View of the new roof taken from the garden at Pope Leighey in October 2023.

photo by: Pope Leighey House

December 12, 2023

Preservation in Progress: Restoring the Pope-Leighey House Roof

Not all preservation work is as straightforward as maintaining a building exactly where it stands. Sometimes it requires a bit of creativity and an acknowledgement that the work is ongoing and ever changing.

When the construction of Pope-Leighey House, now a National Trust Historic Site, was completed in 1941 at its original site in Falls Church, Virginia, there was no way to predict the geographic distance it would travel, and some of the long-term impacts to the building's structure. In recent years, it became apparent that it was time to evaluate the current state of the building's roof, identify any issues, and work to address them in order to ensure the home’s stability.

A sepia toned image of Pope-Leighey House a Frank Lloyd Wright house in its original location in Falls Church, Virginia.

photo by: Pope-Leighey House

Pope-Leighey House in its original location in Falls Church, Virginia.

A view of the roof of the Pope Leighey House where water damage can be seen.

photo by: Pope Leighey House

An exposed corner of the Pope-Leighey House Roof where water damage can be seen.

In the summer and fall of 2023, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the team at Pope-Leighey House began work on a major deferred maintenance project—addressing water intrusion and structural damage to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Usonian home's roof. In addition to the expertise of Mark Stoner, senior director of preservation architecture and Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust, MCWB Architects, McMullan & Associates, and Standard Restoration & Waterproofing helped make the repairs and restoration possible.

This photo essay documents the restoration with a detailed look at some of the challenges and solutions to preserving this historic home for a long time to come.

Scaffolding on the Pope Leighey House prior of the roof restoration.

photo by: Pope Leighey House

Scaffolding begins to be erected around the house, careful to avoid any close contact with the large windows.

Architectural team from the National Trust on the roof of the Pope Leighey House during the roof restoration.

photo by: Pope Leighey House

Graham Gund Architect Mark Stoner and representatives of the contractor, Standard Restoration & Waterproofing review the planned work while scaffolding is erected.

A Modernist Masterpiece on the Move

Originally built for Loren and Charlotte Pope, this Usonian Style home was sold to Robert and Marjorie Leighey in 1946. Following the death of her husband, Marjorie Leighey fought to save the home from demolition when Interstate-66’s impending construction was slated to cut directly through its original location. Led by her passion for the home, and with the help of the Department of the Interior, Virigina’s Governor Albertis S. Harrison, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the home was saved. The home was dismantled and moved 20 miles south to Woodlawn Plantation, the National Trust Historic Site in Alexandria, Virginia, where Leighey could enjoy lifetime tenancy.

A view of the roof of the Pope Leighey House where tarping is there to protect the house during the August storm season.

photo by: Pope Leighey House

Tarping of the exposed areas and sandbags can be seen to prevent further damage as August storms approached during construction.

This new location would guarantee future longevity and provide access for visitors to experience one of Wright's earliest Usonian homes for themselves. In 1995, decades after the first move, the National Trust discovered that the marine clay where the home had been placed had caused the foundation to become unstable, requiring the home to be dismantled and reassembled again 30 feet away to ensure the building's stability.

One Roof is Not Like the Other

During this second move, other changes were made to the home, including a complete reconstruction of the roof. As seen in the original image of the house in its Falls Church location, there is a clean roofline devoid of visible flashing. As part of the roof work in 1995, gravel was installed on the roof to weigh down the new roofing system, requiring the installation of a sizeable gravel stop edge flashing.

This photo on the left illustrates the dramatic height difference between the now-oxidized gravel stop and flashing installed in the 1995 project and the bright new drip edge copper flashing installed this summer. The drip edge flashing ensures a waterproof seal above the perimeters' wood edging and directs any water away from the flashing. This new copper work provides a much slimmer profile along the roof’s edges, returning the home to a much better representation of its original construction and Frank Lloyd Wright’s design intent.

A view of the gravel stop and flashing which is used to waterproof roofs from 1995 and the new copper flashing from 2023.

photo by: Pope Leighey House

The new low profile copper drip edge flashing compared with the original (oxidized) copper gravel stop.

Remove, Replace, Restore

The roofing project included complete removal and replacement of the existing protective roofing material, as well as all of the copper gravel stop flashing installed in 1995. Prior to the start of roof work, areas of concern where minor leaking had occurred were accounted for. However, after the old roofing and flashing were removed, substantial areas of water damage and rot were discovered within the roof structure, including some significant structural damage. Additionally, several wood fascia boards were found to be severely deteriorated, necessitating their replacement. Following additional structural assessment and planning, areas of roof framing were either reinforced or replaced entirely, adding significant time and cost to the project.

View of some of the build up from the leaks on the roof against the old and new flashing which is used to waterproof roofs.

photo by: Pope Leighey House

Some of the buildup from years of organic materials can be seen here, as well as the juxtaposition of the previous and newly installed flashing.

During the initial research into new and appropriate roof materials—including Wright's original construction specifications—the design team came across Frank Lloyd Wright's proprietary roofing mixture which he called “wearcoat”. This same mixture of cement, sand, fiberglass, and asphalt was also used in the construction of other similar Usonian homes, though it reportedly failed quickly. When seeking out modern materials for the roof, it was decided that using a fluid-applied waterproof membrane with a broadcast sand aggregate would be the best approximation to the look to Wright's original “wearcoat” material.

Overhead view of the completed roof on the Pope-Leighey House in Alexandria, Virginia.

photo by: Pope-Leighey House

Pope-Leighey House with its new roof and cypress wood fascia boards. In the Spring of 2024, all exterior wood will be cleaned and re-treated to give the house a uniform appearance.

The roof restoration was finished in October 2023, making the project about sixteen weeks in total, costing around $250,000 in the end. For a home that’s only about 1200 square feet, this number may seem a bit high, but when you factor in its compelling history and world-renowned architect behind its design, the value today is truly priceless.

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Megan Kelly is the manager of events and development at the Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey House, a National Trust Historic Site

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