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Happy Ending for the Little Beach House That Could

Venturi and Scott Brown watch their Lieb House sail by

By Kristen Richards
March 16, 2009

7:00 a.m., Friday, March 13: Never mind the wind chill factor hovered around 16 degrees. The sun was just about to rise on a perfect day. Spirits couldn’t have been warmer as the crowd gathered on the top deck of Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport. Architects, journalists, TV news camera crews, a few intrepid tourists.


In the middle of it all, surrounded by friends, fans, and shutter bugs, an almost demure Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown awaited the first sighting of the Lieb House making its way to the mouth of the East River. Seeming to be floating on Cloud 9 were the new owners of the 1967 Venturi and Rauch-designed Number 9, Dr. Robert Gotkin and his wife Dr. Deborah Sarnoff. Their newly-adopted guest house would soon be sailing into view, on its way to Glen Cove, New York, and a prime spot adjacent to the couple’s own Venturi Scott Brown-designed home.


We’ve been following the saga of beach house in the ArchNewsNow newsletter since late last year, when architect Frederic Schwartz alerted us to its potential demise (to make way for a McMansion on its shorefront site in Barnegat Light, New Jersey). He and documentary film maker Jim Venturi (the architects’ son) set out to save the house – and produce a documentary of the process. The two were also responsible for orchestrating this East River Op-Sail.


We saved the house from the developer’s wrecking ball on its day of reckoning by a 60-day, non-stop, take-no-prisoners approach to permissions, permitting and details,” Schwartz told us in an e-mail.


Several on the pier that morning commented on Schwartz’s absence from the festivities. “I chose to watch from Brooklyn,” he told us, “so I could see the house against the Manhattan skyline. While it passed under the Brooklyn Bridge with the Empire State Building in the background, I recalled Walt Whitman and then the Grateful Dead: ‘What a long strange trip it’s been.’”


A strange trip, indeed – and a story with a happy ending at a time when happy endings have been in short supply. It was a good day.



Here are links to some informative reports on Friday’s event, the back story, and history of the little house that could.


From Barnegat Light, NJ (March 12): Landmark beach cottage sets sail

By Inga Saffron


From Glen Cove, NY (March 13): House on a boat now a New Yorker: Iconic N.J. beach shack lands safely.

To Save a Venturi House, It Is Moved

New York Times

House completes New Jersey to Glen Cove journey

New York Newsday


$100,000, A Dream & A Really Big Boat: N.Y. Couple Buys Iconic N.J. Shore Home For $1 And Then Floats It To Glen Cove On Long Island's North Shore. Total Distance Traveled: 95 Miles

CBS News



(click on pictures to enlarge)

Kristen Richards

Lieb House Number 9 – the first Pop House (#9 can be seen)

Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown waiting for the barge

Douglas Romines/Frederic Schwartz Architects

New York Harbor: nothing too intimidating about two gargantuan Staten Island ferries (and a curious treat for the passengers, no doubt); Ellis Island in the background

Douglas Romines/Frederic Schwartz Architects

Sailing past the Staten Island Ferry Terminal and Battery Maritime buildings

Kristen Richards

A member of Jim Venturi’s documentary film crew on the pier was in constant communication with the barge (and a “spotter” for the rest of us, letting us know its progress)

Kristen Richards

Venturi and Scott Brown (she wearing a most-appropriate hat) enthralled the crowd

Douglas Romines/Frederic Schwartz Architects

Number Nine with Brooklyn as a backdrop

Douglas Romines/Frederic Schwartz Architects

Under the Brooklyn Bridge with Manhattan as backdrop

Kristen Richards

Same bridge, looking towards Brooklyn

Douglas Romines/Frederic Schwartz Architects

Reaching the Manhattan Bridge, with Empire State Building in view

Kristen Richards

A perfect sunrise...

Kristen Richards

...full moon included

© 2009