Palm Beach Modern Wins Time

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Alfred Parker, who designed the Manus House in 1960, has offered to design an addition, hoping to prevent its destruction.

Credit: University of Florida

A midcentury modern masterpiece in Palm Beach, Fla., was granted a brief respite last month. The owner of the Manus House, built for Adele and Allen Manus in 1960, wants to demolish the two-story structure for a new house. Instead, on June 18, the city's landmarks preservation commission voted to consider the property for landmarking.

The move means that owner Peter Cohen cannot demolish the Manus House until the commission gives its recommendation for landmarking in November at a public hearing. On June 20, Cohen appealed to the town council to reject the commission's move.

The concrete-and-glass house was designed by celebrated architect Alfred Browning Parker, 91, who said at the time that he built it to "last at least several hundred years." According to John Ripley, executive director of the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach, the house meets local building codes and is in "terrific condition."

The house was made with quality materials, says Jane Day, preservation consultant for the town of Palm Beach. "In an age where we are worried about hurricanes and sustainability, that's really important," notes Day. "The family has lived there for 30 years. Maybe they have just taken for granted what a wonderful house this is," Day says.

Parker, who was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, used mahogany and marble to furnish its interior. As the last Parker design in town, the 48-year old Manus House has been presented to the town council for landmark designation before but has yet to acquire immunity from demolition.

Carl Shiver, historic preservationist at the Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation, believes the issue boils down to property rights. "People own property, and as long as they want to demolish, they can. If the city wants to prevent that, they need to give a good reason."

The architect, Parker, hopes to hash out a compromise with the property owner, according to Day. He has offered to co-design any addition to be made to the property with Cohen's architect.

"The structure at least must be documented for posterity and is eligible for listing as a Palm Beach landmark and the State of Florida Master Site File," Mark Tarmey, president of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, said in a June 29 letter to the editor of the Palm Beach Daily News.

 

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