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Wright Report: Building Updates and Conservancy Action

Photo by Patrick J. Mahoney

The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy is happy to announce that it now holds a preservation easement on the Hoffman House in Rye, New York. The house was sold in mid-March, and the previous owner encouraged the new owner to donate an easement to the Conservancy as a part of the sales agreement. We thank both parties and look forward to a positive relationship with the new owner.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that a new nonprofit, the Frank Lloyd Wright Pappas House Foundation, has formed to raise $2 million to buy and refurbish the Pappas House outside St. Louis, with the goal of opening it as a house museum. The house has been on the market since spring 2018, after original owner Bette Pappas died at age 91. It is still listed on Wright on the Market for $1.45 million.

The Robie House in Chicago, one of the eight Wright-designed buildings nominated to the UNESCO World Heritage List, reopens for tours on March 29 after an interior restoration. Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin writes: “Building on previous phases of the restoration, which whipped the house’s once-crumbling exterior into shape and installed modern mechanical systems, the new work has brought back the interior’s autumnal color palette, restored oak ceiling trim and other woodwork, and rebuilt lost features like an art glass front door that was smashed during 1960s student demonstrations.”

The asking price for the David and Gladys Wright House in Phoenix was recently lowered from $12.95 million to $9,999,999. This important Wright building currently has no protections in place to ensure developers don’t purchase the land and tear down the building for new development. A preservation-minded buyer is urgently needed to protect this building with a preservation easement. The Conservancy asks its members and followers to continue to spread the word about this building so that the right buyer can be found.

In early February, the Los Angeles Times broke the news about an unreported disappearance in 2012 of three pieces of furniture belonging to the Freeman House, which has been owned by the University of Southern California since 1986. Missing from a locked storage room, which showed no signs of forced entry, were two Wright-designed floor lamps and a cushioned chair believed to have been designed by Rudolph Schindler. These items have a potential value of tens of thousands of dollars, and were placed in storage for safekeeping while the building was undergoing continued restoration work.

While this latest revelation has triggered an internal USC investigation and a police report to the LAPD art theft division, it has also shocked many local preservationists and the Wright community in general, and added to the increased concerns about having USC as the steward of this textile block house. Since the early 2000s, restoration work has slowed significantly, leading the Conservancy to include it on our concern list. John Waters, our preservation programs manager, made a visit to the house this past summer. You can read about his visit and the challenges of preserving the house on savewright.org.

Many people have been working on the restoration issues and the future of the Freeman House over the past three decades. The Conservancy has been in communication with the dean of the School of Architecture, asking to expand our partnership and to be a resource for them in their preservation planning. Our Los Angeles conference will be an opportunity to see the challenges of the restoration firsthand, and we thank USC for agreeing to open the building during our conference.

Since October 2017, the Conservancy has been working with the family that is selling the Booth Cottage in Glencoe, Illinois, after 60 years of ownership. Built in 1913 as temporary housing for the Booth family while their permanent home was built nearby, the cottage is an early example of Wright’s efforts to develop a low-cost house. The house was moved from its original location shortly after the Booths moved into their permanent house.

The Conservancy has assisted the owner in marketing the house for the last year and a half, in hopes that a buyer could be found to preserve the structure on its current site. This has not been successful and land costs in the vicinity are such that the lot’s use for a relatively small house like the cottage appears to be extremely unlikely. The Conservancy is working on two different approaches with the owner, by developing massing models of possible additions to the property that would leave the Cottage in place, as well as exploring more actively the option of moving the house as an alternative to demolition. The house presents an excellent opportunity for a preservation-minded individual to restore and breathe new life into this special Wright-designed structure that exemplifies early design ideas for low-cost housing. If no one comes forward and the building is demolished, it would be the first Wright house demolished since the Carr House in Grand Beach, Michigan, was razed in 2004.

 

Views of massing diagrams for a new house that incorporate a restored Booth Cottage.

Views of massing diagrams for a new house that incorporate a restored Booth Cottage.

Views of massing diagrams for a new house that incorporate a restored Booth Cottage.

Views of massing diagrams for a new house that incorporate a restored Booth Cottage.

Views of massing diagrams for a new house that incorporate a restored Booth Cottage.

In March, the Conservancy’s preservation programs manager John Waters met with Jack Tribbia of Berglund Construction, Doug Freerksen of Von Dreele-Freerksen Construction, and the owners of Walser House in Chicago. The goal of the meeting was to assess areas where serious leaks had been occurring on the house’s north wall and to determine an approach to temporarily secure the wall against further water intrusion. This would help stabilize the wall while documents are developed to guide long-term repair and restoration, and funding is identified to carry out the work. Tribbia and Freerksen are in the process of reviewing their findings and will follow up with a course of action to mitigate leakage.

The Walser House is a Chicago Landmark and the Conservancy has worked to find pro bono help to assist the family with the stabilization of this important building in the Austin community. Berglund was the contractor for the Unity Temple restoration and Von Dreele-Freerksen has worked on several Wright houses in the Oak Park area.

Posted on March 26, 2019

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