Philip Johnson's Alice Ball House May Soon Be Demolished in Fight Between Its Owner and Town of New Canaan
For those who care about such things, New Canaan is as renowned for its large number of mid-century modern houses as it is for allowing a large number of mid-century modern houses to be destroyed and replaced by mcmansions. At least three of the Harvard Five architects -- Marcel Breuer, Eliot Noyes and John Johansen -- have had houses they designed razed. And I'm not sure anyone knows for sure how many modern houses in all have been demolished in New Canaan. Estimates of the number of modern houses that remain range from roughly 70 to 90.
If work by Breuer, Noyes and Johansen have all been destroyed, that leaves only two of the Harvard Five left -- Landis Gores and Philip Johnson.
And Johnson may soon join them. Cristina Ross, the owner of the Alice Ball House, which Johnson designed, has applied to the Town of New Canaan for a demolition permit. This comes after an extensive renovation, completed earlier this year (see here). (11 a.m. update: I drove past the Alice Ball house this morning and saw a big sign in front with the word "Demolition" printed on it, presumably a public notice that the owner has applied for a demolition permit. Generally the local government requires such notices to be posted and requires the owner/applicant to do so. Interesting that whoever erected it waited until after the Modern House Day tour.)
In other words, if Cristina Ross, an architect and developer, gets her demolition permit and if she proceeds, she would become the first person to demolish a house designed by Philip Johnson. Likewise, the Town of New Canaan would for the first time authorize such a destruction.
New Canaan would then be doubly famous -- for being the home of Johnson's landmark Glass House and for being the home of the oversized monstrosity that will no doubt replace the Alice Ball House.
The Connecticut Post had a good story about the issue last month, here. You'll see that there's lots of baloney from Ross and the Town about the other being unreasonable. This includes the Town's wetlands commission, by the way, which refuses to give Ross a permit to extend a driveway on the property across a wetland. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest the perhaps the wetlands commission is being a tad too intransigent. I've spent the last seven years of my life working on land preservation issues that usually involve wetlands protection. I know a lot about which wetlands are valuable and why, about how some wetlands are so valuable that nothing should be allowed to be built anywhere near them, and about how some wetlands don't have much value at all and can be encroached upon. I also know the Alice Ball House a bit (I've been in it once) and its property (I've been on it a couple of times and I drive past it regularly). If there's a wetland on that property worth saving to the extent that the Alice Ball House gets torn down, then I'm a modern architect.
The Alice Ball House has been on the market since early spring for about $3 million. Nine months does not seem like a lot of time for an expensive house to remain unsold. And you can easily see it -- its right on Oenoeke Ridge Road, near the intersection of Hemlock Hill Road (the Celanese House is two doors away).
If you're interested in buying it, give the William Raveis agency in New Canaan a buzz. In the meantime, Cristina Ross ought to back off and wait for a buyer. And the New Canaan wetlands comission out to think a bit more carefully about its mission.