Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Frank Lloyd Wright's Pope Leighey House at Woodlawn Plantation

Part III of the Woodlawn Plantation series finally brings us to the Pope Leighey House, Frank Lloyd Wright's favorite of all his works.
Part II here.
Part I here.

During the Great Depression, Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural style began to take hold of America. Though famed today for stunningly grand scale of architecture, his true mission was an affordable practical house for the common homeowner. His particular vision for this purpose was called Usonian.

Meanwhile journalist Loren Pope of Falls Church, Virginia attended a lecture given by Wright at the Hays Adam Hotel. Pope was already familiar with Wright's work and envisioned living in a Usonian of his own. He sent a lengthy letter to Wright which began, "Dear Mr. Wright, There are certain things a man wants during life, and of life. Material things and things of the spirit. The writer has one fervent wish that includes both. It is a house created by you." Wright simply replied, "Dear Loren Pope: Of course I am ready to give you a house."     

Pope sought financing, which was quite difficult during the depression. Although Pope had a job with the Washington Star, he made $50 a week. He needed a $5000 loan for the house.  Finally he obtained a loan from his employer, who took $12 a week out of his wages. Furthrmore the apprentice Wright assigned to the project was to be provided room and board and $25 a week by Pope. Meanwhile Wright realized the plans for Pope's 1800 sq ft Usonian was over budget, so he reworked the plans to a 1200 sq ft Usonian.

Unfortunately Pope made a slight error in a map he sent to Wright. As a result, when building began, the planned orientation didn't fit the site...but the project had to go on.   

Pope lived in his beloved Usonian for six years at which time he became a free lance writer and moved to Loudon County to a 365 acre farm. He began writing Wright about building another home on his land in the country. While saving money Wright because busy with other building projects, like the Gugenheim and died shortly thereafter.   

Meanwhile the Popes sold their beloved home for $17,000 to the Leighey family who promised to treasure the Usonian equally as much. However danger threatened the house in 1964. I-66 was to be widened and buildings were in the way. By this time Mr. Leighey had passed away. Mrs. Leighey was determined to rescue the home from demolition. She offered the house to the National Trust who moved the house to Woodlawn Plantation at a cost of $70,000. They allowed Mrs. Leighey to have lifelong tenancy. She lived there until 1983. In 1995 the house was moved a second time at a cost of $750,000, due to unstable soil, about 30 feet up the hill.

Last October on a glorious autumnal day, we walked down this period winding path...


...and found a surprisingly teeny tiny house! My daughter, who is 5'6" even commented that she felt bigger than the house!


This was not the original orientation that Wright had planned, but various dilemmas placed it in this space as previously  mentioned.

Classic to Wright's design was to emphasize the horizontal. One way this was achieved was obviously with the flat roof but also with the extension of the line from the cantileevered roofs found here over the carport and later extended outdoors from the dining room. In regards to the carport, he said there was no more need for a garage, now that there were cars.


The brickwork also showcases the emphasis on the horizontal. The grout on the vertical lines were colored the same as the brick, to fade away, leaving the grout of the horizontal as the emphasis.

Even the screws were tightened to the point where the groove was left in a horizontal orientation to the house. In fact, Wright believed in honesty to the point of leaving all building elements exposed.  My husband has a degree in building construction and has a hobby of  cabinetmaking. Whether doing upgrades to our home or building furniture, he always covers the screws. It's always part of his punch list. Not so on a Frank Lloyd Wright project, where the screws are left exposed.


Another element of Wright's design is that the board and batten siding is reversed from what's commonly practiced, so that it has a different effect on the viewer.  The previous link takes you to how board and batten is usually laid. One, it appears to commonly be vertical. Second, the thin strip lies on top of the wide plank. Not so here. Obviously the horizontal is emphasized. Also the thin strip is underneath the wide plank. When I described this to my husband when we got home from our tour, he kept arguing with me that I didn't know what I was talking about. lol I had to show him the pictures! lol In the picture below, you can see one use of how the narrow strip functions well under the wide plank.  These Usonians came with it's own furniture. The homeowner was not expected to bring more stuff.  The idea was to live minimally and a few tables were provided throughout the house that appeared to come from out of the wall, as in the picture below. The table top actually fits into the groove and if a large party occured, the furniture could be rearranged and joined into one.      


