Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Frank Lloyd Wright in Northern Virginia

In the 1930s architect Frank Lloyd Wright grappled with the problem of creating a moderately priced house that was both aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly.  Wright, who had been primarily employed to design houses for millionaires, began designing so called “Usonian” houses for the common man, houses that were simple, functional and beautiful.  Wright believed that the Usonian house would represent a new form of truly American architecture.
The Pope-Leighey House, now on the grounds of Woodlawn Plantation in Fairfax County, is a classic example of this type of architecture.  The house was commissioned by journalist Loren Pope in 1939 and was originally located in Falls Church.  The 1,200 square foot house features native materials, a flat roof and large cantilevered overhangs for passive solar heating and natural cooling.  A strong visual connection between the interior and exterior spaces is emphasized.  Wright’s innovative use of four native materials (wood, brick, glass and concrete) created a sense of spaciousness.  The interior of the house is set up to be an efficient living space.  The interior features many types of versatile built in furniture. Wright designed the house, along with his other works, to bring nature inside.
Despite its beauty the house has certain drawbacks.  There is very little room for storage. Wright believed that you should only keep things that you used often.  As a result, closets are small and there is no room for clutter.  Owning a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (recognized by the American Institute of Architects in 1991 as “the greatest American architect of all time”) was not just a purchase, but a commitment to a way of life.  Although Wright always created works of art, some of the practical details of daily living sometimes suffered. 

In 1946, Loren Pope sold the house to Robert and Marjorie Leighey. In 1961, the state of Virginia condemned the house to make way for Interstate 66.  Robert Leighey died in 1963 shortly before the state issued an order to vacate the premises.  Marjorie Leighey donated the house to the National Trust for Historic Preservation which moved the house to the grounds of Woodlawn Plantation (9000 Richmond Highway).

Another Wright masterpiece (still in private hands) was built in McLean in 1959.  Luis Marden was a photographer for the National Geographic who led a colorful and eclectic life.  He and his wife Ethel were the perfect couple to live in a Wright house.  Although the floors cracked and the furnace was never properly installed, Mrs. Marden wrote to Wright in 1959, “Our beautiful house.. stands proudly just under the brow of the hill, looking down always on the rushing water which constantly sings to it, day and night, winter and summer. It will … represent for us, as you put it when you were here, ‘a way of life’”.

     Read about the Rebel blockade of the Potomac River, the imprisonment of German POWs at super-secret Fort Hunt during World War II and the building of the Pentagon on the same site and in the same configuration as Civil War, era Fort Runyon. Meet Annandale's "bunny man," who inspired one of the country's wildest and scariest urban legends; learn about the slaves in Alexandria's notorious slave pens; and witness suffragists being dragged from the White House lawn and imprisoned in the Occoquan workhouse. 

Treasure Legends of Virginia

     The history of Virginia told through treasure tales about pirates, Indians, Revolutionary War heroes and Civil War raiders. The full text of the famous Beale Treasure cipher is included along with some sixty other legends. 

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