On the 150th birthday of Frank Lloyd Wright, a press conference announced that the David Wright House will be donated to the Taliesin architecture school.
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Zach Rawling, owner of the David Wright House, and Aaron Betsky, dean of the School of Architecture at Taliesin West, talk about the future of the Arcadia house and its new role at Taliesin. Johanna Huckeba/azcentral.com
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Interior of David and Gladys Wright House in Phoenix.
Michael Chow/The Republic
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Famous Frank Lloyd Wright house to join Taliesin West
Wright House to become part of architecture school
Go inside the David and Gladys Wright House
At the heart of the years-long controversy over the future of the David and Gladys Wright House are the people who live near the property in Phoenix’s Arcadia neighborhood.
Some first imagined the home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright would open for a few tours after it was saved from demolition. Then they heard owner Zach Rawling’s plans to build outdoor event space, host weddings and open an underground visitor’s center.
Many have since fought a project they feared would commercialize a residential area, bring traffic to residential streets and jeopardize the safety of their neighborhood.
But Thursday’s announcement of a new vision for the house could be a fresh start for negotiations.
Rawling pledged to donate the 1952 home for use by the School of Architecture at Taliesin West. The Arizona Community Foundation will help create a new non-profit to own the property and raise money for a $7 million endowment.
Neighbors immediately had unanswered questions about the plans Thursday morning, said Craig Steblay, president of the Arcadia Camelback Mountain Neighborhood Association. They’re extremely wary, he said, though the concept of a small educational venue gives him more optimism than before.
“It’s almost encouraging,” Steblay said.
Mayor declares Frank Lloyd Wright Day
Jordan Rose, an attorney representing some of the house’s closest neighbors, said she only learned of the announcement through The Arizona Republic.
She’s waiting to hear more but said in an email that plans for thousands of visitors to the site “certainly causes the residents of Arcadia great concern about protection of their residential lifestyle.”
The new concept for the house scales down the uses originally proposed by Rawling. Architecture faculty and students would live and work there.
Public tours and events like lecture series, though, are part of the vision. Rawling said the site could serve up to about 30,000 visitors a year.
City and school leaders commended the donation Thursday, the 150th anniversary of Wright’s birth. A celebration included cupcakes and a massive installation of colorful balloons on top of the house.
City Council members present at the event did not reference the permit the house will ultimately have to secure from Phoenix to operate as a school. But Councilman Daniel Valenzuela applauded Rawling.
He also read a proclamation from Mayor Greg Stanton declaring June 8, 2017, Frank Lloyd Wright Day.
“It’s a great day for our state, truly,” Valenzuela said.
New plans ‘need to avoid pitfalls’
More important for neighbors is what comes next, Steblay said. The architecture school, and likely the new supporting organization, will take control of filing specific plans with the city detailing how the property will be used.
Having “new players” and working with a board of directors could help repair communication between Rawling’s team and neighbors that broke down over years of contention, Steblay said.
“A void of information is the most deadly thing there is,” he said.
Also encouraging is the reputation of the Arizona Community Foundation, Steblay said, and relying on an endowment instead of ticket sales is another good sign.
Steblay said he would also be open to some tours and educational programming if the scope is limited.
“That could be a real asset to Arcadia,” Steblay said.
Rose, though, said she hasn’t received a briefing from Rawling for at least a year and was surprised she wasn’t contacted about the donation.
The deed restrictions require the property to remain residential, so her clients are waiting to hear the plans directly to see how they differ from before, Rose said.
Steblay said it’s too early to tell next steps for the neighborhood, but that he’s looking forward to a dialogue on the new vision.
“We need to avoid the pitfalls of what’s happened over the last four or five years,” Steblay said.
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