Any architecture aficionado knows that perhaps the greatest tragedy in the world of design is demolition. It’s a sting that hurts even more when it occurs at the hands of chance or disaster, without opportunity for intervention. In 2018, this was the fate of Frank Lloyd Wright’s only project in Malibu, the Arch Oboler Complex, which burned down in the Woolsey fires that devastated Southern California that year. Though charred parts of the home remained, government regulation required all remaining fire-affected structures to be demolished out of safety concerns, according to the Frank Lloyd Wright Revival Initiative. At the time, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation confirmed that the home had indeed been destroyed, noting that the tragedy paled in comparison to any loss of human life.
Now a chance for reinvention presents itself: The land where the home once sat is available for sale. Listed through The Agency, the 100-acre plot is going for just shy of $7.5 million and is represented by Sandro Dazzan. “The opportunity now exists to rebuild the 4,000-square-foot gatehouse/compound or begin anew,” reads the property’s description, adding that by rebuilding, new owners could “experience the genius of Wright firsthand.”
The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation upholds a policy on unbuilt Wright projects, which states that any structures based on the architect’s plans but built after his death can’t be reasonably described as “designed by Wright,” but rather “inspired by.” These projects “will necessarily require varying degrees of interpretation as to how Wright would himself have constructed the project, or used materials now available for such works, in today’s building environment,” reads the foundation’s website. At the time of publication, a representative for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation had not responded to a request for comment on whether rebuilding a destroyed work would be viewed under the same guidelines.
Before its untimely destruction, two Wright structures had sat on the land and were part of a planned, though never completed, estate Wright called Eaglefeather. The residence had been commissioned by Arch Oboler, a writer who worked across many mediums, and his wife, Eleanor. According to the Library of Congress, Arch became friends with Wright in the 1940s and even floated the idea of a filmed biography about the architect. After World War II, Wright designed an estate for the couple and their four children, though only two of the original structures were ever built: the gatehouse, which included a living room, workspace, bedroom, bathroom, and horse stalls; and a small cabin that was called Eleanor’s retreat. Other planned buildings included a film studio, stables, and paddock, according to the New York Post. The Obolers ultimately made the gatehouse their primary residence while making additional modifications that weren’t supervised by Wright.
In 2013, previous owners completed extensive renovations to the two buildings, which brought the property out of disrepair. Following the fires, the Frank Lloyd Wright Revival Initiative pledged $45,000 to assist the previous owners with the reconstruction costs of the home; however, it was estimated that the work required would cost multiple millions. AD reached out to the Revival Initiative about whether this offer would stand for new owners interested in rebuilding the home, but the organization has not responded at the time of publication.