Frank Lloyd Wright Home. Save or Demolish?
CNN PRODUCER NOTE APizm
received permission from the owner to photograph the 1952 Frank Lloyd
Wright house in Phoenix, Arizona, which is now facing demolition. Wright
designed the spiral home in 1952 for his son and his wife, David and
Gladys Wright. They have since died, and a developer bought the home in
June, according to the New York Times.
'The bottom line is the house needs to be saved. Frank Lloyd Wright was
a legendary architect and one of the best to ever design. His works
deserve to be preserved for future generations to learn from and inspire
creativity in others.'
The iReporter says the architecture of the home is so thoughtful, one could see how much work Wright put into the design. 'He, almost magically and so gracefully, combines square lines with curves throughout the house. It feels like a really sophisticated roller coaster,' he said.
You can see more of his photography at his Facebook page, Andrew Pielage Photography.
- Jareen, CNN iReport producer
That is the
question that has been brewing over a house in Arizona that legendary
architect Frank Lloyd Wright build for his son David and his wife Gladys
With a long spiral entrance that leads you first to sweeping views of picturesque Camelback mountain and then an option to enter the house to your left or continue swirling all the way up to the top deck for 360 degrees of beautiful Scottsdale and the surrounding area. It's also the only residential building Wright designed that uses the same trademark spirals of his New York City masterpiece, the Guggenheim. Filled to the brim with absolutely stunning Philippine mahogany and Wrights "Organic Architecture" it is truly one of the most beautifully built houses the world has seen.
There are a lot of rumors "swirling" around this house (pun intended) and from what I gather, I think both sides agree the house should be saved. Now they just need to figure out the harder part. Who is gonna pay for it?
Now its your turn. What do you think? Save or Demolish? And who pays?
Wright Masterwork Is Seen in a New Light: A Fight for Its Life
Published: October 2, 2012
It’s hard to say which is more startling. That a developer in Phoenix could threaten — by Thursday, no less — to knock down a 1952 house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Or that the house has until now slipped under the radar, escaping the attention of most architectural historians, even though it is one of Wright’s great works, a spiral home for his son David.
The prospect of its demolition has suddenly galvanized preservationists, as these crises often belatedly do. They are pursuing a two-pronged attack, trying to have the building designated a landmark, although in Arizona, where private property rights are strong, landmark status is really just a stay of execution, limited to three years. After that the owner is free to tear down the place. So the other prong of attack is to find some preservation-minded angel with deep pockets who will buy it from the developer. Preferably today.
Wright designed this 2,500-square-foot concrete home for David and his wife, Gladys, on a desert site facing north toward Camelback Mountain in a neighborhood called Arcadia. The area, known since the 1920s for its citrus groves and romantic getaway resorts among old Spanish colonial and adobe revival homes, was increasingly subdivided after the war and filled with new, custom-designed ranch houses.
But the Wright lot still had its orange trees. The architect took advantage of them by raising his son’s house on columns, to provide views over the orchard. It was a touch that partly echoed Le Corbusier’s famous Villa Savoye in France; at the same time Wright chose a spiral design akin to the Guggenheim Museum’s. He had drawn plans for the Guggenheim by then, but it was still some years away from construction.
The David Wright house is the Guggenheim’s prodigal son, except that unlike the museum, whose interior creates a vertical streetscape while turning its back on the city, David’s house was configured by Wright to look both inward and out. It twists around a central courtyard, a Pompeian oasis to which he gave a plunge pool and shade garden, but also faces onto the surrounding desert, with sweeping views of the mountain.
The house is coiled, animated, like a rattlesnake, yet flowing and open. A spiral entrance ramp gives it a processional grandeur out of proportion to its size — especially nowadays, when many of the old ranch homes in Arcadia have been torn down to make way for McMansions that dwarf Wright’s house. The developer’s plan for the site involves subdividing the lot and erecting two or more new houses.
“There is no house quite like this one, with its mythic content,” is how Neil Levine, the architectural historian and Wright scholar, put it the other day. “Everything is custom designed so that the house is, more than most of Wright’s later buildings, a complete work of art.”
How could such a house go largely unnoticed? David and Gladys Wright didn’t want their home in a residential neighborhood to be a museum, and so not many architectural scholars or even Wright experts ever got inside it, to see the rug and chairs and mahogany woodwork that Wright devised, even though it is only about a dozen miles from Taliesin West, the headquarters of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
David died in 1997 at 102; Gladys in 2008, at 104, leaving the house, no longer in mint condition, to granddaughters who sold it to a buyer promising to fix it up and live in it. But the buyer did neither, and the place, on its 2.2-acre lot, went back on the market. This June a developer called 8081 Meridian bought it.
“The place was uninhabited for four years and it had never been placed on a watch list,” explained John Hoffman, managing partner of 8081 Meridian, when I called him on Monday. “We didn’t close on the property until the city approved a lot split. The line through the property went through one end of the house, so it was an indirect approval for demolition.”
That was his interpretation, although demolition requires separate city approval, and in any case, before the sale closed, the landmark process was already under way. It is scheduled to reach the City Council on Nov. 7. Though not written into the city ordinance, it has for several years been city policy in Phoenix to seek owner consent before designating any building for historic preservation, and because 8081 Meridian never gave its consent, and has no intention of doing so, Mr. Hoffman says he rejects the landmark process outright.
The threatened deadline derives from a demolition permit that a staff member in the city development office issued to him and his partner, Steve Sells, despite the fact that other city officials had flagged the house to ensure no permit would be issued.
Planning authorities learned of the permit and voided it after the demolition company the developer had hired, concerned about razing a Wright house, called to check that the permit was valid. Mr. Hoffman maintains that the permit is legal and that it expires on Thursday.
It may be that the demolition threat is being used as leverage to drive up the price to be paid by preservationists. Having just bought the house for $1.8 million, Mr. Hoffman said 8081 Meridian is looking to clear $2.2 million from any sale, and has so far rejected a cash offer floated several weeks ago from an anonymous, out-of-state Wright lover. This prospective buyer promised a little over $2 million, according to the realtor representing him.
Underlying the brouhaha is a proposition Arizona voters passed in 2006, Prop 207, which calls for the compensation of owners any time the government adopts some regulation that affects the value of their property. No money has been paid so far, but the law has clearly had its desired effect, making cities like Phoenix fearful of changing their regulations and spooking city lawyers and historic preservationists.
The bottom line, for economic as well as cultural reasons, should of course be protecting both owners and society. Toothless though a three-year landmark delay may seem, it’s an eternity in pro-development Arizona, and it can work. Various owners in the Woodland Historic District in Phoenix, near the State Capitol, were dissuaded, during just such a reprieve, from tearing down early-20th-century bungalows, and with some city historic preservation bond money, have begun a restoration that has revitalized the area.
Years ago Phoenix prevented the owner of El Encanto Apartments, a conspicuous Spanish Colonial low-rise, from tearing it down to put up a high-rise, and the stay helped shift the building into the hands of a preservation-minded developer.
As for sparing the David and Gladys Wright house, you don’t have to be a preservationist to believe that a major work by one of the greatest American architects has a value to posterity, as well as to its Arcadia neighbors, that competes with the interests of developers, who are already well placed to make a healthy profit after just a few months’ investment. In retrospect, steps should have been taken long ago, by Wright’s heirs and by city officials, to avoid all this.
But what’s now a cliffhanger is also a no-brainer.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 5, 2012
A critic’s notebook article on Wednesday about a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Phoenix that faces possible demolition misspelled part of the name of the site of the headquarters of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which is about a dozen miles from the house. It is Taliesin West, not Taliesen West.
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