Marcel Breuer's first binuclear house is demolished


Liz Waytkus


Docomomo US Executive Director


Lost, Breuer
Image details

Marcel Breuer's first binuclear house, Geller I in Lawrence, New York has been demolished in the dead of night. Geller I is largely considered the project that propelled Breuer to private practice in New York and prompted the Museum of Modern Art to commission Breuer to design an exhibition house in the museum’s courtyard entitled The House in the Museum Garden in 1949. The following text was written in the last few days as Docomomo US and our colleagues were working to make this concern public. We are saddened by such an unnecessary loss and will continue to post updates as they are known.


In 1945, Marcel Breuer designed a revolutionary house for Bertram and Phyllis Geller built in Lawrence, New York, a newly developing suburb just outside New York City. Described as a “tour de force”, The Geller house was pivotal from the moment it was completed. It is Marcel Breuer’s first completed “binuclear” house design where living and sleeping areas are separated into two different formal elements.


Soon after it was completed, the Geller House was widely published in the United States and in Europe. It was featured in an 8-page article in House & Garden in January of 1947. Progressive Architecture, long among America’s most respected architectural journals, published an extensive 17-page article in February of 1947. Progressive Architecture also awarded the design a Citation in the Residential category of the 1946 Progressive Architecture Awards. In Europe, the project was published in the late 1940s in Architectural Review in England, L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui in France, and Werk in Switzerland.


The first house constructed after his partnership with Walter Gropius, the success of Geller I helped establish Breuer’s reputation as an independent designer and propel the transition of his office from Cambridge to New York. It generated a flood of calls from families looking for what House & Garden magazine titled “Tomorrow’s House Today.”


The Geller House and Breuer’s other residential designs of the 1940s and 1950s were both extremely innovative and widely influential. The interest and demand for modern family dwellings post-World War II prompted the Museum of Modern Art to commission Breuer to design an exhibition house in the museum’s courtyard entitled The House in the Museum Garden (1949), “a country home for the commuter, intended to be built by any contractor.” The exhibition drew over 70,000 visitors and transformed the public’s idea of a new type of home for the modern American family.

Today, Geller I, located at 175 Ocean Avenue in the Village of Lawrence, sits in an area of Long Island that is vastly changing, where property values have skyrocketed and the size of newly built houses dwarfs the more modest scale of this early modern home. Geller I is listed as eligible on the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing site to the Rockaway Hunt Historic District. It is likely to be individually eligible for the National Register and the New York State Register. In addition, it is likely to be eligible to be designated a local landmark in the Town of Hempstead, which the Village of Lawrence is within. Geller I was identifed as a historic resource by the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities in 1981.


Late last year, Docomomo US was alerted to plans to demolish the house for a larger project combing multiple lots. Docomomo US and our colleagues at Docomomo US NY/Tri-State, the Preservation League of New York State, Preservation Long Island and Caroline Rob Zaleski author of Long Island Modernism formed a coalition to work for a better preservation outcome. In December, an application for local landmark status was submitted to the Town of Hempstead and enthusiastically received and supported by the Hempstead Landmarks Preservation Commission. So far, there has been no response from the Village of Lawrence for what would be an honorary designation. The Village of Lawrence does not have a preservation ordinance and retains jurisdiction in the incorporated village.


Docomomo US is aware that the house is located in the vicinity of a New York State Regulated Wetland and a portion of the site is in the FEMA identified flood zone. So far we have been unable to find a wetland permit or associated impact statements.


We are also moved by the interest and involvement of a young architecture student from Lawrence and his recent efforts to document Geller I. Much like a young Herbert Beckhard who, as the story goes, was so impressed at seeing the newly built Geller house in his hometown of Lawrence, that it confirmed his decision to become an architect. Beckhard went on to become not only an architect but Breuer’s longtime partner. Beckhard collaborated with Breuer on the design of a second house for the Geller family in Lawrence, Geller II (1969.) Is it more than a coincidence that this one house continues to inspire young minds to pursue careers in architecture? Regardless, Docomomo US and our colleagues will continue to encourage those involved with the project to take another look at the house and protect a nationally important work of Modern residential architecture designed by one of the world’s most prominent architects of the post-war era.


To learn more about Geller I, visit the Marcel Breuer Digital Archive at the Syracuse University Libraries.

Media Coverage:

"Marcel Breuer’s Geller House I demolished on Long Island without warning," The Architect's Newspaper, January 26, 2022.

"Marcel Breuer's first binuclear house has been demolished in Long Island," Archinect, January 26, 2022

"Marcel Breuer House Demolished on Long Island, Angering Preservationists," The New York Times, January 27, 2022.

"Overnight demolition of early Marcel Breuer house described as "the most significant loss in recent memory," Dezeen, January 28, 2022.

"Art Industry News: Critics Cry Foul After a Landowner Destroys the Long Island House That Made Marcel Breuer Famous," Artnet, January 28, 2022.

"After Nearly 60 Years, One of Marcel Breuer’s Last Mid Century Modern Homes Has Been Demolished," Architectural Digest, January 29, 2022.

"Important early work by Marcel Breuer on Long Island is demolished," Docomomo US/New York Tri-State, January 30, 2022.

"Iconic Marcel Breuer house on Long Island has been demolished," Domus, January 31, 2022.

"Architecturally-Important 1945 Modern Home In Lawrence Demolished," Patch, January 31, 2022.

""The destruction of Breuer's Geller house feels like the Penn Station moment for modern homes," Dezeen, February 4, 2022.

"Why Does the Demolition of a Marcel Breuer House Matter?" The New York Times, February 6, 2022.

"Marcel Breuer's first binuclear house was demolished," Sky Arte, February 7, 2022.

"Marcel Breuer's iconic binuclear house on Long Island is demolished," designboom, February 8, 2022.

"Marcel Breuer-designed Geller I and Preservation," ModernMass, February 8, 2022.