Gee eventually put an expensive roof on his Suntop home - one of four townhouses that Wright called his "Ardmore experiment" when finished in 1939. Gee still had to deal with such issues as the claustrophobic spaces that sometimes made it feel like living on a boat.
The family last year moved to a Gladwyne home more than twice the size, yet misses the historic home that reflected the quirky personality of the genius who designed it - cranky and difficult, yet in touch with nature and the bohemian flair of an art deco era.
"It's a brilliant space," said Gee, who recently resumed efforts to find a buyer for his Wright home (the current asking price: $429,000). "Every time I come back I'm sad I'm not living here."
The chance to buy a Wright home in an otherwise low-key neighborhood comes as interest is greater than ever in the man, remembered almost as much for his messy life as his celebrated designs.
In September, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in Chicago will hold its annual conference in Philadelphia. Participants will be able to tour Suntop and Wright-designed homes in Wilmington and Cherry Hill and the stunning glass-and-concrete Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park, one of his final works.
Even among the fairly large catalog of buildings designed by Wright, who worked right up until his death in 1959 at 91, Suntop is one of a kind. The multifamily homes are the only ones he created; a Philadelphia banker, Otto Tod Mallery, commissioned them near the end of the Great Depression in a vision of artistic yet affordable suburban living.
But Wright's creation may have been too experimental for local officials. The original plan called for six buildings with 24 units, but after the first Suntop structure was finished, Lower Merion Township rezoned the neighborhood for single-family homes.
Lower Merion officials seem to like the development much better these days. In 2001, Suntop was named to the Lower Merion Architectural Hall of Fame, and the Wright fourplex was a highlight on a township tour of architectural modernism in the upscale suburb.
It's easy today to see why Suntop is considered a treasure. The development boasts some of the attributes that have made other Wright projects national attractions - particularly the architect's ambition to integrate Suntop into its natural surroundings.
Indeed, the short walk from Sutton Road to Gee's front door feels like a trip through a small forest, up a sidewalk lined with orange and purple flowers, past a small "Zen garden" and another larger patio with a tiny pond where one small fish managed to hang on the entire time the Gees lived there. The canopy of tall trees surrounding Suntop is visible from the living room's floor-to-ceiling windows and the wraparound rooftop and balcony.
"You can't see your neighbors," Gee said as he stood in the garden. "When it snows, you think you're living in a ski chalet."
Christian Busch, an architect who lives in one of the other Suntop homes, said the project was greatly significant as "an experiment in stylized affordable housing."
"It's simply beautiful," said Lori Salganicoff, historic preservation director for the Lower Merion Conservancy, which organized the modernist tour. "There's a mathematical serenity there that's the appeal. When you walk in, the spaces feel right."
Gee, 46, and his wife, Priscilla Robinson, a pharmaceutical executive, were graduate students at Penn and architectural buffs when they fell in love with the property.
"We rented a car to take a peek at it," he recalled, although they weren't bold enough to ring the bell and ask for a tour, as they have since found that people from all over the world frequently do.
After Penn, they rented in Narberth, eventually bidding unsuccessfully on one unit before snagging a different one and moving in on New Year's Eve 2000.
"It's admittedly hard to appreciate until you're in the space," Gee said. "It's surprising, delightful. It can be frustrating."
Wright was famous for scrimping on building materials to achieve his grand designs - thus the leaky roof, which cost the couple $90,000 to replace. Like other Wright homes, the sweeping living rooms and their vistas come at the expense of small bedrooms and kitchens.
Nearly every surface is made of wood or brick. Built-in furniture, lighting, and storage reduce the need for furniture.
Gee and other owners go to great lengths to make sure that any renovations or repairs do not compromise Wright's designs or vision. "You can't go to Home Depot and get a mailbox," Gee said.
"I think people who want to own a Frank Lloyd Wright house act as stewards."
But ultimately Gee's growing family needed more space. Now his challenge isn't dealing with a leaky roof but finding an owner who will keep Wright's legacy alive for future generations.
"It's a different kind of property," Gee acknowledged. "A lot of people aren't interested. It's like a work of art."
Contact staff writer Kathy Boccella at 610-313-8123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.