homes,” a representative from Berg Larsen Group of Coldwell Banker Burnet tells Mental Floss. “He drew the line at the request for a bathroom; therefore, there’s an odd little commode in the unfinished storage area that we refer to as ‘plumbed for additional bathroom.’"

The basement also includes an office, which was designed for Olfelt; a play area for children (complete with swing); and a bar with banquette seating.

Interior shot of the Paul Olfelt House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in St. Louis Park, Minnesota
Courtesy of the Berg Larsen Group, Coldwell Banker Burnet

Interior shot of the Paul Olfelt House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
Courtesy of the Berg Larsen Group, Coldwell Banker Burnet

2. TIRRANNA IN NEW CANAAN, CONNECTICUT

Exterior shot of Tirranna by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence

Address: 432 Frogtown Road, New Canaan, Connecticut 06840

Asking Price: $7.2 million

History: "Tirranna" is an Australian aboriginal word meaning "running waters"—a fitting choice, considering that the U-shaped residence sits next to a pond fed by a nearby river and overlooks a tiny cascade. The home was built in the 1950s, and was one of Wright's very last houses built before his death.

Bona Fides: "Tirranna is one of the two or three biggest homes Wright ever built or designed, just from a size perspective," Houlihan Lawrence broker Doug Milne tells Mental Floss. "As you enter the main room, it goes from very low ceilings to soaring ceilings and glass, with Brazilian mahogany walls and ceilings that are just in miraculous condition."

Tirranna has seven bedrooms, and is surrounded by 15 acres of forest. Also on the grounds are a barn and stable, a greenhouse, a guest house, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a workshop, and gardens designed by Frank Okamura, the landscape architect for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Fun Fact: If Tirranna achieves its $7.2 million asking price, it will set a record for the highest price ever paid for a Wright house. This money will go toward an important cause: mental health research.

Tirranna's last owner was the late businessman Ted Stanley, who died in early 2016 at the age of 84. But while Stanley became rich selling collectibles, his true passion ended up being medical philanthropy. It all started when Stanley's teenage son, Jonathan Stanley, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the late 1980s. His eventual recovery was largely due to being treated successfully with the right medicine. The experience turned Stanley into a staunch advocate for mental health research, and he spent the remainder of his life donating vast portions of his fortune to research institutions like the Broad Institute, a biomedical and genomic research center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Broad Institute employs some of the world's top scientists, who research both the genetic and molecular causes of psychiatric disorders and potential treatments. “My son’s life was saved,” Stanley told The New York Times in 2014. "I would like to purchase that happy ending for other people."

When Stanley died in 2016, he left the Broad Institute much of his fortune. Tirranna's proceeds will also be directed toward the research center.

Exterior shot of Tirranna by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence

Interior shot of Tirranna by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence

3. THE LOUIS PENFIELD HOUSE IN WILLOUGHBY HILLS, OHIO

Exterior shot of the Louis Penfield House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Elmhurst, Illinois.
Courtesy of Howard Hanna

Address: 2215 River Road, Willoughby Hills, Ohio 44094

Asking Price: $1.3 million

History: Designed by Wright and built in the mid 1950s, the Louis Penfield House is a nature lover's dream. The restored Usonian home sits atop a knoll overlooking the nearby Chagrin River, and across the street from protected forest, creeks, and hiking trails. The home was commissioned by high school art teacher Louis Penfield and his wife, Pauline, but has operated as a vacation rental house since 2003. New owners can opt to keep renting it or to use the home as a private residence.

Bona Fides: The three-bedroom, two-story home comes complete with Wright-designed furniture, which is included in the cost of sale. Owners can also say bye-bye to heating bills, as the home has a radiant-floor heating system fueled by one of two natural gas wells on the property. And just in case you were looking for even more bragging rights, the home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Plus, prospective buyers have the chance to score two Wright homes for the price of one (well, kind of): "The last original Wright building site in the world is located adjacent to the Penfield House," and is included in the sale, listing agent Karen Eagle of Howard Hanna tells Mental Floss. "The building plans for Wright’s last residential commission, called Riverrock, are owned by the Penfields. The house is historically significant. It is design number 5909, and was on Wright’s drawing board when he died. The Penfields received the plans shortly after his death in April 1959."

Fun Fact: "Louis Penfield was nearly 7 feet tall," Eagle says. "The home was designed to accommodate his tall stature. Frank Lloyd Wright's ceilings are typically low. The staircase is pretty interesting too, since it accommodates for height."

According to legend, Penfield visited Wright's Wisconsin studio and challenged the architect to build a custom home for his towering frame. Wright accepted the dare, and mailed his new client a preliminary drawing six months later. The rest, as they say, is history.

Exterior shot of the Louis Penfield House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Elmhurst, Illinois.
Courtesy of Howard Hanna

Interior shot of the Louis Penfield House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Elmhurst, Illinois
Courtesy of Howard Hanna

4. THE F.B. HENDERSON HOUSE IN ELMHURST, ILLINOIS

Exterior shot of the F.B. Henderson House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Elmhurst, Illinois
Courtesy of Zillow

Address: 301 South Kenilworth Avenue, Elmhurst, Illinois 60126

Asking Price: $1 million

History: Built in the early 1900s, the F.B. Henderson House is an early example of Wright's signature brand of Prairie style architecture. The architect built the home in conjunction with Chicago architect Webster Tomlinson, who briefly served as Wright's business partner. The two are both listed as the home's architects, although Tomlinson was reportedly more like the project's office manager and business agent.

