September 1, 2015

The David & Gladys Wright House, Designed by Dad Frank Lloyd Wright, Now Saved

Courtyard at the David & Gladys Wright House

photo by: Mark W. Lipczynski

The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house is based on a rising spiral, which prefigures his design for the Guggenheim Museum.

In the architecture world, no name carries more weight than Frank Lloyd Wright. But, as a dispute in Phoenix, Arizona shows, the name alone does not protect iconic buildings from demolition threats. A 1952 Arcadia home built for Wright’s son, David Wright, was in danger of being torn down a few years ago by then-current owners, the 8081 Meridian Corporation.

Interior photo from another angle of the living area inside of the David & Gladys Wright House

photo by: Mark W. Lipczynski

When lawyer and custom home builder Zach Rawling purchased the house in December 2012, he found the interior’s original material fully intact.

The David & Gladys Wright House is the only Wright residence based on the same spiral concept as the Guggenheim Museum, and boasts a unique coiled, concrete façade. The property was purchased in June 2012 by 8081 from J T Morning Glory Enterprises, who had placed the house on the market in 2011 after it sat unoccupied for two years.

Exterior overview photo of the David & Gladys Wright House

photo by: Mark W. Lipczynski

An outbuilding, with the Camelback Mountains in the background.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy worked to avoid losing the home by searching for a new buyer who would purchase the property intact from the developers. They also explored the possibility of multiple buyers purchasing the house to gain immediate control over the property, and then transitioning to a sole owner for long-term preservation.

“We think that such a buyer would value the house as is, and restore it and perhaps the original citrus orchard that surrounded the house,” said Janet Halstead, executive director of the Conservancy, at the time.

The bookcases inside the David & Gladys Wright House

photo by: Mark W. Lipczynski

Every room in the David & Gladys Wright House has a panoramic view of the grounds.

Since they heard about the demolition possibility, the Conservancy worked to get approval for historic preservation/landmark designation from the city of Phoenix, buying more time to save the home. (No demolition permit can be granted while historic preservation designation is being considered, and if it is approved, an automatic one-year delay will be applied to any demolition permit request; landmark status ups it to three years.)

Interior photo of the kitchen area inside of the David & Gladys Wright House

photo by: Mark W. Lipczynski

The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy urged supporters to send letters pushing for these designations to the mayor, individual councilmen, the Historic Preservation Commission of Phoenix or the Phoenix Planning Commission.

Ultimately, the online petition gathered nearly 30,000 signatures in support of saving the David & Gladys Wright House. The preservation community celebrated in December 2012 when lawyer and custom home builder Zach Rawling purchased the house, sparing the Frank Lloyd Wright icon from the wrecking ball.

Rawling, who grew up nearby, has opened the house for small, guided tours by appointment only. To learn more, or to schedule a tour, visit davidwrighthouse.org.

Read more about the David & Gladys Wright House, plus other sites worth seeing in the Phoenix area, in the Fall 2015 issue of Preservation.

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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