Philip Johnson’s Rockefeller Guest House, a ‘secret’ modernist gem on Manhattan’s east side

Posted On Thu, March 23, 2017 By

Posted On Thu, March 23, 2017 By In Historic Homes, Starchitecture, Turtle Bay

Screen cap via NYT

Just down the street from the now-closed modernist treasure trove and icon that was the Four Seasons in Manhattan’s east 50s is a lesser-known architectural treasure. Philip Johnson’s 1950 Rockefeller Guest House is one of a handful of private residences the architect designed for New York City clients. The house is a designated historic and architectural landmark, but a subtle one that’s easily missed on the quiet street–as the New York Times puts it, “the house doesn’t give up its secrets easily.” Once you spot the home’s brick-and-glass facade, though, it’s hard not to be enthralled.


The most amazing thing, perhaps, is that the diminutive building is virtually unchanged since it was constructed in 1950. It’s the best preserved of Johnson’s New York contributions. Inside, the minimalist house has displayed some of the 20th century art world’s most important works.

Begun in 1949, the house was commissioned by Blanchette Ferry Hooker Rockefeller, wife of oil scion John D. Rockefeller III and passionate modern art collector, as a sort of auxiliary home gallery for her impressive rotating collection–a mini-MoMA if you will–that included works by Willem de Kooning, Clyfford Still, Alberto Giacometti and Robert Motherwell among many others. Blanchette Rockefeller was an active MoMA member as well, and she used the home as a space to entertain collectors, dealers and artists in the Turtle Bay neighborhood that was home to art world luminaries like Peggy Guggenheim and Max Ernst and the location of Andy Warhol’s factory in the 1960s. She built the home designed by the young architect on a 25-by-100-foot plot of land between her Beekman Place apartment and MoMA for $64,000.

Details like steel framed glass walls, tiled floors with radiant heat and a huge sculptural fireplace would be just as highly treasured in a custom home today; the glass-walled pond with its fountain and path of large stones “like stylized lily pads” is more rare.

Blanchette Rockefeller donated the Guest House to MoMA in 1958; the museum resold it shortly thereafter. In 1971, Johnson himself rented the home and lived there for the next eight years with his partner, art dealer David Whitney, dining daily at the nearby Four Seasons (whose design was a collaborative effort of Johnson and Mies van der Rohe). His own art collection and art-world soirees were as legendary as those of its first owner. The house was last sold in 2000 for $11.16 million to an unnamed buyer; that price per square foot set a New York real estate record.

[Via NYT]

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