Originally commissioned by client Frank Bignell Henderson in 1901, the home has been on and off the market for the past decade. That said, real estate agents tell Mental Floss that they've seen prospective buyers sniffing around as of late.

Bona Fides: Both the interior and exterior of the F.B. Henderson House have been recently restored, but the property still has plenty of original mid-century charm to spare. And if charm alone won't do, there's also three fireplaces, a wine cellar, and an expansive terrace overlooking the lawn.

"There is a real open feel on the first floor," agent Marilyn Fisher of LW Reedy Real Estate tells Mental Floss. "It’s a massive space. It has a huge foyer as you walk in, and then when you come into the main part of the house, you have a really big living room. On either side of the living room are mirror-image rooms. One side is half of an octagon, and the other side is the other half, making for a wide expanse. It's a very dramatic look."

Fun Fact: The F.B. Henderson House has more than 80 art glass, or stained glass, windows. Wright often referred to these mini works of art as "light screens," as they evoked the look of sliding Japanese shoji screens.

Exterior shot of the F.B. Henderson House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Elmhurst, Illinois
Courtesy of Zillow

Interior shot of the F.B. Henderson House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Elmhurst, Illinois
Courtesy of Zillow

5. THE MASSARO HOUSE IN PUTNAM COUNTY, NEW YORK

Exterior shot of a home on Petra Island, in New York, inspired by designs by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Courtesy of Chilton & Chadwick

Address: Petra Island, Lake Mahopac, Carmel, New York

Asking Price: $14.92 million

History: Some Wright purists turn up their noses at the Massaro House, in spite of its spectacular location (on a 10-acre private island), its spectacular design (a 5000-square-foot home with a cantilevered deck that practically puts Fallingwater to shame), and its spectacular scenery (did we mention it's on a lake?). They say it's just "inspired" by the architect, instead of truly being his original work.

Around 1950, engineer A.K. Chahroudi commissioned Wright to design him a dream home on the island, but the client wound up not being able to afford the planned project. Instead, Wright created a small guest cottage for his client. In 1996, sheet metal contractor Joe Massaro purchased Petra Island, and he also acquired Wright's original plans for the site, intending to fulfill the famous architect's ultimate vision.

With the help of architects and scholars, the Massaro House was completed around 2007. However, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation refuses to recognize it as an authentic Wright design, as they're not happy about some controversial design tweaks Massaro made to the plans.

Bona Fides: The home has geometric windows, a wraparound patio, and boulders integrated into the walls, giving it a natural feel. Other structures on the island include the aforementioned guest house and a tea house.

Fun Facts: If you own your own chopper, look no further than the Massaro House. "It has a helipad," Chadwick Ciocci, the CEO and founder of global real estate concierge Chilton & Chadwick, tells Mental Floss. "I don’t know of any other Frank Lloyd Wright homes that have that."

"Also very important is that the home is on a private heart-shaped island," Ciocci adds. (Really? We hadn't noticed.)

Interior shot of a home on Petra Island, in New York, inspired by designs by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Courtesy of Chilton & Chadwick

Aerial shot of a home on Petra Island, in New York, inspired by designs by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Courtesy of Chilton & Chadwick
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Want to Live Like Snow White? Buy This Cottage
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In the 1970s, one family in Washington state decided to bring the magic of Snow White home—and we don't mean on VHS. (That didn't come out until 1994, anyway.) They built a replica of the cottage from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in Olalla, across Puget Sound from Seattle. And now, you can take over Snow White’s housekeeping duties—the house is for sale, as we spotted on the listing site TopTenRealEstateDeals.com.

The house looks straight out of a Disneyland attraction, with a winding staircase seemingly built into a tree, hand-built doors of different sizes with giant iron hinges, stone details and exposed beams, a wood stove, and a rounded interior that “wraps around you like a big hug,” according to the listing. (Good luck hanging shelves, though.) Honestly, the shiny walls look a little plastic, but it’s all part of the Disneyfied appeal.

The interior of the first floor shows a stone oven, a fake tree, and a chandelier.

A spacious room with two different sized doorways looking through to another room.

A bedroom has a mattress tucked into a cave-like nook.

An exterior view of the cottage through an overgrown garden.

Unlike the Seven Dwarfs’ pad, though, this comes with a hot tub and high-speed internet, not to mention a washer and dryer to save any future Snow Whites the effort of hanging laundry. And there’s no need for everyone to sleep side-by-side in twin beds. The two-story “cottage” has four bedrooms and five baths.

The 2800-square-foot house comes on a five-acre gated property. Outside, there’s a sweet tree house with a fireplace inside, a wooden bridge over a creek, and a garden with fruit trees.

It’s $775,000, zero dwarfs included. You can see the listing here.

All images courtesy TopTenRealEstateDeals.com.

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