547 BEACHCOMBER WALK
Architect: ANDREW GELLER, 1958-61 Restoration: LARSON and PAUL ARCHITECTS, 2006.
Before Harry Bates and Horace Gifford had even registered in the public’s imagination, Andrew Geller (1924-2011) began to turn Fire Island’s architecture on its head in 1958 with quirky and endearing beach houses that revealed “how far a little plywood and a lot of guts will take you.” By 1960, Geller had completed seven well-publicized homes across Fire Island but none in the architectural backwater of the Pines, where plentiful lots and a seemingly ideal audience awaited his imprint. That changed in 1961, when Rudy and Trudy Frank, an ice-cream executive and a painter, built a Geller-designed home on one of the highest dunes in the Pines. It was a refined composition, inspired by the truncated pyramids that the Franks had recently explored in Mexico. With panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Great South Bay, their house rose at the exact moment when Horace Gifford began to build a modest residence for himself a few hundred feet away. Soon, the Franks’ close friends Edwin Wittstein and Robert Miller decided they, too, wanted to be inspired rather than merely housed. The commission was Geller’s for the taking—that is, until the upstart Horace Gifford brazenly seduced Wittstein, thereby landing his first Fire Island clients. The well-connected couple soon referred Gifford to many other patrons, and a career was born. Andrew Geller never built another home in the Pines. Like a scene from All About Eve, Gifford stole Geller’s show.
The Franks rented their house in the Summer of 1971, only to discover that it had achieved immortality as the setting for the third act of Boys in the Sand. That might have been the climax of the story for a home that succumbed to the elements over the ensuing decades. Instead, a stunning and improbable comeback for the craggy ruin was engineered in 2006 by its new owner, Philip Monaghan. Larson and Paul Architects undertook a painstaking reconstruction that preserved the character of the home while adding modern conveniences like insulated windows, air conditioning, and a swimming pool. A relocated kitchen allowed for the creation of a third bedroom, while a new roof deck recovered water views that were lost as the forest canopy grew to surround the house. There is much to analyze and admire in this well-documented labor of love, but the most affecting artifact is a photo of an elderly Andrew Geller, admiring the resurrection of one of his finest creations.
1962 Photo: Courtesy Andrew Geller Archives. Film Stills: Courtesy Wakefield Poole. Andrew Geller Portrait: Newsday/Ken Spencer. New Photos: Tad Mike.