College Consultant Loren Pope; Commissioned a Wright House

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.

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

He sold the home to another couple, Robert and Marjorie Leighey, for $17,500. Threatened with demolition in the 1960s during the planning of Interstate 66, the house was donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, dismantled and reassembled on the grounds of Woodlawn Plantation near Mount Vernon, where it stands today.

After a stint in the late 1940s as a farmer and freelance writer in Loudoun County -- where his hoped-for second Wright house never materialized -- Mr. Pope returned to the news business.

He was an education editor at the Times and an administrator at what is now Oakland University in Michigan before starting his College Placement Bureau counseling business in 1965.

Running the bureau well into his 90s, he urged students to attend small liberal arts colleges and tried to steer them away from what he considered impersonal, elitist schools: Hampshire College rather than Harvard University, Cornell College in Iowa rather than Cornell University in Ithaca.

He was the author of education guide books, including "Looking Beyond the Ivy League" (1990) and "Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools You Should Know About Even if You're Not a Straight-A Student" (1996).

Mary Lee Hoganson, a past president of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, said Mr. Pope "was the first one to begin to focus on factors that affected the quality of students' experience, instead of just looking at selectivity of admission."

Hoganson said she gives parents copies of Mr. Pope's books "to help them think more broadly about what it means to have a quality college education -- to have a transforming experience. He helped all of our profession to understand the value of a broad-based liberal arts education."

In later editions of his books, Mr. Pope said he dropped colleges when he thought they had become too popular. He told the Times he was concerned about the emphasis on brand-name schools, saying of parents and students, "I think all they are thinking about is status."

Loren Brooks Pope was born July 13, 1910, in Minneapolis and raised in Northern Virginia. He was a 1928 graduate of McKinley Technical High School in Washington and a 1933 graduate of DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.

His marriages to Charlotte Swart Pope and Ida Wallace Pope ended in divorce. His third wife, Viola Barrett Greenland Pope, died in August after 24 years of marriage.

Survivors include two children from his first marriage, Loren B. Pope Jr. of Eugene, Ore., and Penelope Hadley of Albuquerque; a sister; two granddaughters; and a great-grandson.

Mr. Pope spent much of his later life in a one-story home in Alexandria. It's not a Wright home, he told The Washington Post, but it's "very Japanesey. It's sort of second-generation Wright. You could say I've been aesthetically monogamous all my life."

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