What a Recent Sale Means for a Frank Lloyd Wright-Designed House in Phoenix

The David and Gladys Wright House in Phoenix is one of the few  Frank Lloyd Wright buildings with a spiral element.
The David and Gladys Wright House in Phoenix is one of the few Frank Lloyd Wright buildings with a spiral element. Victor Sidy
A few years ago, controversy swirled around the David and Gladys Wright House, a Phoenix home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for his son and daughter-in-law.

Neighbors in the upscale Arcadia neighborhood, where the home sits on nearly six acres of land once filled with fragrant orange blossoms, protested owner Zachary Rawling's proposal to create a cultural center on the property, prompting Rawling to nix the plans and put the property on the market.

On August 14, new owners closed a $7.25 million deal for the 2,200-square-foot house. They include Bing Hu, Wenchin Shi, and Jim Benson. Bing Hu is the founding principal of a Scottsdale-based global architecture firm called H & S International, which specializes in luxury hospitality and high-end residences.

Married couple Hu and Shi have strong ties to Frank Lloyd Wright’s work. Both served as architecture apprentices at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, where the architect renowned for his organic designs launched the School of Architecture at Taliesin in 1959, just nine years after the David and Gladys Wright House was built. Hu and Benson sit on the board of directors for the school, which is currently undergoing its own changes after severing ties with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation earlier this year.

The new owners haven’t disclosed specific plans beyond preserving and restoring the house, and adding a copper roof that was part of Frank Lloyd Wright's original design. But Victor Sidy, a Phoenix architect who has known Hu and Shi for two decades, talked with Phoenix New Times about what he expects to happen with the house moving forward. Sidy once headed the School of Architecture at Taliesin, and his firm performed renovations for the David and Gladys Wright House before Rawling put it on the market.

“I think the new owners would love to share the joy of the house, but they’re not planning it as a cultural center, “ says Sidy. “It will be their private estate.”

click to enlarge The David and Gladys Wright House in Phoenix was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. - VICTOR SIDY
The David and Gladys Wright House in Phoenix was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Victor Sidy
Sidy notes that they won't be the first owners of the home that prefer a lower profile.

“David and Gladys Wright were very private and dissuaded people from visiting,” he explains. The approach led some to assume the house had fallen into disrepair. “Until it was nearly demolished before the Rawling family had it, the house had fallen off the architecture radar.”

But the house never really lost its architectural significance. “It’s one of the last great masterworks of Frank Lloyd Wright,” Sidy says. “It’s not perfect, but it’s a rare record of experimentation by an accomplished architect in his 80s.” Though experimenting with materials was a hallmark of Wright’s career, Sidy says the architect was able to take more risks with this house because it he was designing it for his son.

Ultimately, he designed a three-bedroom, four-bath home, constructed with concrete bricks and windows that allowed for viewing of the whole length of Camelback Mountain. The house includes the spiral design Wright used for the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, which opened in 1959. “The spiral represented infinity and rebirth and growth for Wright,” Sidy says. “He was only able to realize it in a few buildings.”

It’s one of many reasons Sidy's happy the home wasn’t demolished years ago. Another, he says, is that “Frank Lloyd Wright always talked about his architecture being living architecture, which is the true north star I always go towards. Some people favor preserving buildings in amber, but Wright’s buildings are nothing without life inside them.”

He’s looking forward to seeing how the home continues to reflect Wright’s vision moving forward. “The new owners are dedicated to restoring the house to its glorious condition,” he says. “This was almost an abandoned building, but I’m optimistic about its future.”
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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble