Woodlawn’s Frank Lloyd Wright house undergoes upgrades


Scaffolding surrounds Pope-Leighey House, though visitors can still tour the attraction.

The Pope-Leighey House, an 84-year-old Frank Lloyd Wright creation located at the Woodlawn Plantation, is in the process of getting a new roof that will restore it more closely to its original architectural design.

Built in 1939 in Falls Church for the Pope family, the 1,200 square-foot house was moved to the Woodlawn property in 1965 due to the expansion of I-66 and again was relocated by around 30 feet in 1995 for better foundational stability. Over the years, the house has undergone a couple of roof replacements, with each update diverging a bit further from Lloyd Wright’s original plan.

The Pope-Leighey House’s current location in a wooded area means that its flat roof accumulates leaf debris and water, which has led to roof leaks, said Woodlawn’s Executive Director Shawn Halifax.

Contractors are removing the roofing material and gravel ballast in three phases.

According to Halifax, the National Trust for Historic Preservation — which owns and operates both Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey House
— identified the latest roof replacement project as high priority and provided an internal grant of $200,000 to Woodlawn to cover it. As part of that project, which kicked off June 20, contractors are removing the existing roofing material and gravel ballast from the Usonian-style home in three phases and putting down a protective fluid coating.

“It’s a major project and one that I believe will be in place for the next 30 years,” said Halifax.

The good news, he added, is that Woodlawn was able to reopen the building for tours July 1. Although the building has scaffolding around it, an entrance and exit path have been marked off to enable visitors to tour the facility and learn about the ongoing roof restoration project.

“We thought we’d be shut down a long time, but the contractors assessed the situation and said we could resume tours,” said Halifax.

The earlier than expected reopening came as a relief to Woodlawn leaders who had anticipated incurring a financial loss. Pope-Leighey House has a higher visitation rate than the neighboring Woodlawn Plantation house, said Halifax. Many visitors opt to add on the Woodlawn tour while they’re already on-site visiting the Frank Lloyd Wright property.

Once Pope-Leighey’s roof replacement is complete, restoration work will continue on the home’s doors. A few of the wooden doors were replaced in winter 2021 using bald cypress and employing a contractor’s fine carpentry skills to ensure the grain of the wood matched the original entranceways.

Credit: Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey House

Improvements also are planned for the property surrounding the attraction. Just a few feet from the house is the Potomac National Heritage Scenic Trail, which previously served as the primary access road for visitors to Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey. The Potomac Trail’s entrance onto the property originates at the intersection of Richmond Highway and Jeff Todd Way. Woodlawn hopes to raise awareness of the trail’s passing through the property and to open other walking trails as well.

“What we're doing at Woodlawn is trying to make it a bit more relevant and make it more likely that people will visit,” said Halifax.

Located at 9000 Richmond Highway, Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey House are open Fridays through Mondays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Part two of the update on Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey House will be published in the near future.

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