A stunning spiral house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Phoenix, Arizona, faces potential demolition as soon as tomorrow. Wright built the house in 1952 for his son David, but the property is currently owned by a developer called 8081 Meridian, which is threatening to destroy it.
Now on the one hand, stories about saving architectural buildings pop up in the news all the time, and it turns out this one’s been up in the air since July; on the other hand, the little-known house does seem to be an architectural gem. Plus the New York Times is featuring the story on its front page today, going into full-on activist mode and presumably hoping that its East Coast cultural clout will carry all the way out to the Southwest.
In the piece, arts writer Michael Kimmelman writes beautifully about the house, whose spiraling form echoes the Guggenheim but whose construction predates the museum by four years (although Wright the Guggenheim plans predate the home):
The David Wright house is the Guggenheim’s prodigal son, except that unlike the museum, whose interior creates a vertical streetscape while turning its back on the city, David’s house was configured by Wright to look both inward and out. It twists around a central courtyard, a Pompeian oasis to which he gave a plunge pool and shade garden, but also faces onto the surrounding desert, with sweeping views of the mountain.
You can get a feel for the wonderful flow and curves of the house in this video, which we found via Save Wright.
Apparently when David and then his wife, Gladys, died, they left the house to their granddaughters. The granddaughters sold it to someone who promised to fix it up and live in it, but instead that person sold it off to 8081 Meridian. John Hoffman, managing partner at Meridian, told the Times, “We didn’t close on the property until the city approved a lot split. The line through the property went through one end of the house, so it was an indirect approval for demolition.”
City planning authorities actually voided that permit after the fact — hm, yeah … I guess we shouldn’t demolish a Frank Lloyd Wright house — but Hoffman is maintaining that it’s legal and that it expires tomorrow. The process of designating the house a historic landmark was also already in the works before the sale, but Kimmelman explains that Phoenix has an unofficial policy of asking consent from an owner before designating a building for historic preservation — and Hoffman and Meridian are flat-out not interested.
A chilling tweet from Kimmelman this morning reiterated that point:
Unconscionably, lawyer for Phnx developer who bought FLW house said to local planning committee last night: “this house is coming down.”
— Michael Kimmelman (@kimmelman) October 3, 2012
In fact, Meridian has already received an offer on the house, but the company rejected it. Kimmelman writes in the Times:
It may be that the demolition threat is being used as leverage to drive up the price to be paid by preservationists. Having just bought the house for $1.8 million, Mr. Hoffman said 8081 Meridian is looking to clear $2.2 million from any sale, and has so far rejected a cash offer floated several weeks ago from an anonymous, out-of-state Wright lover. This prospective buyer promised a little over $2 million, according to the realtor representing him.
Ugh. These guys are like the poster children for evil developers.
There are even more details and complications to the story, so it’s worth reading Kimmelman’s whole piece for yourself. You can also sign an online petition to save the house, which will hopefully not be too little too late.