Also above the table, in the top right of the picture you can see cut outs. These are found throughout the house at the roofline. On the side of the house that has light coming through the window, it allowed for light play which was part of the planned architecture. Also they were actually part of slatted windows that would open that allowed for a breeze to come through to cool off the house (because there was no air conditioning)


You can tell how close the top of the carport is to the guys' heads. I am 5'9", shorter than these guys and I felt a bit claustrophic.  I know my dad definitely would not like it. He is 6'5". I don't think he could even stand up straight under here. The tour guide told us Wright's goal was to give us an experience of compression, then release. Before we entered the house, we felt compressed.

Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures indoors, so I'm going to try to describe a few more details while linking to other pictures. The house is rather simple, so I think this is doable!

Anyway, while under the carport, we felt compressed. As we walked into the house, the ceiling was the same height (at this link see photo of the vestibule) to the left (which led down a very narrow hallway-see photo at this link-to 2 bedrooms and a bathroom) and to the right (which led to a little office). But in front of us was a deep sunken living room where we experienced release. We stepped down some steps and were told to sit on the chairs to experience the room which the tour guide gave more details. See this link, especially picture #3 which shows the front door and steps down into the living room. The picture was taken in tghe living room.    

At the top of the photo you can see the fancy cut outs that allow for lightplay and ventilation. All the way through, you see the horizontal lines. After some time sitting in the living room, we were gathered into the dining room, seen in the previously linked photo, on the right. You can see the dining room table there, with shelves above it on the opposite wall, and a dropped ceiling. The tour guide squeezed us all in there and asked me (me? uh oh!) how I felt. Um.....I honestly said I felt claustrophic. (Oops, wrong answer.) She had everyone but me leave the space. Now how did I feel? I still felt claustrophobic. She looked at me in disbelief (oops!) and told me to look out the grand windows, that filled the entire wall from top to bottom. Didn't I feel release because of the beautiful outdoors? Um....I would if I was actually standing out there. (wrong answer.) Well, maybe it's because I'm from Texas where we have huge skies and big and bright stars!

Oh well, lol, I felt "squeezy" as my daughter used to call it when she was a baby, all through that house.  The kitchen was really tight! (at this link see the photo of the kitchen)  The ceilings were just as high up as the living room, since we were still on the sunken level, which one author claimed,  "gives it an expansive feeling despite its small footprint." Hmmmm....I felt like I was in the galley kitchen of a ship, which means it was squeazy!

The bedrooms came with their own beds, which were enormously low to the ground. In fact, it looked like the mattress was set  inside a big box and then laid onto the floor. The closet space was definitely minimal.

Well, Pope and Leighey loved it! =) And Wright loved it! This was one of his favorites of his Usonians. In fact in many of the articles I read, Pope returned to his former home more than once!

Here is another great set of pictures, a slide show:
Photo 8 is of the back of the house.  The two windows on the right are the bedrooms. The bump out on the left is the dining room (that's supposed to make me feel release! lol)
Photo 9 is the level room, with more of those cut outs that allow for lightplay and air ventilation from outdoors.
Photo 10 is the little office. Note the desk top is set into the board and batten, as is the floating shelf.
Photo 11 is of a bedroom with the very low bed, and another table top set into the board and batten.

Another batch of photos from the Library of Congress:
Here you can see some lightplay.
From the dining room towards the kitchen (behind the fireplace)

Although this was an extremely interesting and fascinating tour, I've obviously not been converted. Alas what would Wright think of me? Actually I know exactly what he would have thought of me.

"An irresponsible, flashy, pretentious or dishonest individual would never be happy in such a house as we now call organic because of this quality of integrity." -Frank Lloyd Wright

Pope however (and Leighey) were definitely perfect for this house!

"Spiritually I’ve never left the house. Living in the house has affected my whole life.” -Loren Pope, 2006, age 96

Do be sure to check all the links, which include several articles full of great information, some of which I've shared here.


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