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Frank Lloyd Wright House Intended for Architecture School Back on the Market

PHOENIX, ARIZONA—Phoenix, Arizona–based developer Zach Rawling bought a Frank Lloyd Wright–designed house for $2.3 million in 2012, when its previous owner wanted to demolish the landmark. In 2017, Rawlings donated the David and Gladys Wright House to the Taliesin West School of Architecture, but in June of this year, Rawlings and Aaron Betsky, the architecture school dean, announced in a joint statement that the donation was being revoked due to fundraising concerns. The gift was contingent on the school meeting a $7 million fundraising goal by 2020. The statement reads that the funds raised thus far will be donated to the school. The house is now back on the market for almost $13 million.

The news is the latest development in a contentious battle over the Wright home. Rawlings, an Arizona native and longtime admirer of Wright’s architecture, previously had ambitions to turn the house into a museum, complete with an education center, café, and gift shop with 100,000-plus projected visitors, according to the Arizona Republic. He purchased and razed three homes next to the building to restore its surrounding landscape as it was envisioned by Wright. The original blueprints for the residence were titled “How to Live in the Southwest.” Designed for Wright’s son and daughter-in-law in 1952, the home showcases Wright’s characteristic use of organic forms with its spiraling, curved design, and is considered a precursor to the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

While Rawlings strived to honor Wright’s legacy he faced opposition from the home’s surrounding neighbors—including billionaire Peter Sperling, who is head of the parent company that owns the University of Phoenix—over what they saw as the commercialization of Arcadia, the wealthy, residential neighborhood where the Wright home is located. Those against the project protested with an online petition and “Wright House, Wrong Place” fliers. Sperling and several others enlisted the legal aid of Rose Law Group. “Restoration is absolutely welcome, but commercialization is just not,” Jordan Rose, the lawyer representing the group, told azcentral in 2015.

In June of last year, Rawling donated the home to the Taliesin West School of Architecture (previously called the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture), which Wright founded as an apprenticeship program in 1932. In the past year the school used the David and Gladys Wright House to host academic lectures and graduate architectural students. Ultimately the school could not raise enough money in time to meet Rawlings’ deadline. According to the joint statement, they found that “the fundraising timetables of both parties do not lend themselves to a joint campaign.”

Following the announcement, Rose told the Arizona Republic her clients are “quite relieved Taliesin won’t continue to support the effort to commercialize the house into a party/event center in the middle of their quiet residential community.”

Others may be disappointed, as it remains to be seen how accessible the architectural landmark will be to the public—tours have since been temporarily closed, according to its website. “I do consider the David and Gladys Wright house to be one of Wright’s most significant and unusual buildings,” Neil Levine, Harvard University’s Emmet Blakeney Gleason research professor of history of art and architecture, told the Arizona Republic. “It certainly figures among the top twenty designs he did. This is a figure based on the analysis we did of his work for the World Heritage List nomination.” When asked whether he would ever consider living there himself, Rawling answered, “It’s too special a place... It’s part of our shared history. I want this to be part of the fabric of cultural life in the city.”

September 13, 2018