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Frank Lloyd Done Wrong



Good news! On December 20, 2012, an anonymous benefactor closed on this property. An Arizona not-for-profit organization will now be responsible for the restoration and maintenance of the house. Read more here.

Hard to believe, but a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright may soon be torn down—and it isn’t the first landmark structure designed by this icon to find itself in such a predicament. Not by a long shot.

It is the David and Gladys Wright house, built between 1950 and 1952 by the legend for his son and daughter-in-law.

 Scott Jarson

 Scott Jarson

Intended as a desert dwelling, the David Wright residence is lifted off of the desert floor in a spiraling design, which ends in the master suite.

Legacy Turned Lucre

The couple lived out their lives in the house, located in a Phoenix suburb near Camelback Mountain. David Wright died in 1997 at the age of 102; his wife, Gladys, in 2008 at 104. The house was left to their granddaughters in less-than-optimal condition.

The granddaughters, who share fond childhood memories of spending time at the house, sold it to a buyer who promised to preserve it and then turned around and promptly sold it to John Hoffman and Steve Sells, partners in 8081 Meridian LLC, a development group interested in the land. The partners were able to obtain a valid demolition permit, which the city claims was issued in error, moving forward their plan to raze the house and subdivide the 2+ acres into separate lots.

 CBS This Morning

 CBS This Morning

A close-up of the home’s exterior illustrates its need for attention.

“It’s a unique design by Frank Lloyd Wright,” said Janet Halstead, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. 

“It is probably the most important residential design of the last decade of his career. Many architecture experts consider it among the 20 most important Frank Lloyd Wright designs ever built.”

With its spiral ramp, the David and Gladys Wright house is said to have influenced Wright’s design for the Guggenheim Museum built seven years later in 1959.

 Scott Jarson

 Scott Jarson

A reinforced concrete floor cantilevers the space, and the interiors are of Philippine mahogany. A beautiful home, it gracefully curls on itself, while maintaining a subtle elevation above the landscape.

Advocating Against Demolition and Neglect

The Conservancy’s “Save Wright” initiative is, unfortunately, no stranger to this scenario.  When regular maintenance is lacking, we see more and more landmark structures like this one fall into disrepair, or into the hands of apathetic or cash-strapped owners, or all of the above, and developers with dollar signs in their eyes aren’t far off.

The Conservancy is right behind them, fighting on a case-by-case basis to keep these virtual shrines standing, and it has an impressive portfolio of what it refers to as “saved” Frank Lloyd Wright houses. The organization also publishes a magazine detailing stories of many Frank Lloyd Wright properties.

David & Gladys Wright House video

Playing for Time

As for the David and Gladys Wright house, an agreement announced Oct. 3 will postpone the demolition for an indeterminate number of days. The process for achieving historic landmark status has begun, as has the search for a new owner who will restore and preserve the property.

 Scott Jarson

 Scott Jarson

The residence includes four bedrooms, four baths, a two-car carport, and slightly over 2,500 square feet.

So how can you help? Well if you’ve got several million dollars lying around, this house can be yours, but know that an offer of over $2 million has already been rejected by 8081 Meridian.  If you are of less-substantial means, signing this petition can also help.

If you or your company can offer assistance in any other way, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy would love to talk to you. You can contact them here.


Tagged categories: Architects; Architecture; Business matters; Concrete; Concrete repair; Demolition; Ethics; Frank Lloyd Wright; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Residential; Restoration

Comment from Barry Lamm, (10/15/2012, 10:32 AM)

They need to find some one to give the house to if that person is willing to pay to have it partially deconstructed and the parts moved to another site nearby and rebuilt. Somse features andt parts may be lost and have to be added back, but, at least the majority of it could be saved as is. The two new houses on that site could be placed where their construction would not interfere with the deconstruction and removal of the house. There have been a lot of much larger and heavier houses moved to new sites all over the county as far back as the 1800s. The money used to build a similar size house would probably be about the same as moving this one, which, if you get it for free, makes it a worthwhile project.

Comment from Nicola James, (10/15/2012, 11:27 AM)

Frank Lloyd Wright buildings are often seriously problematic from a structural integrity standpoint because of his frequent use of inadequate materials and student labor in the actual construction. This is very evident at Taliesin among other places. I don't know about the condition of this house, other than from the one photo of deteriorating concrete, which is certainly not unusual for Wright; but it could be a *much* bigger issue than first appearances. Not that I am in support of the way the process has been handled, just that it's possible there are more serious problems than you'd expect in a house that age. Also, for several of his more unique designs the precise placement on, and in, the landscape was all part of the integral design of the project; I don't know whether or how that would impact the question of moving the structure.

Comment from Melissa Galt, (10/15/2012, 11:40 AM)

I am FLW's great grandaughter via his daughter Catherine and my mother, Anne Baxter, the late actress. As family and an interior designer, I was pleased to see you all picking up this story. I will be sharing links on Facebook and Twitter both where I've large communities to gather support. I remember the house from when I was a little girl and we'd visit Aunt Gladys and Uncle Dave when visiting my grandparents. The last time I visited, Gladys didn't recognize me, and chased me out with a broom! I am in touch with my cousins and hope this challenge can be set right, it is a wonderful home in need of a lot of work.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (10/15/2012, 2:21 PM)

I believe the estimate for renovations was $2,000,000 - so realistically to make this project viable, somehow a minimum of $5,000,000 will need to be generated toward repurchasing and repairing/restoring the house, with at least something left over for ongoing maintenance, taxes, et cetera. Not a trivial project.

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