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Home / Construction / Unique Wright house hits Cincinnati market for $1.78M

Unique Wright house hits Cincinnati market for $1.78M

Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Tonkens House in Cincinnati is on the market for $1.78 million. The house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is a concrete home in the Usonian Automatic style. (AP photos by Barry Vangrov Photography)

Cincinnati — A family in Cincinnati is selling their Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home for $1.78 million.

The house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, has been in Gerald Tonkens’ family since 1955 and is described as being in “pristine” shape.

Tonkens, a car dealer, was 35 years old in 1953 when he asked Wright to build the home, even sending plans to the famous architect at his Taliesin West studio in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale. All he had to offer Wright was $25,000 and gumption.

His timing couldn’t have been better.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Wright was in his mid-80s and was building what he called Usonian homes for “common” American families at a prolific rate. Some of his latest designs used interlocking, concrete blocks molded on site in hopes of saving owners money by involving them in the construction process.

Tonkens’ second wife, Beverly Tonkens, said that Wright invited her husband to Taliesin West and asked him whether he would be a “guinea pig” and allow Wright to build a concrete home in the Usonian Automatic style he had developed.

More than three years and about $125,000 later, Tonkens, his first wife and their two daughters moved into what now is known as the Tonkens House. It has been in their hands since, creating a 57-year continuum of ownership that is rare for a Frank Lloyd Wright home.

The asking price is $1.788 million. For another $70,000 or so, the house will come with original furniture designed by Wright.

David Woodin, president of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, said he expects a buzz to reverberate throughout the vast flock of Wright fans.

After all, it is one of just 270 Wright homes out there. Of those, just seven are Usonian Automatic, according to the conservancy.

“I consider the Tonkens House to be one of the premiere Usonian Automatic houses,” Woodin said. “They’ve kept it in outstanding condition.”

Lori Wellinghoff, the real estate agent listing the home, agreed.

The house has been in Gerald Tonkens' family since 1955, which is rare for a Wright-designed home. The Usonian home is just one of seven, according to the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.

“This house has been way, way, way loved on,” she said. “It’s in pristine condition.”

Wellinghoff and her husband David are vetting potential buyers to weed out those who just want to see the home. There will be no open houses.

A listing for the home on the conservancy’s website describes the house as “best-of-breed” Usonian Automatic.

“A Wright house like this often attracts national, sometimes international interest,” said the Conservancy’s executive director, Janet Halstead, who visited the Tonkens House a couple of years ago.

The last Usonian Automatic house to come onto the market, the 1955 Tracy House in Seattle, sold last year for $935,000, which was $224,000 below the asking price. It is about half the size of the Tonkens House and had not been maintained as well, said Woodin, who executed the sale.

Hopefully, Wellinghoff said, she can find a buyer who will be as good a steward as Gerald Tonkens, his second wife, Beverly, and her second husband Sherman Vangrov, have been.

Woodin agreed.

“From the Conservancy’s perspective,” he said, “it deserves to have a sensitive, preservation-oriented buyer.”

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