632 FIRE ISLAND BLVD
Architect: JAMES MCLEOD, c. 1970.
632 Fire Island Boulevard does not nestle into so much as command the landscape from its monolithic plinth. Mel Blake, a dentist, and Frank Purnell, a radiologist, commissioned a home with a “super neutral” color palette for their prestigious modern art collection. Two structures connected by a breezeway formed an acropolis anchored by a swimming pool, its latter-day agora. Colonnades shielded art from the sun’s rays, while their curved silhouettes echoed the window profiles of their much-loved apartment at I. M. Pei’s Kips Bay Towers. It is one of two Fire Island Pines homes by James McCleod, who also designed Jerry Herman’s home. Constructed around 1970, its minimalist detailing does not entirely disguise neoclassical yearnings, at the same time that high-profile projects like Lincoln Center and the World Trade Center affected similar manners.
The stoic repose of the architecture stood in marked contrast to a measure of decadence that would have made the Romans blush. Boys in the Sand’s second act was filmed here, while its real-life owners gave the escapades depicted in the film a run for their money. Platters of Quaaludes studded their parties. The pool had a strictly enforced no-swimsuit policy. A sitting room at the northeast corner of the home functioned as an ad-hoc erotic film studio. In its alchemical mix of exquisite artistry and hedonistic abandon, 632 Fire Island Boulevard stands today as a monument to the Pines in all of its post-Stonewall glory.
Interiors: Otto Baitz. Exteriors: Edith Reichmann. Stills: Courtesy Wakefield Poole. Drawing: Claudio Bravo, Courtesy MFA Boston.