Frank Lloyd Wright is considered to be the greatest architect in American history. Which makes it disheartening to hear that a “Wright-inspired” Iranian royal palace continues to wither away from neglect, while 7,000 apartment units are to be built on the compound on which it sits.
Built in 1966 by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Mohvarid (Pearl) Palace is one of Iran’s most prominent contemporary architectural monuments and was the private residence of Princess Shams Pahlavi. Commissioned by Shams to be built in the city of Karaj, the project was directly supervised by Wesley Peters, who was the son-in-law and very first apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Photos of the palace during its heyday highlight the contemporary nature and decor inside the Pearl Palace, as opposed to the palaces of Saadabad and Niavaran in Tehran, which have a distinctly royal and historic opulence.
Even though in 2003 (during the presidency of Mohammed Khatami), Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handcrafts, and Tourism organization registered the Pearl Palace as a national heritage, recent photos reveal massive erosion to the palace’s abandoned and decrepit interior and exterior spaces. Adding insult to injury, the palace grounds currently serves as a recreational compound for the Basij, Iran’s voluntary paramilitary militia.
To make matters worse for the palace, an unknown foundation wants to build 7,000 apartment units and adjacent office spaces in the compound’s surrounding area. While Director General of Cultural Heritage for the Alborz Province has stated that 54 of the palace’s 101 acres would remain “green space,” and that construction would be confined to the southern areas, there is speculation that the palace will be demolished as well.
In 2007, the head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handcrafts, and Tourism organization and former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s right-hand man, (In 1966, the total cost for the Pearl Palace came to about $3.5 million dollars. According to current estimates, it would cost four million dollars to renovate it now).
In 2012 (while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was still president), the unknown foundation requested that Karaj municipal authorities change the zoning permits for the property on which the Pearl Palace sits from (national) green space, to residential to pave way for the eventual building of private homes.
Mahmoud Kashani, a lawyer and activist, has written a public letter to Iran’s Interior Minister, President Rouhani, as well as the current head of Iran’s national heritage organization demanding that these actions be halted “According to records, the Pearl Palace is property of the state, and national monuments are not transferable,” and building residential spaces on land designated as part of Iran’s national heritage is illegal Kashani wrote.
As the Rouhani government ramps up efforts to promote Iran’s tourism industry, it would be a shame to lose this architectural gem and unique tourist attraction to neglect.
The “about” section of this Facebook group page dedicated to Morvarid Palace provides a fascinating in-depth look into the role the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation played in the palace’s creation.