In 2012, Zach Rawling, an attorney based in Las Vegas, purchased a house in the Phoenix suburbs that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright after word got out that developers planned to demolish the 2,200-square-foot home and develop the 2.2-acre site it resided in. With the help of his owning group specifically formed to buy the house, David Wright House LLC, Rawling purchased the $2.3 million home and saved it. Some weeks later, Rawling released a statement that he would restore the site and the landscaping—a process that would take up to 3 years, according to the letters Rawling sent out to about 15,000 Arcadia residents. But its neighbors, which include billionaire next-door-neighbor Peter Sperling, chairman of Apollo Education Group, opposes these plans.
They cite a number of reasons, including an increased amount of traffic that the public events could bring into the neighborhood, and a desire to maintain it as a single-family residence for neighborhood continuity.
Set in the affluent neighborhood of Arcadia, the house was built by Wright for his son David and daughter-in-law Gladys, when the architect was 84, shortly before his death at age 91. The couple lived in the eye-catching, cylindrical home until David died in 1997 at the age of 102, and Gladys died in 2008, at 104. In her will, Gladys left the home to their granddaughters, who sold it to a new owner, who subsequently turned it over to a local real estate developer in 2012 because they were unable to maintain it. Rawling grew up in the area, and said in the aforementioned statement that the property once boasted hundreds of citrus trees before the surrounding neighborhood was developed with million-dollar homes.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, which had originally rallied to stop the house from being demolished in 2012, also wanted to conserve the property to its original form prior to Rawling's purchase of the house. But with the new homeowner voicing similar intentions, he has gained the support of the conservancy and local preservationists. Other supporters include Alison King, a design professor at the Art Institute of Phoenix and founder of Modern Phoenix, and Arnold Roy, one of the 13 remaining Legacy Fellows at Taliesen West. Rawling also hired Wallace Cunningham, a San Diego, Calif.–based architect who studied at Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture to oversee the renovation.
In March, Rawling and his ownership group, David Wright House LLC, also bought two properties adjacent to the Wright home for a total of $1.75 million, with plans to build an accessible, underground education center, café, bookstore, and archives. The site would be home to a non-profit, which would host field trips, education programs, and public events both within the original house and newly purchased home. Rawling and his group are now seeking historic preservation status, and will ask the City of Phoenix for a special-use permit to host the events. According to the Phoenix Business Journal, Peter Sperling has hired Scottsdale attorney Jordan Rose to represent him in anticipation of these legal proceedings he hopes to thwart.
But some community members view this as more of a commercialization of the house rather than restoration. Sal DiCiccio, Phoenix City Councilman, told the Phoenix Business Journal that he is worried about the proposed alterations and expansions of the home. "Restoration is welcome," DiCiccio said. "The commercialization they talk about in this latest mailer is not, and sets a terrible precedent for every neighborhood in Phoenix."
Regardless of how the renovations are perceived, few argue that the design is singular among the breadth of Wright’s work. Along with the
Guggenheim, in New York, the house represents Wright's exploration of spiral built forms. The site also flaunts custom-made concrete blocks for its façade, and has a reinforcing spiral walkway supported by a series of raised columns. Its cylindrical geometry provides for
dual views, outward toward David and Gladys’ orchard, and
inward to an interior courtyard—a
feature that Wright famously included in many residential designs—with a plunge pool and shaded garden.