Frank Lloyd Wright house under demolition threat

(CBS News) Editor's update: According to a broker, this house is to be sold for nearly $2.4 million. Real estate broker Robert Joffe says the current owners have reached an agreement to sell the early 1950s home to a buyer who wants to preserve and restore it.

In Phoenix, there's a showdown over the last house designed and built by one of America's premier architects, Frank Lloyd Wright.

On Wednesday, city officials gave a little more time to preservationists who want to save it.

The concrete building is called the David and Gladys Wright House. Two developers recently bought it because it sits on prime Phoenix real estate. If they succeed in tearing it down, it will be first Frank Lloyd Wright structure intentionally demolished in more than 40 years.

It might almost go unnoticed - the circular, cinder block structure, overgrown and uninhabited in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Phoenix - except for the controversy.

The graceful, gray house was designed and built by Wright for his son David and wife Gladys in 1952. Coiled like a desert serpent, this 2,500-square-foot house foreshadowed the spiral grandeur of Wright's Guggenheim Museum built in New York seven years later.

Scott Jarson, a preservationist, told CBS News, "A lot of Mr. Wright's thinking that went on at that time with that museum is expressed in this home. It's widely considered by Wright scholars around the world today to be in the top 10 of Wright's designs."

Kimberly Lloyd Wright and Ann Lloyd Wright Levi are the granddaughters of David and Gladys, great granddaughters of Frank Lloyd Wright. As children, they spent summers at the house. Unable to afford the upkeep, they sold the house to a buyer who promised to preserve it, who then promptly put it back on the market.

When John Hoffman and his partner at 8081 Meridian LLC, Steve Sells, bought the house for $1.8 million in June, they saw a quirky old house in disrepair on a precious parcel of land. Sells said, "We thought we got a pretty good deal on a property nobody wanted."

They got city approval to subdivide the two acres to build two big, new houses.

Sells said, "It was never a secret on what our intention was."

That intention was to demolish the home from "early on," according to Sells.

That's what ignited the controversy. When the partners got a demolition permit, outraged preservationists got busy. They got thousands of signatures on petitions to stop the demolition, and this week, got the City Planning Commission to recommend the house be designated a historic landmark.

Kimberly Lloyd said, "It's a nightmare. It's heartbreaking ... Never in my wildest dreams would I think someone would tear down a Frank Lloyd Wright home."

Kimberly Lloyd said she thinks the new owners are being greedy. She said, "I think they're only in it for the money."

Sells and Hoffman say they're businessmen needing to turn a profit. They can't afford to restore the house, which they say would cost about $2 million, and they can't afford to have it sit around as a museum piece.

Sells told CBS News, "This is not a get-rich (scheme). This is a get-out, get-compensated, and move-on-with-my-simple-quiet-life."

Sells and Hoffman have agreed to take no action for the next 24 days to see if they and the city and the preservationists can figure out what to do. They still hold out the option of tearing the house down. The only thing all agree on is they need someone with deep pockets and a deep love of architecture to buy this house and restore it to its former glory.

Watch Bill Whitaker's full report in the video above.

  • Bill Whitaker

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