1958 The Frank house. 1970 Boys in the Sand house.
Frank House designed by Andrew Geller Fire Island Pines, Fire Island, NY, 1958 Geller was inspired by the Franks’ pictures of the Mayan Ruins at Uxmal, Mexico to design this glazed pyramid, set among the rolling sand dunes of Ocean Bay Park. The result is a house with panoramic views of the Atlantic ocean and the Great South Bay.
Rudolph “Rudy” Frank was a German émigré who managed an ice cream company in Astoria, Queens, and was the inventor of something called “Diced Cream.” His wife, Trudy, was a free-lance fashion illustrator and artist. They lived in New York and went out to Fire Island on the weekends. They had also had seen John Callahan’s article in the Times about the Reese House and asked Geller do design a house. They were not convinced by Geller’s first proposal, and asked him to rework it. The Frank’s had gone on vacation to Mexico and visited the Mayan ruins at Uxmal and Chichen Itza. They fell in love with the ancient stones and showed Geller their snapshots of the temples and the great stepped pyramid. “Andy looked and listened to all this—he’s a good listener,” recalled Rudy Frank. Inspired by the ruins, perhaps, Geller came up with something thoroughly modern but with ancient undertones in its battered, inward-sloping walls. “A month later he came back with this design,” said Frank. “We didn’t have to make a single change.” The seemingly incongruous link between Mayan temples and Twentieth Century beach houses may have seemed arbitrary, but both are dedicated to the worship of the sun in one form or another.
The Frank House was built on top of one of the highest sand hills along the beach, floating amid the stunted pines and with panoramic views of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Great South Bay. There were wide decks on three sides of the house; Geller included a catwalk that crossed the open living area and penetrated the all-glass facade. It then cantilevered 12 feet out from the front of the house like a pulpit. Trudy Frank would often lie there and take sun baths. The Franks rented their house out one summer and later learned that it had been used for the making of a gay porn film called Boys in the Sand, which apparently became a classic of the genre. The house was as much the star as was Cal Culver below.
Cal Culver in the Pines harbor for filming.
Geller also designed most of the furnishings for the Frank House, including couches and beds that were made out of stock plumbing pipes and lumber. “Andy quoted me a price of $14,850 and when the house was finished it came in at exactly the amount he had quoted–To the dollar,” said Frank. The only problem was a spiral staircase that lead from the living room up to the master bedroom. There weren’t any prefabricated spiral staircases on the market yet and it proved to be something of a struggle to build the thing from scratch. The Frank House was featured in a full-page spread in the 7 July 1961 issue of Life magazine.
When Philip Monaghan spotted the Frank house in the Fire Island Pines during a walk one day, it wasn’t love at first sight.“The house was very neglected when I found it,” he says. “It was structurally unsound and needed to be attended to immediately.” Then, he discovered it had been featured in an architectural book about vacation homes on Long Island. Later, he got the home’s plans from its original owners, Rudolph and Trudy Frank, and found a 1961 copy of a Life Magazine that had featured it. “I was completely swept away with the concept of how the house could look again,” he says. A three-year restoration project returned it to its former glory. At its completion in 2007, the owner invited Geller for a visit, and he is quoted in a Newsday article saying, “It looks better than it ever did.”Mayan pyramids inspired the house’s slanted surfaces, says Monaghan, noting that the home’s original owners, the Frank family, visited the pyramids in Mexico on vacation. Some doubted the design would ever work structurally.
“There were bets among Fire Island residents as to how long before it fell down,” Geller told him. He also said that the primary function of home was “comfort,” a concept with which Monaghan diplomatically disagrees. “One doesn’t really think of comfort with a 28-foot living room lined with glass,” he says. “The feeling I get is exhilaration.” The home’s glass exposure makes it a toasty “terrarium” on sunny, winter days, he says. Of course, in summer, he has to counter the effect with drawn curtains and air-conditioning. Monaghan says he particularly enjoys the deck on top with its panoramic ocean views.
“It’s heaven up there,” he says. “It’s really a lovely place to entertain and live.”
Architect Andrew Geller revisits his design.
547 Beachcomber Walk.
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