Written by Chris Gaydos
Photos By Joel Baldwin Look Magazine 1971
On describing Loveladies in her book “Cottages and Mansions of the Jersey Shore,” Caroline Seebohm writes, “In 1962 it was flooded in an overwhelming storm that destroyed most of the houses leaving a wasteland, or rather in the eyes of architects and developers, a tabula rasa on which they might construct their new and contemporary visions. “
Modern homes are not an uncommon site on Long Beach Island. Architects have long been inspired and challenged by the island’s natural beauty. Seasonal nor’easters and the great storms of 1944 and 1962 contributed to maintaining the unblemished nature of the beaches and bays. It is not surprising that in the mid-20th century the unlimited potential of Long Beach Island attracted some of the most prominent modern and post-modern architects in America along with their visions and philosophies. By the end of the 1960s, when arriving on Long Beach Island and driving north, you could enter a world of modern homes.
Harvey Cedars – George Daub
In the 1930s the town of Harvey Cedars was gaining a reputation as an art colony attracting painters, sculptors, and architects. George Daub was a prominent American modern architect working in Philadelphia and achieving fame for projects such as the PSFS Building. Along with his colleague William Lescaze, he built several modern homes in Harvey Cedars capitalizing on the beautiful water views and island breezes. The 2016 Historic House Tour in Harvey Cedars listed several of these homes. Although most of the original homes have been lost, the Rue House built in 1938 is one that remains. It boasts a curvilinear design and porthole windows that face the lighthouse; imagine again that in 1938 this view was unobstructed. In Loveladies, Daub also designed the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences in the shape of a wooden-truss airplane hanger.
Sand Castles – Richard Saul Wurman
George Daub was not the only prominent Philadelphia architect who took advantage of LBI’s landscape and freedom to stretch the limits of design in home building. Three businessmen from Philadelphia purchased land in Loveladies with the intent of building 13 homes, each with their own unobstructed ocean view. Richard Saul Wurman, a protégé of Louis Kahn and later internationally known for being the founder of TED conferences, was asked to design these homes. Only four were completed, but the vision of these four homes rising out of the sand was quite a novelty; they attracted sightseers who would often sit and stare. They were commonly known as the Sand Castles. As planned, each home had both privacy and an ocean view. Their cylindrical shape and simple cedar shake exterior opened inside to rectangular, semi-circular, and triangular shapes. Today only one house remains amid multiple larger contemporary homes.
Malcolm Wells – Pyramid House
A remarkable site for many years along the dunes in Loveladies was a 5,000 square foot home designed by Malcolm Wells and built in 1970. Due to its large base tapered upward to a triangular roofline it was known simply as the Pyramid House. It was so dominant that it became a landmark to ships at sea. Richard Nixon rented it in 1986, but its final claim to fame is that it was the first house on LBI to be listed for sale at one million dollars. In 2009 it was torn down to make room for the next generation of modern homes.
The Lieb House – Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown
Many residents and visitors on LBI will remember the #9 Lieb House on the right side when entering Barnegat Light. Famed modern architect Robert Venturi along with his wife Denise Brown Scott, were asked to build a beach house for a family in 1967. By this time Venturi had become disenchanted with the direction of modern architecture and became a leader in the post-modern movement. Small by today’s standards, the resultant “banal box” as Venturi called it, defied traditional designs and featured a wide entry stairway, a large round window, and of course the oversized #9. Local residents were torn. Some loved it and some hated it. In some cases, even friendships were strained by preference, but the design became a piece of architectural history and is still talked about today. The house remained relatively the same until 2009, when new owners with no desire to preserve a “Venturi” planned to tear it down. A last minute deal was made for $1 and the house moved via barge to Glen Cove, Long Island, where it now serves as a guesthouse on another Venturi property. Many people lined the streets and waterways to watch this unprecedented event. The touching story can be seen on YouTube at goo.gl/KrBWKq, or in the documentary, “Saving Lieb House.”
There are many other examples of Long Beach Island’s architectural heritage buried among densely populated streets. Lud Ullman designed the office of architect Michael Ryan located on Long Beach Boulevard. Ullman was notable for developing Loveladies Harbor in the 1950s and designed several of the modern homes in that community. Today there are over 15 architectural firms actively building homes on Long Beach Island. The materials they use may have changed, but they continue to be inspired by LBI’s natural beauty just like Daub, Wurman, Wells, and Venturi.