Preservation Magazine, Winter 2024

Token of Affection: The Feline Keepsake Stowed Away at the Pope-Leighey House

Inside Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House in northern Virginia, Marjorie Leighey kept hidden away a porcelain perfume bottle shaped curiously like a perky, orange cat. It had a tiger-striped tail, a bronze-colored crown, and a crisp collar topped by a red bow tie.

In the early 1960s, Leighey’s Wright–designed house had been slated for demolition to make way for Interstate 66. Instead of accepting a government offer to buy the building and demolish it, she donated it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which decided to relocate the Usonian house to its nearest historic site, Woodlawn, located 15 miles away in Alexandria, Virginia.

There it would be opened to the public for tours. Leighey’s husband, Robert, had died about a year before the house was saved, and after living abroad for a few years, she moved back into the house in 1969. She worried that a tourgoer might pilfer her sentimentally valued bottle, given to her by her husband in the 1920s.

“It was the first gift that Robert ever gave to Marjorie while they were still dating,” says Kennis Pieper, the collections coordinator for both Woodlawn and the Pope-Leighey House.

To protect the perfume bottle from theft, Leighey had a secret drawer built into the underside of her desk.

photo by: Scott Suchman

“Every time there were tours, she would just tuck it into that little drawer, and you would not even know it was there,” says Pieper.

Marjorie Leighey died in 1983, and in November 2022 her niece donated the trinket to the National Trust. While the site determines how to properly display it, it remains—fittingly—tucked away in a box.

By: Alison Van Houten

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