Demolition on hold for Wright house in Phoenix

PHOENIX -- The city of Phoenix and a developer who was poised to demolish a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home have reached an agreement that will put any work on hold while a search continues for a buyer, a city official confirmed Wednesday.

The agreement with the developers who bought the 1952 home in the city's Arcadia neighborhood delays for nearly a month any demolition of the house, said Brendan Mahoney, a senior adviser for Mayor Greg Stanton.

The deal signed Monday allows time for a potential sale to buyers who will preserve the house, and also protects the developers, who contend they were issued a valid demolition permit that the city claimed was issued in error.

The potential demolition of the sweeping home on more than 2 acres set off a firestorm in the architectural community. The Chicago-based Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy hurried to get historic status designation for the home when it learned a developer was planning to buy it, split the parcel of more than two acres and tear down the existing home.

The conservancy got the city to begin the process of having the house designated as a historical landmark before it was purchased by the developer in June. That put on hold any effort to get a demolition permit, but the developers managed to get one anyway.

"It's a unique design by Frank Lloyd Wright," said Janet Halstead, the conservancy's executive director. "It is probably the most important residential design of the last decade of his career. Many architecture experts consider it among the 20 most important Frank Lloyd Wright designs ever built."

The home was built to rise above the surrounding orange orchards, with a spiral ramp leading up to the main level of the concrete block home.

"It's also particularly interesting for Phoenix in that when (Wright) designed it, it was something he designed as a response to "how to live in the Southwest," Halstead said.

The home was designed for Wright's son and daughter-in-law, David and Gladys Wright, who lived there until their deaths. The home was sold by the family in 2009, then acquired by developer 8081 Meridian for $1.8 million in June.

The owners of the development company, John Hoffman and Steve Sells, weren't available Wednesday. Their attorney didn't immediately return a call.

The conservancy found a potential buyer who offered more than $2 million, a tidy $250,000 profit for less than three months of ownership, but it was rejected, Mahoney said.

With time ticking down to the expiration of the demolition permit on Thursday, the developers approached the city.

"When they brought this issue up, there was five days left under the permit and they said, `Well we've got to do something or we're going to lose it,'" Mahoney said. "And we said fine, let's kick the can down the road because there are offers coming in to purchase the property that may solve all of this for everyone."

Mahoney said other buyers have contacted the city, even as the historic designation goes forward.

"I'm pretty confident that given sufficient time, the home will be purchased by someone who will not only consent to historic landmark status ... but will also consent to a perpetual conservation easement," Mahoney said. "The mayor is a strong proponent of historic presentation of all kinds, but this building in particular is an architectural jewel. It would be destroying a Rembrandt or a Picasso."