Family Adventures

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope Leighey House

Nestled under tall trees and designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, this “Usonian” house was developed to give a family of modest means a compact but sublime retreat near the city. The house was opened in 1965 on the grounds of the Woodlawn Plantation. Group tours of 10 or more are available by reservation only.

Before you go:

Loren Pope was a young copy editor earning $50 a week in 1939 when he read Frank Lloyd Wright’s autobiography and wrote a six-page letter asking if Wright would design a house for Pope’s lot in Falls Church. Pope’s “Usonian” house is the result, a genre advanced by Wright to express his vision of beautiful yet affordable housing in a democratic “United States of North America.”

In 1964, subsequent owner Marjorie Leighey enlisted the help of the National Trust for Historic Preservation when the building of I-66 threatened to demolish the house. In exchange for a life interest in the property, she donated it to the Trust.

December visitors will love the World War II Christmas, complete with tree. Tours throughout the month will highlight activities and traditions adopted during this difficult time in America’s history.

Consider taking a “behind the scenes” tour. From 8:30am to 11:00am, participants will be given a light continental breakfast, the Ursonian movement and Frank Lloyd Wright’s style will be explored in depth, and still pictures can be taken. This is a tour for adults and older children, and the cost is $25.

Ages 4 to 7

Wright designed his Usonian houses of lower-cost materials like cypress, concrete, brick, and glass. Talk about how different materials affect a structure’s appearance and durability, ranging from the houses of the Three Little Pigs to well-known buildings like the White House or the Statue of Liberty.

Ages 8 and up

Frank Lloyd Wright planned his houses inside and out – including the furniture! He liked owners to preserve his exact placement of the furniture, for he had designed it in a way that maximized space, encouraged family activities, and harmonized with the proportions of the room.

On the way there:

Explain that the house you are visiting is very small (1200 square feet), but designed to accommodate a family of four in comfort. If you had to reduce the size of your home, what things would you eliminate? What would you want to keep? Wright insisted on including fireplaces in all the houses he designed, regardless of the climate, because he felt they formed the emotional core of the home. Would you make the same choice?

Once you get there:

Your first stop is the Woodlawn Plantation museum shop, which sells tickets for the Woodlawn mansion as well as the Pope-Leighey house. Decide whether you have time for both tours; tickets can be bought singly or in combination. On busy days, you’ll be assigned a specific time on the hour or half hour to visit the house.

Enjoy your short stroll to the house along the Plantation grounds. Just outside the house, a docent will greet you. He will point out the cantilevered roof, which shelters the entrance and is a small marvel of engineering repeated at Fallingwater, Wright’s design gem in Pennsylvania.

Ages 4-7

Younger children may find the tiny kitchen just their size. Look for the kitchen window opening near the stove, where Mrs. Pope could reach out the window for fresh herbs to add to her sauces. Notice the difference between the ceiling height in the entry way and the living room.

Ages 8 and up

Wright designed narrow halls to save space, but also to make the corridors seem longer and the bedrooms more spacious. Other design features include repeated use of horizontal lines (Wright even insisted that the carpenters tighten screwheads until their grooves were perfectly horizontal), and storage for very few possessions, since Wright believe they cluttered not just one’s home, but one’s life. ?

At a Glance…

Location:

Pope-Leighey House

9000 Richmond Highway

Mt. Vernon, Virginia

Web site: www.popeleighey1940.org

Admission: $7.50 for adults; $3.00 children age 5-12 Admission free on June 3 (Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthday) and for National Trust and Friends of Pope-Leighey.

Combination tickets with Woodlawn; $13.00 for adults and $5.00 for children grades 5-12.

Wheelchair access for some, but not all areas of the Woodlawn House.

Time needed: One hour; additional time for Woodlawn Plantation.

Food: Small snack bar.

Restrooms: Yes, at Woodlawn mansion.

Baby changing facilities: Benches in the Woodlawn bathrooms may be used for this purpose.

Hours: Open March through December from 10:00 to 5:00, Tuesday through Sunday and select holidays (open Mondays during March)

Phone: (703) 780-4000

To get there: Located at the intersection of U.S. Route 1 and Va. Route 235 South, three miles from George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.

Your kids will really like: the cut-out trim around the ceiling in the living room and the compact kids’ bedroom.

About WF Staff

Washington FAMILY Staff

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