The famed architect said yes, and the Pope-Leighey House in Virginia became a source of joy, then pain.

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 $75 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 $980,000 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.

Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpiece Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pa. Photo / Gene J. Puskar
Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpiece Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pa. Photo / Gene J. Puskar

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.

Pope sent a letter. "There are certain things a man wants during life, and, of life," he wrote. "Material things, and things of the spirit. It is for a house created by you. I feel that you are the great creative force of our time. Will you create a house for us?"

Three weeks later, Pope received a letter composed of one sentence. It read: "Dear Loren Pope, Of course I'm ready to give you a house."

There was just one problem: Pope couldn't afford its $10,563 price tag. No banks would give him a loan, so Pope persuaded his employer, the Washington Evening Star newspaper, to lend him the money.

(It is not known whether employees of The Washington Post have asked its owner, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, for a similar favor, or what his answer might be.)

Once construction began in 1940, strangers would show up. In 2006, Pope told Blueprints Magazine that people would walk onto the property to see the construction.

"Architects would come by and try to pick up any sets of drawings lying around," he said.

The living room of the Pope-Leighey House. Photo / Library of Congress
The living room of the Pope-Leighey House. Photo / Library of Congress

The house — just one story — has two levels. A few steps down from the entryway is an open room with windows up high that fill the room with light.

The room is a combination of library and living room, with in-wall bookshelves on one end and a fireplace on the other. Nearby is a table for meals, playing cards or reading.

The floor-to-ceiling windows are also doors that lead directly to a patio, extending and combining the inner and outer worlds, a Wright obsession.

"He has this idea that houses shouldn't be a series of little rectangles," Christensen said. "He wants to break the box. He wants to integrate space."

In other words, he aimed for the kinds of open floor plans many home buyers seek today.

With its windows and vents strategically placed, and with the floor a concrete slab, the house lights and moderates temperature on its own. It was green before going green became a thing.

Pope's mind was blown.

"I thought Mr. Wright was a genius," he told Blueprints.

"That's what's so amazing about Wright," Christensen said. "He was doing this stuff 100 years before anybody else.

Frank Lloyd Wright in 1954. Photo / Library of Congress
Frank Lloyd Wright in 1954. Photo / Library of Congress

But even within the walls of an innovative home designed by a master architect, there are still the trappings of life — sadness, tragedy, regret.

Loren and Charlotte Pope, along with their 3-year-old son, Ned, moved into their dream house in March 1941. A few months later, Ned was playing outside one day and wandered off.

"That was my day off," Pope told The Post in an interview decades later. "I was walking outside, digging on something. He just sort of got away. I wasn't paying attention, I guess."

Ned drowned in a neighbour's pond. Pope blamed himself for the rest of his life.

He and Charlotte had two more children, but after five years of living in the house, they sold it. They had outgrown it. But the walls were closing in other ways, too. There was a sadness that no architectural detail could soothe.

"The day we left," Pope told the New York Times, "I sat on the fireplace hob and wept."

The new buyers were a young couple named Robert and Marjorie Leighey, who paid $17,000 for the house. They, too, faced challenges.

In the early 1960s, the Virginia Department of Highways sent a letter saying that it was building a new road — Interstate 66 — and it would go right through the house. Robert Leighey had recently died, so saving the house was left to Marjorie.

She banded together with local community members and even took her case to Interior Secretary Stewart Udall. Udall backed the endeavour, and in 1964, Majorie donated the house to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

I-66 was going to be built no matter what, so the National Trust did what any dedicated preservation organization would do — it moved the house about 20 miles away to Alexandria, on land once owned by George Washington's family.

That's right: They took everything apart, then loaded pieces of the house on flatbed trucks and put it back together. Amazingly, that wasn't the only time the house was disassembled.

In the mid-1990s, preservationists discovered the base of the house was cracking. So, the whole thing was taken apart a second time and moved 30 feet to sturdier ground.

No one lives there now. Everyone involved with the home — Pope, his wife, the Leigheys and, of course, Wright — is deceased.

The National Trust preserved most of the original furniture, appliances and decoration. Being in the house, you can understand how it might feel to live there — peaceful, quiet, even a little spiritual.

That is, until the phone rings. The original landline is still in the house. Christensen answered.

It was a robocall.

An earlier version of this story described the move of the Pope-Leighey House to land once owned by George Washington's step-daughter. It was owned by various family members.