Saturday, February 24, 2007

Raleigh Modern: Catalano House

Not all mid-century modern houses in Raleigh have fared as well as the Fadum House. Without a doubt, the most serious loss has been the Catalano House, demolished six years ago.

patio view

How could that have happened? Mid-century modern fan George Smart of Durham wanted to know, and so he investigated. Here's his report.

1954 - Eduardo Catalano House, perhaps the coolest house ever designed in North Carolina. 1467 Ridge Road, Raleigh.

Catalano, an Argentinian architect who taught at NCSU's School of Design, drew this 1700 sf home for himself but only lived there a few years. The design was highly publicized as the "House of the Decade" by House and Home magazine in the 1950s and was praised by the rarely praising Frank Lloyd Wright. As with most modernist houses in Raleigh, it was built by Frank Walser. The Catalano House was sometimes referred to as the "Potato Chip" house because of the swooping hyperbolic paraboloid roof.

Catalano sold it to engineer Ezra Meir and his wife Violet in September of 1957. The Meirs sold it to William and Bettie Hinnant in December of 1966. The Hinnants sold it to Raleigh attorney Arch E. Lynch, Jr. in May of 1978. Lynch lived there until approximately 1996. From 1996 to 2001, the house was unoccupied. Vandals, storms, lack of heat, and neglect made the house rapidly deteriorate. The roof rotted in sections over time. It would have taken tens of thousands of dollars to repair, if repair were even possible. Eventually the damage was too extensive to repair.

Preservation North Carolina bought an option on the house and tried unsuccessfully to sell it for $360,000 to anyone who would rebuild the same design. Lynch sold it to JBar Associates in March of 2001. The house was destroyed later that year. JBar, owned by Andrew Rothschild and Jonathan Bluestone, have since built two large houses on the property.

Shortly after its destruction, Catalano lobbied to have just the roof rebuilt on the grounds of the NC Museum of Art, which they declined. In early 2005, he proposed a gift of $1.5M rebuild the roof as part of a central campus Pavilion plan but strong faculty opposition caused him to withdraw, despite the fact NCSU hired an architectural firm to evaluate seven other alternative sites.

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