Between the path of destruction and despair left in the wake of Superstorm Sandy and the nasty nor’easter that’s due to strike the East Coast tomorrow, it’s been a “I’m about ready to throw in the towel” kind-of-week for many folks. And depending on which candidate you support in the presidential election, the results could very well turn out to be the “I’m throwing in the towel and moving to Canada” cherry atop the crappy news sundae.
At one point, things were looking rather grim in this ongoing, highly publicized preservationist vs. nefarious real estate developer saga but, rejoice, Frank Lloyd Wright
's David and Gladys Wright House has apparently found a new owner
who doesn’t want to raze it, split the lot, and develop “luxury custom homes” where the home once stood. Yay!
Says broker Robert Joffe of the anonymous buyer who, last Wednesday, agreed to put down $2.379 million in cash to help save the architecturally significant — but currently not landmarked — 2,250-square-foot concrete and steel abode designed by Wright for his son, David, in the early 1950s: “He’s doing this not for notoriety but for the love of the property. That’s really the kind of person that we needed.”
Despite the emergence of a seemingly trustworthy and preservation-minded buyer, Janet Halstead, executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy,
remains “cautiously optimistic” according to the New York Times
. She says: “We won’t know if the house will be saved from the threat of demolition and irresponsible development until we know the intentions of the new owners.”
The Times describes the pending agreement as “the first step in a transaction that needs to withstand the scrutiny of a home inspection and the volatile relationship between the city and the current owners, who have vociferously opposed the city’s efforts to give the house landmark status.”
In case you haven’t been following along, here's the back story in a nutshell: In 2009, the suburban Phoenix home — a home that's somewhat obscure compared to other Wright residences yet described
by historian Neil Levine as one the architect’s “most most innovative, unusual and personal works" — was sold for $2.8 million by Wright's great-granddaughters. The reason? They were unable to keep up with the high costs of maintaining the home. Says Ann Wright-Levi of the property: “There were bills to pay, there were taxes that had to be paid, there were things that had to be done, but the money wasn’t there to maintain it.”
Earlier this year, the original buyer sold the home for $1.8 million to development firm 8081 Meridian. Although the firm only briefly held a demolition permit before it was invalidated by the city of Phoenix, the potential fate of the David and Gladys Wright House was clear: “Imminent destruction” unless someone stepped in to buy the home back from 8081 Meridian at a jacked-up price. Deadlines to find a new, suitable buyer came, went, and were extended, petitions were signed, potential buyers were rejected, and the struggle to save the home became increasingly desperate and dramatic.
Over the past several months, John Hoffman and Steven Sells of 8081 Meridian also became insta-villains of sorts. However, Sells sees himself as more of a martyr who is just trying to feed his own family: “Does the house deserve landmark status? Yes. This place needs to be preserved,” Sells told the NYT
in October. “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.”
If the agreement with the anonymous buyer goes through and the Phoenix City Council votes to bestow the home landmark status during a hearing to be held tomorrow (which it most likely will), it looks like Sells will soon officially be off cross-carrying duty and riled-up preservationists will finally find peace.
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