The David and Gladys Wright House in Phoenix is Threatened with Demolition
The new owners of the David and Gladys Wright House will most likely bulldoze this unique example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture unless some way is found to preserve the house. Time is running out and there could be less than sixty days to secure the building’s future.
The owners-developers, the 8081 Meridian Corporation, were contacted by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy to facilitate an outcome satisfying some of the developers’ profit objective while saving one of the great buildings of America’s most important architect. Despite initial public statements saying they would not demolish the house, the developers have recently indicated that “it’s not a given that the house can be preserved.” Further they have stated that the “creativity is in the design,” and the design and paper drawings will remain even if “the building doesn’t last.” Those who have had the opportunity to experience Wright’s unique spaces know this is not true. These comments point to the very real possibility of an imminent destruction.
“The David and Gladys Wright House needs a new owner who values the building and its site, realizes its importance to architecture and the city of Phoenix, and is willing to protect and restore it. That needs to happen quickly,” said Neil Levine, well-known architectural historian and Harvard professor. “The Conservancy and its partners are active in pursuing the search for new ownership, and are coordinating a group that opposes any efforts to demolish the house.” Professor Levine has characterized the David and Gladys Wright House as “one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most innovative, unusual and personal works of architecture”:
Built in 1950-52, it is the only residence by the world-famous architect that is based on the circular spiral plan of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, whose construction followed it by six years. When the house was first published in 1953, it was stated that no other Wright house since Fallingwater was as praiseworthy and remarkable. Since then its reputation has only increased and several architectural historians and architecture critics consider it to be among the 20 most significant Wright buildings. The spatial design, the processional movement through the patio and along the spiral ramp, the custom-designed concrete-block detailing, and the total interior design all give this house a spectacular expression especially appropriate to the desert environment.
When it learned that the house had been purchased by developers and was threatened with demolition, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy requested the City of Phoenix to grant historic preservation and landmark designation to the house. A number of local and national organizations, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Society of Architectural
Historians endorsed the Conservancy’s appeal. In mid-June the city’s Planning Commission voted unanimously to initiate consideration of a preservation designation, an action that triggers a delay in approval of a demolition permit. However, such a delay is only temporary. For this reason the Conservancy and its preservation partners are mounting a campaign to find a suitable, preservation-minded buyer for the property and working to ensure that the landmark designation process proceeds successfully through procedural hurdles to reach the Phoenix City Council and final approval in November. The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, a Chicago-based preservation organization founded over 20 years ago, works to preserve all of Wright’s built designs. For almost 40 years no intact Wright building has been intentionally demolished due in large part to the Conservancy’s actions which have been instrumental in saving a number of threatened Wright structures.
Larry Woodin, President of the Conservancy, declared that the loss of the David Wright house in Phoenix would be “a deeply tragic blow to architectural preservation and Wright’s legacy.” The general public assumes that Wright’s buildings are protected legally or are untouchable due to the significance of his work in the development of modern architecture. Periodic threats to Wright buildings, such as the current one to the David and Gladys Wright House, demonstrate that is not the case.
Janet Halstead, Executive Director