Phoenix is known for its rugged desert landscape. Charleston has majestic oaks and marsh.
Phoenix is proud of its history of miners and cowboys. Charleston looks to its Lord’s Proprietors and Revolutionary War heroes.
Phoenix’s population tops 1.4 million, more than 10 times that of Charleston.
But no difference seems as vast as the one between preservation in Phoenix and in Charleston.
Example: Two developers want to tear down a 1952 house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for his son David — a spiral house that echoes his design for the Guggenheim Museum.
Preservationists have been searching for a buyer able to pay $2.379 million for the house so that it can be spared. One such buyer appeared ready to save the house, but backed out Nov. 11. So they’re beating the bushes for another.
Meanwhile, two deadlines are looming.
Phoenix City Council is to vote Dec. 5 to designate the house a historic landmark. That protects the site for three years only (Arizonans feverishly protect property rights), but it gives time for a buyer to surface.
However, the property owners have set a Dec. 4 deadline for a sale. After that, owners believe they will be hampered by the landmark designation and a buyer will be more difficult to find.
Then to add another layer of complications, there is Arizona’s Proposition 207, which requires the government to compensate property owners if a new regulation affects the value of their property — and which makes city lawyers and preservationists very nervous.
Preservationists are nevertheless pushing on to save the 2,500-square-foot concrete home, which is on a desert site that has orange trees and a view of Camelbank Mountain.
At present, the deck seems to be stacked against saving this Frank Lloyd Wright house, and places like it. But early efforts to preserve historic Charleston were difficult too.
Our preservationists persevered, even putting themselves in front of bulldozers. Thankfully, they did more. They helped fashion city ordinances that protect historic buildings.
Phoenix is a comparatively new city. All the more reason for it to treasure its limited architectural heritage, and redouble efforts to retain a notable structure by one of the nation’s greatest architects.
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