The other week, I reported on the high drama that’s erupted over the proposed razing of 226 Edgewood Ave., a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired manse (or the home's extensive facelift in the 1970s was at least, anyway) in San Francisco that’s owned by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams.
Now, it appears that the real deal may face a similar fate unless it achieves historic landmark status … and quick. If not, the storied, spiraling Phoenix structure that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for his son, David, in the early 1950s could potentially be demolished and replaced with two "luxury custom homes" by a local developer. If this does happen, the architecturally significant home — Harvard professor and architectural historian Neil Levine dubs it "one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most innovative, unusual and personal works of architecture” — will be the first Wright building intentionally demolished in nearly 40 years according to Janet Halstead, executive director of the Chicago-based Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.
A bit of back story: In 2009, following the passing of David Wright's wife, Gladys, the 2,250-square-foot David Wright House was purchased by JT Morning Glory Enterprises LP from Wright’s great-granddaughter, Anne Wright Levi, and her two sisters for $2.8 million. Unable to keep up with high costs of maintaining the property, Wright’s great-granddaughters believed, in good faith, that the buyer would preserve the home.
This past June, ownership of the David Wright House was passed on from JT Morning Glory Enterprises to 8081 Meridian. The development company purchased the property for $1.8 million with apparent plans to raze the Wright home and erect the aforementioned McMansions on the site. Although it wasn't initially clear that the residence would be demolished, later statements from 8081 Meridian lead the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy to believe that the "imminent destruction" of the structure was a possibility. To be clear, a permit for demolition has not yet been filed with the city.
However, 8081 Meridian agreed to hold off on any sort of redevelopment activity for 60 days while a potential deal was ironed out with the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy that, in the words of the Conservancy, would "satisfy some of the developers’ profit objective while saving one of the great buildings of America’s most important architect." During those 60 days, conservationists and the Wright family waited with bated breath for a new owner — an owner with deep pockets and no intention of razing and redeveloping — to buy the home back from 8081 Meridian for a jacked-up price of $2.7 million.
In addition to selling off the property in its entirety, splitting the 2.5-acre plot into two parcels and selling the home a la carte on a smaller parcel while redeveloping the remaining land was also a scenario proposed by 8081 Meridian. Explains the Conservancy: "Early interaction with the developers indicated plans to build large inappropriate structures that tower over the David Wright House, however a group of local Phoenix architects is working on more palatable designs which have been shared with the developers."
Levine stressed the urgency of finding a new owner to save the home and its Guggenheim Museum-esque spiral entrance ramp in a July press release issued by the Conservancy: "The David and Gladys Wright House needs a new owner who values the building and its site, realizes its importance to architecture and the city of Phoenix, and is willing to protect and restore it. That needs to happen quickly. The Conservancy and its partners are active in pursuing the search for new ownership, and are coordinating a group that opposes any efforts to demolish the house.”
At this point, a preservation-minded guardian angel has yet to step forward.
Uneasy with his inevitable villain status, 8081 Meridian’s managing partner John Hoffman has mentioned the possibility of deconstructing and relocating parts of the David Wright House, although the relocation of the home, built from masonry and concrete, is thought to be logistically impossible.
Hoffman explained to AZCentral back in July: “The goal is to find the best development scenario to preserve the structure while maintaining a viable redevelopment project. We're hopeful a buyer will step forward before the 60-day standstill agreement expires."
Now, with the 60-day standstill agreement expired, the race is on to further delay demolition by designating the held-for-ransom David Wright Home as a landmark (you'd assume it already was, right?). If that happens, the possibility for demolishment will be thwarted for either one year (approval for Historic Preservation designation) or three years (Historic Landmark designation). The delay would give the Conservancy time to seek out a “lasting solution for the building.”
Concerned? Here’s what you can do: Sign this petition to help ensure that the David Wright house remains safe from the wrecking ball by another 12 or 36 months. Although the Conservancy has far surpassed the required 4,132 signatures, it certainly won’t hurt to add your name to the list. Or, you can directly write a letter of support to Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, the city council, and/or the city’s Planning Commission and Historic Preservation Commission. All the appropriate addresses and emails can be found here. The first commission meeting regarding the matter will be held Sept. 17. The Conservancy recommends sending your letter by Sept. 10.
Any local Phoenix residents have any opinions on the matter?
Related art and architecture story on MNN: 10 great green houses [Photo gallery]