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They begged Frank Lloyd Wright to build them a house they couldn’t afford

The Pope-Leighey House.
(Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress)
Not far from the Pentagon in Northern Virginia, there is a small house nestled into a woodsy and green background — the kind of serene setting you’d imagine on a postcard.

Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Pope-Leighey House, as it’s known in architectural circles, is a single-story home with a history both odd and a little sad.

While not nearly as famous as Wright masterpieces such as Fallingwater and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the story of the home is a remarkable, revealing tale that foreshadowed how many Americans live today.

It begins with a journalist at a now-defunct newspaper.

His name was Loren Pope.

In the 1930s, Pope was a copy editor at the Washington Evening Star.

“He’s making $50 a week,” said Peter Christensen, a longtime tour guide at the Pope-Leighey home.

That’s certainly not enough to afford a Frank Lloyd Wright house — at least the ones he had been designing at the time, which would run about $650,000 in today’s dollars.

But in 1938, Pope saw Wright on the cover of Time magazine. The splashy story inside was a celebration of Wright nearly completing Fallingwater, a summer mansion in rural Pennsylvania built over a waterfall.

In passing, the article also mentioned that Wright wanted to create Usonian-style homes for middle-class, regular folks — people such as Pope and his wife.

The couple, as it happened, were in the market for a home. They had just bought a plot of land in Falls Church, Va. Pope wasn’t sure what style of house he wanted to build there. Maybe a classic Cape Cod with a white picket fence.

“Loren reads the article. He is smitten,” Christensen said. “He no longer wants that Cape Cod. He wants something more interesting.”

He wants a Frank Lloyd Wright home. Then, he lobbied the architect to build him one, appealing to Wright’s extraordinary ego.

Attribution - Michael S. Rosenwald,
Full Story> Pope-Leighey House