Architecture and Design

Arcadia Residents Battle David and Gladys Wright House Parking Deal in Phoenix

The Arcadia neighborhood is wringing its collective hands again, as usual about the evil plans of that guy who bought the round house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright at the intersection of Exeter Boulevard and Rubicon.

For anyone fortunate enough to have missed this never-ending saga up till now, it goes something like this: Wright built the house in the Arcadia neighborhood located just south of Camelback Mountain. It’s reportedly one of his last designs, completed in 1952 when he was 84. It was a gift to Wright’s son David and daughter-in-law Gladys, who lived in the home until their deaths — David at 102 in 1997; Gladys in 2008 at the age of 104. Surrounded by mountainside McMansions, the 2,500-square-foot concrete house features a spiral design and a curved entry ramp, as well as other traditional Wrightian design elements like built-in seating, Cherokee red floors, and low ceilings.

The house and a pair of nearby buildings were purchased in 2012 by a Las Vegas-based developed named Zach Rawling under the name The David Wright House LLC. Rawling has applied for federal and state historic designation for the property, and has announced plans to restore the home, then build a subterranean education center, a cafe, a bookstore and a Wright archive on the land. The facility would host public events and school field trips, as well as house Wright researchers and scholars-in-residence — sort of a mini-Taliesin. The group’s nonprofit status allows them to apply for a special use permit to host the proposed events and field trips

It’s been about a half-year since the building has been in the news. In May, neighbors were petitioning against Rawling’s plans, claiming that the venue would attract nonstop traffic on the otherwise residential street, endangering the peace and quiet of its residents. Just lately, the Arcadia folk are fuming about something else: Rawling has apparently inked a deal with nearby Great Hearts Veritas School, located at 3102 North 56th Street, which will provide the venue with parking as well as shuttle buses to and from the Wright house. The contract calls for a 10-year agreement that would allow Rawlings to rent the 250-space Veritas parking lot during the school’s off hours.

“Larger buses will not be able to negotiate the turnabout on 56th and Exeter,” wrote Sue Bloom, a member of the Arcadia Camelback Mountain Neighborhood Association board, in an e-mail to this reporter. “So the route would be anyone’s guess. Possibly north on 56th, west on Lafayette, north on 54th, west on Exeter?”

The Arcadia group has written to the board of directors of Great Hearts in complaint about the plans, and are asking that the school rescind its lease with Rawling.

“Multiple buses transporting people through our neighborhood will last well past 10pm,” huffs a post on the Arcadia group’s website. “Trucks dismantling event equipment will be traveling through our streets much later. Without proper parking available, Mr. Rawling will only be able to use the property for its initial intended use.”

In other words, the neighborhood activists won’t give up until every single nearby parking option has been deemed off limits to Rawling. Bloom claims parents of the school’s students are on Arcadia’s side. “Veritas parents have reached out to us assuring their support is with both the Arcadia and Arcadia Osborn neighborhoods,” she writes.

Plans to harass city manager Ed Zuercher are also afoot, according to Bloom’s e-mail. Meanwhile, both Veritas and Rawling are remaining mum on the subject, although Rawling may be distracted by his latest plea for protection of the property. Last week, his team filed a request for historic landmark protection of the entire 6.1-acre site. The application proposes the restoration of the property’s former citrus groves, which would make it all the more historically important. The City is recommending instead a smaller plat, roughly more than half of the site, be approved. The application will be voted on Monday, November 16, by the Historic Preservation Commission, although the final decision will be made by City Council.

Regardless of the City’s decision on the matter, and if the recent past is any indication, this story is far from over.
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela