Frank Lloyd Wright House Controversy

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We’ll tell you about the controversy over an historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in the Arcadia neighborhood in Phoenix. You’ll hear from both sides on the issue.

TED SIMONS: The fight over an historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed private home in the Arcadia area near 56th Street and Camelback is turning this quiet neighborhood into an increasingly public battleground. Producer Shawna and photographer Kyle show us how the two sides are framing their arguments.

SHANA FISCHER: Kimberly Lloyd Wright has fond memories of playing at her grandparents' house.

KIMBERLY LLOYD WRIGHT: I started probably coming here when I was five, and staying for a couple of weeks during the summer, going swimming with my grandmother.

SHANA FISCHER: Her great-grandfather, revered architect Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the home. The David and Gladys Wright House, as it's known, is an architectural marvel. It spirals up from the ground and the views of Camelback Mountain and the Papagos are breathtaking. A few miles down the road, a young man named Zach Rawling would also find a connection to the home.

ZACH RAWLING: It was part of my childhood. When I was young, my mom had studied architecture at ASU in the '70s, and as soon as I could ride a bike, she began taking me to look at Frank Lloyd Wright homes.

SHANA FISCHER: When David and Gladys passed away, Kim and her sister Anne sold the home. According to the City of Phoenix records, the new owners wanted to tear down the home and subdivide the lot for high-end custom homes. The city intervened and stopped the demolition process, and a search for a new owner began. Rawling found out the home he loved all those years ago was now for sale, so he bought it in 2012 for $2.8 million, with a promise not to tear the house down but to preserve it.

KIMBERLY LLOYD WRIGHT: I am elated. I'm very touched that he has wanted to do that. I -- we -- my sisters and I were not able to do that when my grandmother passed.

SHANA FISCHER: Rawling says he wants to honor Frank Lloyd Wright and that he looks at the house as a living tribute to him.

ZACH RAWLING: The design of the house was in wood, and David Wright worked for Besser Manufacturing which made the press that made concrete block possible, and it was David's request that the house be made of block and showcase the product that his company produced. And that's the reason we have a block house. The wood is all mahogany, which was readily available hardwood, but all of the millwork was done by furniture makers, and really the ceiling is 2,200 feet of a piece of furniture, so every board in the house was cut and put in place. We've done a 3D scan of the house; every board in the ceiling is a unique size and shape.

SHANA FISCHER: Inside, Rawling and his team have painstakingly recreated the original carpet as well as the furniture. Almost immediately, word spread the old Wright house had been bought and was going to be saved. And at first, neighbors in this exclusive Phoenix enclave were happy…but not for long. Some neighbors say Rawling's plans don't just preserve the home but will also open it to the public for tours and other events like concerts and weddings.

ZACH RAWLING: We have plans for an underground educational space to accompany the house. We have plans for a garden pavilion, and a sculpture in the shape of a Phoenix north of the property. And the idea is just to make the experience of visiting as comfortable as possible, and to have exhibition space for art and architectural exhibits. Clean facilities, a museum cafe to grab a bite to eat, and then a bookstore with art and architectural books. So, sort of the standard museum accessory functions.

SHANA FISCHER: Neighbor Jennifer Sheedy grew up three doors down from the home.

JENNIFER SHEEDY: It was cool. We'd ride our bikes up or walk up and never went on the property but got to really appreciate it. It's kind of a local landmark in our neighborhood.

SHANA FISCHER: Sheedy says she supports Rawling's plan to preserve the home but says his other proposed plans don't sit well with her.

JENNIFER SHEEDY: He explained to me that he really wanted to give the children a chance to be educated about it. That's great. Move into it and invite the neighborhood kids over. Once in a while have a special program if he wants to expose them to that. I think that would be great. I'd love for my kids to get to walk through it. I think that would be cool for them. But I do not think it is suitable for him to open it up to the public in the way that he has determined to do so with all of these additional usages. Public amenities, it's just not compatible with our neighborhood.

SHANA FISCHER: While it's true a number of neighbors support Rawling's plans, Sheedy and other neighbors say they fear opening it to the public on a larger scale will damage their quiet neighborhood.

JENNIFER SHEEDY: What concerns me most about the project is that I feel it will really change the fabric of Arcadia. Arcadia is a historical neighborhood all on its own and there are more than a few historical properties there. I think it will bring in an element and expose our neighborhood to the kind of traffic and basic exposure that will do harm to our neighborhood.

SHANA FISCHER: The city of Phoenix preservation office says it hasn't seen any official plans for the property's future from Rawling, but that's because he hasn't filed anything. The city did create a special-use permit for the home which would allow it to be open to the public, but Rawling has yet to file for it. The city says Rawling and his partners have asked for a delay on the special-use permit hearing five times. They wouldn't speculate as to why. Michelle Dodds, who heads up the preservation office, says even though Rawling is currently conducting private tours for the home, he's not doing anything wrong.

MICHELLE DODDS: I don't know that he's doing anything that would require the special permit at this point in time. People are allowed to have parties at their house; they're allowed to have guests over. And so I don't know that there's anything that's being done that isn't allowed.

SHANA FISCHER: And while some have suggested moving the home to a different location, Dodds says that's not a viable solution.

MICHELLE DODDS: I would tell you that moving the house would not be appropriate. It would really impact the integrity of the historic property. The setting here is extremely important. And so that would not be the best thing to do for this house.

SHANA FISCHER: Dodds says she understands the concerns of neighbors but also believes the two sides can work it out.

MICHELLE DODDS: I can't speak for the city as a whole but I think it's very exciting that people will be able to hopefully someday enjoy the property, and I'm sure that the vision the property owner has can be done without having a negative impact to the neighborhood. It's just going to take a lot of work to get there I think.

SHANA FISCHER: Despite all of their differences, there remains one view that everyone can agree upon: Honoring the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright.

KIMBERLY LLOYD WRIGHT: It's remarkable. To this day, it's just mind-boggling how they're in awe of his work. It's just amazing how people just are in awe of the architecture and the design.

TED SIMONS: The hearing for the special-use permit is scheduled for October 15th. Another of the neighbors' concerns is for visitor parking. Rawling says that has a deal worked out with a nearby church to lease 130 spaces.

Video: We want to hear from you. Submit your questions, comments, and concerns via e-mail at [email protected].

TED SIMONS: Tuesday on "Arizona Horizon," we'll talk more about the Board of Education's move out of the Education Department's headquarters and we'll learn about a challenge involving the U.S. and Mexico. That's at 5:30 and 10:00 on the next "Arizona Horizon."

That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

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