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Office of Trusts, Estates, and Gift Planning
Cornell University
130 E Seneca Street, Suite 400
Ithaca, NY 14850
Phone: 1-800-481-1865
Fax: 607-254-1204


Generosity Blooms from Friendship

silman-large.pngWhen Robert “Bob” Silman’s ’56 structural engineering firm in New York City was hired to restore Wingspread—a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building in Wisconsin that was originally the home of Herbert Fisk Johnson, Jr. ’22—he never imagined that he would end up as trustee of Edgar Tafel’s estate. Edgar apprenticed under Wright and played a major role in the design and construction of Wright’s Wingspread, Fallingwater, and Johnson Wax buildings.

“That was the beginning of a very interesting friendship,” recalls Bob, whose firm has been involved in restoring 10 of Wright’s properties over the years.

While he collaborated with Edgar on the Wingspread and Fallingwater projects, the two became close. Their friendship led to a series of serious discussions between the two men about Edgar’s plans for his estate after his death. Edgar had no heirs and no formal will—only a letter from an attorney summarizing his one wish: that the proceeds from his estate go to nonprofit organizations that support the cause of architecture.

Bob introduced Edgar to Cornell, and he learned that its undergraduate architecture program is ranked number one in the nation. Edgar ultimately made the decision to make a charitable gift of his brownstone with retained life estate and divide it between Cornell and the University of Illinois, where he had lectured on occasion.

The end result—Edgar traveled to Cornell in 2006 to give the inaugural lecture in the series that his gift will be funding, he got a significant tax deduction, and he continued to live in his townhouse.