Wright House to be gifted to architecture school

Real Estate News

By Brenna Goth | June 08th, 2017

A Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in Phoenix’s Arcadia neighborhood that has generated years of controversy will be donated for use by the architecture program at Taliesin West, its owner announced Thursday.

Backers of the high-profile project to restore and open the 1952 David and Gladys Wright House hope the move will end ongoing neighborhood concerns and create an accessible community space that will help define the character of Phoenix.

Zach Rawling and leaders of the School of Architecture at Taliesin unveiled plans for the house at a morning press conference. They also celebrated the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth by serving cupcakes and covering the house in colorful balloons.

"It's my favorite place in the world," Rawling said.

In a preview given to The Arizona Republic, Rawling said he plans to transfer operations of the house to the school, which started as an apprentice program established by the famed architect.

Rawling said an appraisal will determine the value of his donation, but that it’s the biggest gift in the history of the architecture school. He has spent millions of dollars in the past several years purchasing the house and surrounding land.

The property itself will be pledged to a new non-profit operating as a supporting organization of the Arizona Community Foundation, according to the organization.

Rawling's donation is contingent on the organization raising a $7 million endowment by the end of 2020 to restore and run the site.

The vision of the house as an architecture school is a departure from Rawling’s original plans that rankled the surrounding neighborhood. But some nearby residents have been wary of Rawling's months-long search for a partner to operate the home.

It's unclear how neighbors will react to the announcement, though plans will almost certainly face some opposition from those who want to see the site preserved solely as a residence. 

Rawling said he expects up to about 30,000 people to tourthe home each year, among other public uses.

The house will still need to go through the city's permitting process for historic designation and to obtain the permit needed to operate as a school.

House to serve architecture students, be open to public tours

Rawling said he hopes the donation to an educational institution will quell neighborhood concerns that the site will turn into a commercial destination.

He bought the spiraling home near Camelback Mountain in 2012 when a previous owner sought to demolish it. But plans to open it to the public for events like tours and weddings stalled in contentious neighborhood and city meetings.

Public events are still part of the vision, said Aaron Betsky, dean of the School of Architecture at Taliesin. The school intends to host tours and educational programming such as lectures. 

Project representatives said access to the house would continue through an adjacent church parking lot. The arrangement is a particular concern of some neighbors, who worry the agreement will eventually dissolve.

But the house primarily would be a place for architecture students and faculty to live, work and learn about Wright's concept of "how to live in the Southwest," Betsky said.

"This really allows us to extend our teaching and our living because our motto is 'live architecture,' " he said.

The donation of the house comes at a time of transition for the school. The name is a recent re-branding from the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.

The school also will soon be independent from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. And the number of students will double from 12 to 24 in the fall.

Raising money to restore and operate the house is part of a larger fundraising campaign to ensure the school's future, Betsky said. Its main operations will continue in Scottsdale, but the David Wright House will give extra space as the program expands, he said.

Representatives said a small presence on the Arcadia property could start by the fall, though the site will need a permit to operate as a school. The house will become a “living laboratory” and help the school engage with the community, Betsky said.

Rawling said he thinks the plan is “in all ways better” than his original intention to open the house as a museum. The new concept will allow it to host architecture students from around the world, he said.

“It’s a better outcome than we thought would be possible when we started,” Rawling said.

Donation contingent on $7 million endowment

The Arizona Community Foundation will help with logistics of the donation, said Lisa Dancsok, chief brand and impact officer for the foundation. 

The supporting organization for the house will operate as a separate non-profit with its own board of directors, Dancsok said. The foundation will help with back-end support and offer its expertise and credibility.

"We really see this as kind of a partnership," she said. 

Rawling said he intends to continue his work with the house through that supporting organization. He plans to on serve on its board.

His donation is contingent on raising an estimated $7 million endowment by the end of 2020, though the exact figure will have to be approved by the new board, Rawling said.

The lengthy Phoenix zoning process will then fall to the school and likely the new supporting organization. Rawling has a pending application for the city's highest historic designation.

He never filed the special-permit application necessary to open the house to paid events.

Specific site plans and uses are under development and will include neighborhood outreach, project representatives said.

READ MORE:

A new vision for Taliesin West

The Wright House: What you need to know

Wright House could go to community foundation

Wright house recommended as historic landmark

Wright House fight turns neighbors into foes