College Consultant Loren Pope; Commissioned a Wright House

Loren Pope shown in 1997 at the Pope-Leighey House, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home where he once lived.
Loren Pope shown in 1997 at the Pope-Leighey House, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home where he once lived. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Carol Hutchinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 27, 2008

Loren Pope, 98, an education consultant whose best-selling books advised college-bound students to look beyond the Ivy League and who as a $50-a-week journalist persuaded internationally regarded architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design a home for him, has died.

Mr. Pope, the original owner of Wright's 1941 Pope-Leighey house in Fairfax County, died Sept. 23 at the Goodwin House Baileys Crossroads retirement community in Falls Church. He had congestive heart failure.

A man of self-professed "egalitarian instincts," Mr. Pope was a copy editor at the old Washington Evening Star in 1938 when he was transfixed by a Time magazine cover story about Wright.

The architect, who expressed hope of bringing the idealism of Emerson and Thoreau to the design table, said he wanted to combat the "stifling little colonial hot-boxes" in which most families counted out their lives.

In August 1939, Mr. Pope sent a six-page letter to Wright's Taliesin estate and workshop in Spring Green, Wis.

"Dear Mr. Wright," the note began. "There are certain things a man wants during life, and, of life. Material things and things of the spirit. The writer has one fervent wish that includes both. It is a house created by you. Will you create a house for us? Will you?"

Less than a month later came Wright's response: "Dear Loren Pope: Of course I am ready to give you a house."

Wright was guided by a concern with affordable housing during those Depression years, and he built many "Usonian" homes, his word to describe a utopian plan for the common man.

The result of the Pope-Wright collaboration -- a single-level residence made of cypress, brick and plate glass -- was a tiny Usonian workingman's home that plays tricks with light and space to make it seem bigger than it is.

Supervised by Gordon Chadwick, a Wright apprentice who became a prominent New York architect, the house features Wright's signature cantilevered roof, clerestory windows, high ceilings and large fireplace. It is one of only three Wright houses in the Washington area and is the only one open to the public.

But first, Mr. Pope had to find a way to finance the $7,000 cost of the house, about $600 of which was Wright's fee. He was laughed out of the room when he inquired at a savings and loan, and it took seven months before he reluctantly secured a $5,700 construction loan from his employer, the Star.

Mr. Pope and his family lived from 1941 to 1946 in the East Falls Church house, a place filled with great sorrow after Ned, his 3-year-old son from his first marriage, drowned in a neighbor's pond. He had two more children and moved only after the house became too crowded.

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