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News May 2017

Pope-Leighey House prepares for Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th birthday

May 22, 2017

The Pope-Leighey House, originally located in Falls Church and now in Alexandria, VA, has undergone a restoration just in time for the sesquicentennial of its architect’s birth. It was commissioned by Loren Pope in 1939, who, despite being a 28-year-old copy editor of modest means, was intent on having Wright design a home for him and his wife, Charlotte. After writing a letter to Wright saying as much, Wright agreed, and designed the Popes a Usonian-style home—his solution for providing high-quality homes for middle class Americans. 

The Popes moved out only five years later, but there was great interest in the house and in 1947, Robert and Marjorie Leighey moved in. In 1960, Virginia’s Department of Highways released plans for an extension of Interstate 66, which had the highway passing through the home’s living room. Despite advocacy efforts, the plan went forward, and the only option available was to relocate the house. The National Trust for Historic Preservation offered Woodlawn, a 126-acre estate that was originally part of Mount Vernon, and by 1965 the house was dedicated at its new site. In 1996, the house was moved again, this time just 30 feet uphill to more solid ground.

Although not all of the original features have survived, the exterior tidewater red cypress, which Wright chose for its durability, density, consistent color, and termite-resistant oils—is almost all original. In 2011 the process of preserving the wood began with a building assessment and treatment report. Architectural conservators Pamela Kirschner and Andrew Fearon, along with researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, studied possible conservation measures. In the spirit of the Usonian home, Kirschner developed an inexpensive, practical, and environmentally friendly treatment. Ashley R. Wilson, the National Trust’s architect for its 27 historic sites, hopes the technique can be used on similar Wright homes.

With the restoration complete, the National Trust has a lineup of events planned for Wright’s 150th, including twilight wine and cheese tours, and a picnic—a particular favorite of Wright’s.

Pope-Leighey House Prepares for Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th Birthday,” Preservation Magazine, Spring 2017.

Top and middle photos © Lincoln Barbour; bottom photo courtesy National Trust for Historic Preservation