Name: Pope-Leighey House
Location: 9000 Richmond Highway Alexandria, VA 22309
Year Built: 1940
I had the opportunity and honor of being sworn into the United States Supreme Court to practice law this past weekend. I had never visited Washington, D.C. before so in preparation of my visit, I (of course) googled FLLW houses in the area. The Pope-Leighey House popped up in my search. Only about 20 miles south of D.C., located in Alexandria, VA, there was no way I could pass up a visit to this house.
With my father and brother in tow, I rented a car and set the address in my phone. The drive was quite fun for me as I had never before been in Virginia.
The Pope-Leighey House sits on an old plantation, Woodlawn. Woodlawn was a bonus visit for us. It was gifted by President George Washington to his nephew and step-granddaughter as a wedding present. It sits not too far from GW’s hometown of Mt. Vernon. This was quite a surprise as I had no idea Woodlawn even existed.
When visiting the site, you can purchase tickets to both Woodlawn and the Pope-Leighey House for a dual tour or a solo tour of either house. I recommend taking both tours so you can get your fill of architecture. You can compare and contrast the different styles.
The Pope-Leighey House is a perfect example of FLLW’s Usonian architecture. FLLW’s Usonian architectural style evolved after his famous Prairie style architecture (my favorite). While the Usonian houses do not have the stained art glass windows found in FLLW’s Prairie style houses, the Usonian houses have their own unique features. The Usonian houses have wood cut-outs instead of stained art glass windows. Similar to how FLLW designed a stained art glass window unique to each Prairie style house, he designed a wooden cut-out to each Usonian style house. Inside the Pope-Leighey House, the window cut-outs seem to glow with the outside sun.
The Usonian houses have other similarities to the Prairie style houses including clerestory windows and raked-back mortar to accentuate the horizontal lines. FLLW also continues his love of the cantilevers – this time expanding them over parking spaces called car ports.
The Pope-Leighey House is an “L” shaped house. You can see into one wing of the house from the other wing! It is small and quaint – the perfect journalist’s retreat for Loren Pope.
According to the Pope-Leighey website, “During the 1930s, Frank Lloyd Wright set his formidable attention towards designing affordable middle-class residences. More than 100 of these modest homes, referred to as Usonian, thought to mean “the United States of North America,” were constructed between 1936 and Wright’s death in 1959, including the Pope-Leighey House (1940). Commissioned in 1939 by Loren Pope, a journalist in Falls Church, VA, the residence was sold to Robert and Marjorie Leighey in 1946. The house was in the path of an expansion of Highway 66, so in an effort to preserve the building, Mrs. Leighey gave the property to the National Trust, which relocated it to nearby Woodlawn and granted her lifetime tenancy. Mrs. Leighey occupied the house at Woodlawn until her death in 1983. Unusually, the house required a second move due to the instability of the clay soil, and was relocated about 30 feet up the hill in 1995-96.”
It’s always fun for me to listen to tour guides at other FLLW sites and guests on the tours. I sometimes forget that the tour guests may not be “Frank-o-philes” or FLLW enthusiasts and do not yet understand the intricacies of FLLW’s architecture. It puts a smile on my face when they come to the realization of how FLLW was designing and providing his clients with modern amenities before they were considered modern. It also makes me smile when they ask about the basement or attic!
HINT: Buy your tickets in advance and prepare yourself for the beauty of the landscape as well as the beauty of the historic houses. Bring water and snacks as there is no food/drink close to the houses. There is a little gift shop with gifts celebrating both houses.
At the end of the Woodlawn tour, you can see the original blueprints of the Pope-Leighey House. There is correspondence between the owners and FLLW as well as a model and drawing (it is upside down!) in the glass case.