556 OCEAN WALK
Architect: HORACE GIFFORD, 1969.
Although it has been significantly altered, 556 Ocean Walk’s double-height interior and beachfront façade are still intact.
No one embodied the Stonewall-era pulse of the Pines more than Stuart Roeder, a Warner Brothers PR man who never lacked for friends or lovers. He purchased a cottage at the western edge of the Pines, enlisting Horace Gifford for its transformation. Lunch for 40 was a common occurrence, sprinkled with famous film directors and fashion’s leading lights. There was no shortage of party favors. During one well-stocked party, roasting birds were briefly reanimated when an exploding oven expelled a shower of quail over the astonished crowd.
Gifford sheathed a dowdy square cottage in a dynamic diagonal wrap that gyrated towards the Meat Rack. Form followed foreplay in the Makeout Loft. Lined in sheepskin with angled edges for bodies in repose, this high perch for base desires surveyed the psychedelic swirl of the conversation pit below. Sunlight passed through circular skylights onto a curved wall, creating a trippy light show of ovoid shapes. Preceding even Boys in the Sand, the art-house porn director Peter de Rome filmed Fire Island Kids at the Roeder House in 1970.
House Beautiful approached the home delicately. “A fur-lined loft? Sure, for this is a beach house with an owner who’s enormously GREGARIOUS.”
In that same House Beautiful article, Gifford held forth on the home’s architectural virtues, describing the rakish geometries as “view lines that tell you where to look from inside.” He continued, “People don’t walk smack up to the front door like so many cottages out here. Instead, we’re turning people, bringing them in, introducing them to the interesting design forms of the house in a very deliberate way.”
The abstract, sculptural gestures of the Roeder House and subsequent designs revealed an affinity with the Brutalist movement shaped by architects like Paul Rudolph. But Gifford skillfully channeled the ponderous concrete forms of Brutalism into light and lyrical wooden structures. Dancing across the sand like divinely inspired driftwood, these houses echoed the fluidity of the cultural revolution that they housed.
This house is featured in Fire Island Modernist: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction.
Photos: Horace Gifford, House Beautiful/Howard Graff. Film Stills: Peter de Rome, Fire Island Kids