Gropius House for sale, Provincetown, MA

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Gropius House for sale, Provincetown, MA

Postby influx99 » Mon Nov 05, 2007 10:20 am

Anyone have a spare $12 mil?

From the Boston Globe Sunday edition. Text is below, link to photos is here

A treasure of Modernism
Unique Provincetown property that has been off limits to the public will be on the market soon for about $12 million

By Kimberly Blanton, Globe Staff | November 4, 2007

PROVINCETOWN - The glass-walled house designed by Walter Gropius's firm sits high on a promontory at the tip of Cape Cod, overlooking a breakwater, dunes, and the sea beyond.

Despite its prominent location, this archetypal, late-Modernist treasure - named one of the best-designed homes of 1959 by Architectural Record magazine - is not well known by architectural historians. Built by former Clark University psychology professor Carl Murchison and his worldly wife, Dorotea, the house has been off-limits to the public for years. Passersby seeking a glimpse of the house were shooed away by the Murchisons' reclusive daughter-in-law, who owned the house until her death earlier this year.

But now, this unique property is at a pivotal moment in its history: The Murchisons' heir is selling the house. When it hits the market for about $12 million, as soon as this month, its fate will be subject to the whims of the luxury real estate market, which often values waterview properties much more for the development potential of the land than for the architectural significance of the house on it.

The Murchisons' heir said he wants the house to be preserved by an eventual buyer. The property is currently zoned as single family and would require the town's permission to be subdivided into multiple lots. But with 3.5 acres of land in space-constricted Provincetown, the property could deliver enormous profits as a subdivision of new homes.

"It's in extreme danger of bring torn down," said Peter McMahon, head of the Cape Cod Modern House Trust, which catalogs and preserves properties. "You could put 14 condos on that space and sell each one of them for $2 million," he said.

The tear-down phenomenon has been especially cruel to the Northeast's rich legacy of Modernism. In January, a modernist house built by renowned architect Paul Rudolph in Westport, Conn., was demolished, and last year, the Rachel Raymond house in Belmont, considered the first true modernist house in New England, was razed.

The Murchison house remains a mint-condition artifact of 1950s Modernism. The entrance, made of teak, was designed to evoke a Japanese temple. Walls of 8-foot windows flood the interior with natural light and provide 270-degree water views. Interior furnishings that were specially made include a Calder-like fixture with six dangling globe lights. A tube television is hidden, like a prop from an early James Bond movie, behind a door built into the living room's black-walnut paneled cabinetry.

The large outdoor pool, with a view of Provincetown Harbor, was once the scene of large, swinging parties. Guests included pioneering abstract painter Hans Hoffman, and among the Murchisons' papers is a photograph of Frank Sinatra dancing pool-side at one party. The cypress-paneled cabana has two bathhouses.

"It'd be a shame to destroy this house," said Joan Roderick, trustee for the estate of the Murchisons' daughter-in-law, Barbara Murchison. Barbara Murchison's nephew, Thomas Francis, inherited the property when she died last May. Francis declined to be interviewed for this story.

Francis's wish is the house be "purchased by someone who makes it a home," Roderick said. Carl Murchison had a great appreciation of Provincetown's history and supported local artists, and protecting the house from commercial interests would be in that spirit, she said.

The house's architectural provenance could be key to its market value -and to any effort to preserve it. It was designed by Gropius's pathbreaking firm, The Artists' Collaborative in Cambridge, or TAC, but the extent of Gropius's involvement is less clear. A seminal figure in Modern architecture, Gropius founded the Bauhaus school in Germany, which introduced the then-radical idea of simple, functional design in buildings. In 1937, he immigrated to the United States, joined Harvard University's design school and later became dean. He and other Harvard faculty left to form TAC in 1945.

A TAC book said Robert McMillan was partner-in-charge of the Murchison project. "I wouldn't call it a Gropius house," said former TAC partner John Harkness. But Gropius - who designed his own house in Lincoln - rarely drew plans on paper, said Jill Pearlman, author of Investing American Modernism: Joseph Hudnut, Walter Gropius, and the Bauhaus Legacy at Harvard. "He was a great man but less so for his architecture than his philosophical impact," she said.

But trustee Roderick found evidence of Gropius' involvement in the Murchisons home. In a July 1959 letter to former college classmates, Dorotea Murchison wrote, "We got Walter Gropius (next to Wright in fame) of the Architects Collaborative, to design the place." An October 1958 Boston Globe article said Carl Murchison drew up a rough sketch and "went to Gropius, who took it from there."

Former TAC partner Perry Neubauer, who joined the firm in 1965, said Gropius likely kept a hand in the project but asked McMillan direct it. "I would imagine he played an active role, especially if these people knew him ahead of time," he said.

Rose Kennedy, the real estate agent handling the property sale, said she has received about a dozen inquiries so far, and she said the property would bring in the most money if it were sold as numerous parcels. But the family, she said, plans to carefully select a buyer. "We're hoping by selling it as a whole, that someone will want to buy it as a compound, as it's always been," said Kennedy, of Thomas D. Brown Real Estate Associates.

But once it's sold, she added, "We have no guarantees." Roderick, the trustee, said the family has placed no conditions on a sale, though that remains an option.

Despite the Murchisons' love of grand parties, few people have been inside the house in recent years. Dorotea Murchison died in 1981, 20 years after her husband, and left the house to their son, Powell Murchison, who was married to Barbara Murchison.

About four years ago, David Fixler, president of the New England chapter of Docomomo-US, an architecture group that catalogs and tries to preserves Modernist structures, said he asked to visit the house but was "shut out" by her. "This is a bit of a mystery house," Fixler said.

The extravagant Murchison home contrasts with early-modern houses built on Cape Cod during the late 1940s and early 1950s. These were spare edifices, often tucked in the woods or along the seashore, by leftist intellectuals and artists who either had little money or subscribed to a utopian modernism centered on egalitarianism. The Murchisons shelled out $300,000 to build their house, an enormous sum in the late 1950s.

Though worn in places by use, the house and contents appeared frozen in time this week during a rare viewing. It still contains its original furniture, much of it designed by Design Research, a furniture company founded by a TAC partner. Dorotea Murchison's eight minks and stoles still hang in the cold-storage vault, and one closet is filled with decades of issues of The Journal of Social Psychology and the Journal of Psychology, both of which Carl Murchison founded, and The Journal of Genetic Psychology, a languishing publication he revitalized.

The central, open living area is in the Japanese style, with a dining room that can be enclosed behind sliding screens. Surrounding the dining room is a wide, indoor terrace of Vermont slate along the two sides of the house facing the ocean. An office and guest room on the lower floor lead out to the pool.

Electronics in the house were state-of-the-art at the time, including a water purifier and high-fidelity stereo system with a reel-to-reel tape deck and oversized speakers integrated into the sleek cabinetry.

Even in 1960, the house's future was a concern. In an article on it in the Provincetown Record, one visitor to the house was quoted saying, "Let us hope that this will be here 500 years from now."

Kimberly Blanton can be reached at
© Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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Postby Mod Betty / RetroRoadmap » Mon Nov 05, 2007 2:38 pm

Ha! my sister forwarded me the link to that article (I was just coming here to post it) and my exact response to her was "got 12 mil to spare?" Great minds think alike!
:cheers: :cheers:

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I wonder if....

Postby modfan » Tue Nov 06, 2007 8:51 am

The group that preserves the Groupius House in Lincoln Ma. are interested? Seems like they would be an appropriate group, alas probably the big obsticle is MONEY? :(

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