Bulldozer Fate Not Yet Ruled Out for Frank Lloyd Wright Home

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J. R. Eyerman / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Frank Lloyd Wright's house for his son David Wright, made of concrete blocks.

There’s a battle raging in an unassuming Phoenix subdivision between a piece of Americana and a piece of heavy machinery. A Frank Lloyd Wright residential masterpiece, which was set for demolition today, Oct. 4, received a last-minute, one-month reprieve. The agreement will give the city of Phoenix, which is working hard to ensure that the home stays standing, more time to find a buyer. But the ultimate fate of the home still rests in the hands of the developer, who has threatened to tear down the architectural work if preservationists don’t cough up the millions in cash they’re seeking.

While the back-and-forth rages on, let’s look at the facts: Nevada-based developer 8081 Meridian owns a 2.2-acre tract of land in Phoenix’s Arcadia neighborhood. On that plot stands a 2,500-square-foot home built in 1952, designed by the seminal American architect Frank Lloyd Wright for his son and daughter-in-law, David and Gladys. The home, a spiraling concrete design that evokes Wright’s famous Guggenheim Museum in New York City, rises above a central courtyard with views of Camelback Mountain. The New York Times has called it “one of Wright’s great works.”

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“There is no house quite like this one,” architectural historian Neil Levine told the Times. “Everything is custom designed so that the house is, more than most of Wright’s later buildings, a complete work of art.” It’s so far flown under the radar of Wright enthusiasts because its original owners never opened the building to the public.

After the deaths of David and Gladys Wright, the family sold the home in 2008. It was resold to current owner 8081 Meridian in June for $1.8 million. Having secured a lot split — the new property lines run right through the home — before closing on the property, the developers also obtained a demolition permit from the city, which expires on Oct. 4.

Of course, efforts to deem the home a landmark have been ongoing for months — but preservationists haven’t been able to get the consent of the owners, raising possible questions on the validity of those proceedings. And while the city has voided the demolition permit, claiming it was issued in error, developers contend it is still fully legal.

According to the New York Times, 8081 Meridian has already passed on a purchase offer of $2 million for the home, instead reportedly hoping to clear over $2.2 million on the sale.

But this week, instead of holding hard and fast to the deadline on the demolition permit, the developers and the city reached an agreement: one more month. The city acknowledged the permit and extended its expiration date into November, ideally giving them time to find the right buyers for the home — which ironically sits just 10 miles from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation headquarters at Taliesin West. With so much bargaining power and another demolition deadline in site, the developers can now sit back and watch the price of the home edge even higher. Not a bad payday for a summer’s worth of ownership.

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NadineLynn
NadineLynn

I'm not sure some of this is fact-checked.  The City didn't acknowledge the demo permit was valid, but that was gotten through ruse, and the developers signed a "stand still," I was informed. It was in good faith; in other words, they agreed not to try anything fishy, like bulldoze at midnight--never heard the City ever agreed that their permit to demo was legal or would ever be considered so.  Also, if a low-level employee issued the permit that was supposed to go through Historic Preservation channels, that's an error, not a pass for the developers.  And the house will probably sell at a fair price with a modest profit for the sellers' troubles, but I doubt the price will be driven up because the developers cannot get the zoning they want, which will limit the type of building for that area AND if the house is considered landmark, they'd have to wait three years to build, which is an eternity for a business deal when the company has money invested and just sitting on it.

Emanuel Dimitri Volakis
Emanuel Dimitri Volakis

The incompetence of local municipalities never ceases to amaze me....and the unbridled GREED of developers is even worse. This country is pathetic. People wonder why we have no cultural values in this country...it's because we bulldoze iconic buildings and hold the arts in complete disregard. Shame, shame....