Why Secret Frank Lloyd Wright House Should Not Be Torn Down

The fact that this was Wright’s house for his son makes it particularly worth saving, and not just for nostalgic reasons

  • Share
  • Read Later
J. R. Eyerman / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

There aren’t really many occasions in architecture for breaking news alerts—it’s hard for a building to sneak up on people—but this is pretty close: a hitherto little-known Frank Lloyd Wright house was narrowly saved from demolition on Oct. 4. Its future is in doubt. But perhaps the real newsflash is: There are Frank Lloyd Wright houses that nobody knows about? How does that happen?

The house, in a neighborhood of Phoenix known as Arcadia, was originally designed by Wright for the architect’s son, David. This may go some way towards explaining the obscurity. David and his wife Gladys, who passed away in 2008, would have been fully aware of the perils of living in an architecturally significant home: namely, FLWpilgrims. Students and fans of architecture go to great lengths to see actual buildings; after all there’s only so much you can learn from photographs and plans.

Wright’s more famous home, Fallingwater, in Pennsylvania receives hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.  Phillip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Conn. got so many visitors when it was still a private home that sightseers sometimes had their tires let down by way of discouragement. (Nowadays it’s open to the public. )

So Wright’s son can be forgiven for not widely publishing the existence or address of his residence, especially since Taliesin West, another Wright building is only a few miles away. Who wants their home to become part of a tour?

But the fact that this was Wright’s house for his son makes it particularly worth saving, and not just for nostalgic reasons. Since it’s probable that the architectural fees Wright charged for his services were minimal and the client had several other reasons to not argue with his architect, Wright pere would likley have had a pretty free rein on the home and could use it as a kind of model/laboratory for ideas he was noodling.

And indeed that’s what the house seems to be. Much of the home comprises a circular spiraling ramp that would be echoed in Wright’s New York City Guggenheim museum, which was completed seven years later.  This is also an early instance of Wright’s use of concrete blocks rather than wood or stone, his preferred materials.

The current owner, Steve Sells, who with John Hoffman is co-principal of 8081 Meridian, the developer that applied to raze the house, could not have been expected to know this. He told the Arizona Republic that he was unfamiliar with Wright’s work until this year.  Reports are that 8081 Meridian bought it for $1.8 million. (That a Frank Lloyd Wright house can be had for the price of a three-bedroom apartment in Manhattan is also something of a newsflash). Several people have offered to buy the house, including, reportedly, at least one Hollywood Celebrity (best guess: Brad Pitt)—he says he needs at least $2.2 million to cover his legal fees.  That mean seem cheap to some, but a warning to buyers: celebrity homes are like celebrity marriages. They take a lot of work.

9 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
Kathy Suszczewicz
Kathy Suszczewicz

I will defend this house with my body as if it were the last tree standing.  

David Isenberg
David Isenberg

don't worry, thier not gonna be allowed to raze that masterpiece ... there are a few americans out there who have the means and desire to preserve our heritage .......

HunterST2
HunterST2

Count on me if you need somebody to stand off the bulldozers. It's the same thing as destroying a Picasso or the negative of a Howard Hawks movie.

David Isenberg
David Isenberg

i have been going over to that house twice a day for the last week and it is being protected by the  city of phoenix from the flippers sliding in there ... i think the boys realize thier huge error in thinking no one cared and now are trying to save face and not lose thier shirts .... real estate in arizona is still in the toilet, with many houses for sale around the write home

Rassam
Rassam

Frank Loyd Wright was just the architect.  He did not live there and he did not build it.  He drew the plans.  Why would a house for his son become sacrosanct?  You could take the plans he drew up and build  that house anywhere you wanted.

It's Wright's blueprints that are special.

David Isenberg
David Isenberg

anything built by flw is an important work ... a couple of real estate flippers from idaho bought the property and wanna throw a couple of spec houses there ... they build nice stuff, obviously at a high price ... i do not be-grudge those boys a chance to turn a buck but, there are at least 15 to 20 properties in a mile radius and empty lots for sale so why tear down something that cannot be duplicated .... i have been to many flw houses and this one is by far the neetest one i have ever seen ... hopefully those hustlers from idaho will get thier asking price and take thier greedy stentch elsewhere ...... this deal will probably finish 8081 meridian as a company

Van English
Van English

Any house designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright is sacrosanct because he was and is arguably America's most famous architect.  This nor any FLW structure could not be built just anywhere, because he took great pains to attune each structure to its environment; hence, his "organic architecture."  That is the difference between an architect and a developer.  The former cares about the environment FIRST, and second, how the building will fit into that. 

Melanie Shelor
Melanie Shelor

"...8081 Meridian, the developer that applied to raze the house, could not have been expected to know this." Know what? About Frank Lloyd Wright? 

"He told the Arizona Republic that he was unfamiliar with Wright’s work until this year."

So comforting to know that we set such a low bar for developers. We allow them to shape our cities, our environment, and the spaces of our lives, without knowing a damn thing about the temporal/historical fabric they're working with.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 385 other followers