The house that established Marcel Breuer as a leading architect of the post-war era has disappeared, torn down earlier this month by its current owners after conservationists tried to save the building. home. Historians say the loss demonstrates how changing dynamics in the housing market and lax landmark rules have put modern architecture at risk.
Breuer designed the building in 1945 for Bertram and Phyllis Geller in the Long Island suburb of Lawrence, NY, just outside New York City. It was his first nuclear home, a modernist design that breaks architectural conventions by separating the bedrooms from the living areas by a central corridor instead of dividing the zones. area between two floors. The house, known as Geller I, has become a showcase for the avant-garde aesthetic – complete with furniture designed by Breuer and Jackson Pollock at specific locations picture which was later sold separately from the house before moving to the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in Iran.
The Geller I floor plan has remained intact over the years, even as subsequent owners remodeled the interior and whitewashed the earthy tones of the wood and stone structure. Conservationists say the design is likely to qualify for national and state registries of historic sites, and they have managed to secure a landmark title through the Town of Hempstead, where there is Lawrence Village.
“When people think of modernism, they think of it as new and contemporary,” said Liz Waytkus, executive director of Docomomo US, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving post-war architecture. . “But the house is more than 75 years old. It takes a lot of education to make people more aware of that history.”
Two years ago, real estate developers Shimon and Judy Eckstein purchased the one-acre Geller home at 175 Ocean Avenue for $975,000, according to property records. In December, Waytkus contacted the homeowners after she learned through a colleague that they were considering demolition.
“It was gone within three weeks,” Waytkus said.
The Ecksteins did not respond to multiple phone calls requesting comment.
Lawrence officials say the Ecksteins followed local rules before knocking down the Breuer home. The family plans to build another home on that lot and an adjoining property.
“Although we appreciate the architectural value,” it is private property, said Ronald Goldman, the village’s manager. ”
According to historians, Breuer developed his signature architectural style by designing the Geller house. The commission came just eight years after he immigrated to the United States; he is still trying to step out of the shadow of his mentor, Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, which combined elements of industrial design and the visual arts into a style that is still popular. .
“It was the first house he built himself,” said Caroline Rob Zaleski, a trustee of the Conservation Society of New York State. write about Modern architecture on Long Island. “He was combining the abstract forms of Russian constructivism with New England architecture,” she said.
In 1947, the publication Progressive Architecture named Breuer’s design house of the year. This was followed by international acclaim, and the attention of architect Philip Johnson, then working at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. After viewing the house, Johnson suggested Breuer an exhibition in the MoMA courtyard, which has become “The House in the Museum Garden.”
For the 1949 exhibit, Breuer installed in the museum’s garden a model home that was affordable for the average American family while providing well-designed, modern amenities inside. in an expandable house. In 2007, Rockefeller Brothers Funds take on the role of management of the house, now located in Pocantino Hills, NY, where it is preserved.
Zaleski describes Geller I’s loss as significant. “This has become a descendant of what happens when you have an internationally recognized masterpiece without any proper safeguards in place to prevent the owner from tearing it down,” she said.
Joe Geller, one of the Gellers’ sons, recalls running through the hallways of the house as a child and said his family remained close friends with Breuer long after the mission was completed. Now 81 and living in South Norwalk, Conn., Geller has fond memories of the space.
“Growing up I had the feeling that this was a very avant-garde house,” he said. “I love sitting in the living room with the big fireplace and big windows.”
“And when we were kids, we used to peel paint off Pollock fish,” Geller adds. “Oh my God.”
He now hopes that historians can preserve one of Breuer’s last surviving homes in the area, known as Geller II, at 339 Ocean Avenue in Lawrence. Designing for the same family in 1967, Breuer worked with his partner Herbert Beckhard on what became a dramatic change from his previous residential construction, which featured a square floor plan. underneath a curved concrete dome.
Waytkus, one of the women leading this latest preservation effort, says the Geller II’s homeowner assured her that at least Breuer’s design would be safe. But the historian would rather be safe than sorry.
“We still consider this an active issue,” Waytkus said. “It’s extremely disappointing that we couldn’t come up with a better outcome for Geller I.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/27/arts/design/marcel-breuer-house-demolished.html Marcel Breuer House Destroyed on Long Island, Infuriating Conservationists