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Venturi’s Lieb House Relocated By Boat

March 10, 2009

By C. J. Hughes

Several of Robert Venturi’s houses, like the Trubeck and Wislocki Houses in Nantucket, have sat near the water. But on Thursday, one of the architect’s creations will actually end up on top of it.

In a bid to avoid the wrecking ball, Venturi’s Lieb House is traveling by barge from the New Jersey coast to the north shore of Long Island. During the two-day trip, the house will journey through the Atlantic Ocean, across New York Harbor, up the East River, and into Long Island Sound—a distance of about 75 miles, as the seagull flies.

the Venturi-designed Lieb House
the Venturi-designed Lieb House
Photos courtesy Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates.

This week, the Venturi-designed Lieb House is being moved by boat from the Jersey Shore to Long Island.

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Venturi himself will check on the house’s progress on Friday morning from a site near Manhattan’s South Street Seaport. “I’m interested in context,” he says, adding that as the boxy structure slips past old factories and under bridges, “it will be a much different context than expected.”

Still, even in its original setting, the house stood out. Named after its initial owners, the Nathaniel Lieb family, the modern, flat-roofed residence was built in 1969 on a beach property in Barnegat Light, a New Jersey vacation town mostly made up of peak-roofed cottages. Moreover, a 5-foot-high “9”—its address number—is painted on the Lieb House’s façade, “which you didn’t do in high-falutin’ architecture,” says Venturi, the 1991 Pritzker Prize winner.

Michael Ziman, a developer, bought the 1,500-square-foot structure in January with the hope of tearing it down, until James Venturi, Robert’s son, rode to its rescue.

James is working on a documentary about his father, and his mother, Denise Scott Brown, both principals at the Philadelphia-based Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates (VSBA). In the course of his research, he had met a couple—the doctors Deborah Sarnoff and Robert Gotkin—who wanted to hire Venturi to design for them a beach house in the Hamptons. The couple’s primary residence is the VSBA-designed Kalpakjian House (1987), a Shingle-style dwelling in Glen Cove, on Long Island.

When James learned that the Lieb House might be torn down, he contacted the couple to ask if they might purchase and relocate the dwelling. “Jim called us panic-stricken,” says Sarnoff, “speaking so fast I wasn’t sure what he was saying.” Sarnoff and Gotkin were open to the idea, particularly after realizing that constructing a new house in the Hamptons would be tough, given its strict zoning regulations.

So, the couple abandoned their Hamptons idea and decided to ship the four-bedroom Lieb House to a half-acre lot adjacent to their residence in Glen Cove, where it will serve as a guest house.

Though Sarnoff and Gotkin paid only $1 for the Lieb House, they will cover its relocation costs, which will be at least $100,000—or “more if the weather doesn’t cooperate, because we’re paying for two tugboats by the hour,” Sarnoff adds. The move also required a welter of permits, which were handled by New York architect Frederic Schwartz, FAIA, a Venturi family friend who served as the project architect on the Kalpakjian House.

For those in the area who want to see the house in transit, it is expected to leave New Jersey at 8 a.m. on Thursday. After an overnight stay in Staten Island, it will pass under the Brooklyn Bridge on Friday between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. and should arrive at its final destination at noon, assuming all goes as planned. 

People also can catch a view of the floating house in Learning from Bob and Denise, James’s documentary that is due out in 2010, he says. Including a scene of it will underscore the ephemeral nature of architecture, which has been a theme in Robert Venturi’s life, as he’s watched some of his early homes, from Bermuda to Colorado, undergo significant alterations, James says. “Architecture is the most fragile of all media,” he says. “But this turned out differently.”

Read about James Venturi's documentary in our June 2008 story, Filmmaker Son of Scott Brown and Venturi to Set Record Straight?

 

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