Fight to save Phoenix Frank Lloyd Wright house advances

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- One Valley area home has grabbed the attention of not just the nation, but the world. 

All eyes are focused on the Arcadia neighborhood home designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the efforts to save it from demolition.

The Phoenix Planning Commission took another step toward saving the home Tuesday, voting to recommend the site be protected as a historic landmark.

The home, in the Arcadia area near 56th Street and Camelback Road, was designed by Wright in the 1950s for his son, David. Architecture experts believe the spiral design was a precursor to his celebrated Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

The fight started several months back when developer Steve Sells and his company 8081 Meridian bought the property in order to redevelop it. However, preservationists scrambled to action when plans to demolish the home became public.

“It’s the most significant piece of architecture in the city by the most significant architect in American history,” said Fred Prozzillo, head of preservation at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation’s Taliesin West campus. “Extraordinary measures need to be taken to save that kind of historic property.”

Development plans have since been forcibly halted while preservation efforts jump the various hurdles of city government. Sells told the Planning Commission that the property has become a huge hassle he never would have signed up for had he known the historical significance when he bought it. 

Sells added that while he’d now like to sell the property to a preservation-minded buyer, it should be a private matter not governed by the city.

“I’m sympathetic for the people who have the passion. But I’m also a pretty ardent private property rights advocate,” said Sells, adding that he refuses to lose money on the property in order to save the Frank Lloyd Wright house.   

“If it comes down to it and we have to make a decision then we [re]develop. Do I want to [redevelop]?  Absolutely not. Do I think that’s what’s going to happen? I don’t. But at the end of the day I have to protect my family, my partner’s family and stand up for private property rights," said Sells.

Sells said he’s had four offers on the house but none has reached his asking price. According to Sells, he only wants to avoid losing money on the property.

The city council will make a final decision on historic landmark status at a meeting in November. 

If the Frank Lloyd Wright house is deemed historic it would prevent Sells, or any other buyer, from demolishing the home for three years. That time frame is intended to give preservationists a chance to find a friendly buyer.

Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy