June 27, 2022
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The home that established Marcel Breuer as a number one architect of the postwar interval is gone, demolished earlier this month by its present homeowners after preservationists tried to avoid wasting the constructing. Historians stated that the loss demonstrated how altering dynamics within the housing market and free landmarking guidelines have put modernist structure in danger.

Breuer designed the constructing in 1945 for Bertram and Phyllis Geller within the Long Island suburb of Lawrence, N.Y., simply outdoors New York Metropolis. It was his first binuclear home, a modernist design that broke with architectural conference by separating the bedrooms from the residing quarters with a central hallway as a substitute of dividing the areas between two flooring. The house, known as Geller I, grew to become a showcase for avant-garde aesthetics — full with furnishings designed by Breuer and a site-specific Jackson Pollock painting that was later bought individually from the home earlier than ending up within the Tehran Museum of Up to date Artwork in Iran.

The Geller I flooring plan remained intact by way of the years, at the same time as subsequent homeowners transformed the interiors and whitewashed the wooden and stone construction’s earthy tones. Preservationists stated that the design was probably eligible for the nationwide and state registers of historic locations, and so they had tried to safe a landmark designation by way of the City of Hempstead, the place the Village of Lawrence is positioned.

“When individuals consider modernism, they consider it as new and modern,” stated Liz Waytkus, government director of Docomomo US, a nonprofit devoted to preserving structure from the postwar interval. “However the home was greater than 75 years outdated. There may be a lot training needing to be achieved in order that individuals are extra conscious of that historical past.”

“Modernist structure is endangered,” she added, citing two different current destructions: a Connecticut home by the Brutalist architect Paul Rudolph and a helix-shaped house by Bruce Goff in Oklahoma.

Two years in the past, the true property builders Shimon and Judy Eckstein bought the Geller house’s one-acre lot at 175 Ocean Avenue for $975,000, in accordance with property data. In December, Waytkus contacted the householders after she realized by way of a colleague that they had been contemplating demolition.

“It was gone inside three weeks,” Waytkus stated.

The Ecksteins didn’t reply to a number of telephone calls requesting remark.

Lawrence officers stated that the Ecksteins had complied with native guidelines earlier than flattening the Breuer home. The household plans to construct one other house throughout that lot and an adjoining property.

“Whereas we recognize architectural values,” stated Ronald Goldman, village administrator, “it’s personal property.”

Based on historians, Breuer developed his signature architectural type by designing the Geller home. The fee got here solely eight years after he had immigrated to the US; he was nonetheless attempting to step outdoors the shadow of his mentor, Walter Gropius, founding father of the Bauhaus faculty, which mixed parts of business design and visible artwork into a mode that is still widespread.

“It was the primary home that he did on his personal,” stated Caroline Rob Zaleski, a trustee with the Preservation League of New York State who additionally writes about modernist structure on Long Island. “He was combining the summary types of Russian constructivism with New England structure,” she stated.

In 1947, the publication Progressive Structure named Breuer’s design as home of the yr. Worldwide acclaim adopted, and so did the eye of the architect Philip Johnson, then working on the Museum of Fashionable Artwork in New York. After seeing the home, Johnson supplied Breuer an exhibition within the MoMA courtyard, which grew to become “The House within the Museum Backyard.”

For the 1949 present, Breuer put in within the museum’s backyard a mannequin house that was meant to be inexpensive for the common American household whereas offering well-designed, trendy facilities inside an expandable home. In 2007, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund assumed stewardship of the home, now positioned in Pocantino Hills, N.Y., the place it’s preserved.

Zaleski described the lack of Geller I as vital. “This has change into the poster youngster for what occurs when you will have an internationally acknowledged masterpiece that doesn’t have any acceptable protections to forestall an proprietor from demolishing it,” she stated.

Joe Geller, one of many Gellers’ sons, remembers operating by way of the hallway of the home as a toddler, and stated his household remained shut buddies with Breuer lengthy after the fee was accomplished. Now 81 and residing in South Norwalk, Conn., Geller has fond reminiscences of the area.

“I had a way rising up that this was a really avant-garde home,” he stated. “I liked sitting in the lounge with its large fire and huge home windows.”

“And as children we used to peel paint off the Pollock,” Geller added. “Oh my god.”

Now he hopes that historians can protect considered one of Breuer’s final remaining homes within the space, known as Geller II, at 339 Ocean Avenue in Lawrence. Designing for a similar household in 1967, Breuer labored together with his accomplice Herbert Beckhard on what grew to become a major departure from his earlier residential work, that includes a sq. flooring plan beneath a curved concrete vault.

Waytkus, one of many girls main this newest preservation effort, stated that Geller II’s house owner had assured her that at the very least that Breuer design could be secure. However the historian would reasonably be secure than sorry.

“We nonetheless see this as an lively problem,” Waytkus stated. “It’s simply so terribly irritating that we weren’t capable of provide you with a greater final result for Geller I.”

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