(Photo credit: SaveWright.org petition, photo by Scott Jarson)
The concrete and galvanized steel David and Gladys Wright House house was built in 1952 for his son and daughter-in-law, David and Gladys. It's located in what is now one of Phoenix's most sought-after neighborhoods. Wright’s granddaughters sold the property in 2009, but the new owners fell on hard times and sold it to developers for $1.8M this summer. The new owners, 8081 Meridian, planned to divide the lot, tear down the Wright house and build new houses. Yes, you heard that right (or should I say “Wright”) -- tear down the Frank Lloyd Wright house and build new ones. Chicago-based Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy found out about the plans and contacted the Phoenix Historic Preservation Office.
On October 9, the city’s planning commission held a vote on proposing landmark designation and people showed up in record numbers. Three people spoke out against the designation, one of whom was a partner in 8081 Meridian. The City Council will vote on the official landmark status designation on November 7. If they vote in favor of designation, the house can't be knocked down. And the new owners are hoping to sell it before that meeting.
The owners say they agree it should be saved, but they can’t afford to keep it if they can’t knock it down and build new. Co-owner Steve Sells: “Does the house deserve landmark status? Yes. This place needs to be preserved,” he said. “But when three Wright granddaughters sell it for $2.8 million, for me to carry the cross for Frank Lloyd Wright, that’s not fair.” In a follow-up story in the New York Times this morning, that same owner mentioned above said "he had no idea of its significance, or of the difference 'between Frank Lloyd Wright and the Wright brothers.'" I find it a little surprising that at some point during the buying process a developer with plans to build in one of Phoenix's most sought after neighborhoods didn't come across some indication that what he was purchasing was a house (with all that groovy-designed furniture) by a famous architect, but I digress.
Frank Lloyd Wright is a part of our history. And I admit I am a bit biased (in spite of the fact that I find Wright-style furniture ridiculously uncomfortable). My great aunt lived around the corner from the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park in Chicago. When I was a wee lass, my dad, a meticulous woodworker, and I toured the home and he pointed out the type of wood, the lines in the designs and the light in the spaces Wright created. And I get that not everyone cares about history and old stuff. But these things are part of who we are, and deserve some consideration.
We are lucky to have a meticulously cared for and beloved Frank Lloyd Wright house here in Rochester. The Boynton House on East Ave by in large has had stewards through the years who believed the home could be lived in and preserved as a piece of our architectural history. Not all the owners had the resources or dedication to restore it like the current owners and there were many rocky years, but no one ever thought knocking it down was the answer. (And if you haven't seen the documentary on the restoration of Boynton House, it is truly incredible. The film was put together by the owners, Fran Cosentino and Jane Parker.)
If the David and Gladys Wright House in Phoenix is granted landmark status in November, it will be protected from demolition for three years. The quote from Sells in this morning's NY Times piece that made me shudder was in reference to what happens if the property is granted designation AND they can't sell it. '"I’ll move in, invite everybody to come in and take their pictures, and I’m going to wait three years,' he said, interlacing his fingers behind his neck as he slouched on the orange cushions of the master bedroom’s seating area. 'Then I’m going to knock it down to recoup my losses.'"
Let's hope there is a buyer who is dedicated to being a steward of this piece of history. And if you have an opinion, speak up and support the cause:
SaveWright.org, Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy
Phoenix Historic Preservation Office
Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust
If you are curious, here is a listing of Wright homes currently on the market:
Wright on the Market