Philip Johnson's Glass House Opens to the Public

Medium-sized image unavailable for this photo.
The house, the centerpiece of an estate that Johnson
added to over the years, is a 56-foot-long box.

Credit: (Carol Highsmith)

Last month, a few quiet groups began arriving in New Canaan, Conn., to tour Philip Johnson's modernist home, the Glass House–the first official tours of the property in more than 50 years. On June 23, however, the Glass House will be anything but quiet. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, its new owner, will host an inaugural gala picnic, kicking off the official opening of the Glass House to the public.

Though the property has never been open for guided tours, Johnson often opened his doors to visitors, hosting special events, performances, and parties for hundreds of people. "I believe it was [architectural historian] Vincent Scully who said that Johnson and his partner [David] Whitney had America's longest-running salon," says Amy Grabowski, the Glass House's director of external affairs. "For the opening gala, we are specifically restaging a performance by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from a 1967 benefit at the Glass House that we unearthed in our archives. At that event, the Velvet Underground performed later in the evening."

Twenty-six different projects were completed to prepare for the opening, including replacing the roof of the Glass House and creating a museum shop. A "visitor experience center" was also organized in downtown New Canaan, where tourists can learn about Johnson's work and the history of the Glass House via a multimedia exhibition. Once visitors arrive at the Glass House site, they will walk a half-mile route around the 47-acre property, visiting the Glass House, its companion Brick House, and the painting and sculpture galleries.

Johnson donated his property to the Trust in 1986, and he and Whitney lived on and off in the house until Johnson died two years ago at the age of 98. (Whitney died a few months after Johnson and directed his estate to the Glass House endowment in order to help maintain the property.)

All proceeds from the inaugural events will go toward the purchase of four acres of land to the north of the 47-acre property to protect the view of the Connecticut countryside from development. Beginning this year, tours of the Glass House will run annually from April through October. To sign up for a tour, visit www.philipjohnsonglasshouse.org.

Read an excerpt from Paul Goldberger's magazine article about the Glass House >> 

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