Ball House


Philip Johnson


1953


Description

Although field survey was not conducted on the Ball House, examining the exterior of the house from a public way combined with a study of the original drawings provided information about the house's original appearance. In the tradition of Mies van de Rohe's courtyard homes, Philip Johnson designed the Ball House as a modest one-story, two-bedroom home with an offset axial plan, a flat roof, symmetrically arranged terraces with slate paving, and pink stucco wall surfaces relieved by linearly grouped and symmetrically arranged painted entrance ensembles. The entrance ensembles included fixed plate glass windows, glazed narrow-stile doors, fixed or operable transom windows, and screen doors with bronze rails. Skylights above the hall and kitchen provided additional light to interior spaces. A stucco finish chimney projected approximately 3' from the east end of the north facade.

The indoor spaces were constrained by a relatively small rectangular plan measuring 57' north-to-south and only 24' east-to-west on the approximately 2.2-acre site. The off-set axial plan becomes evident when the 18' x10' entry terrace at the north end of the west elevation and the 18' x10' backyard terrace (directly opposite the entry terrace off of the east elevation) are considered with the rectangular form of the indoor spaces. A tall, stucco finish garden wall, sited 6' to the west of the west elevation, stretches approximately 70' to the south, where it returns 14' to the east to screen the bedroom wing from the adjacent parking area. The low profile and grounded appearance of the house communicates well with the low-lying nature of the site, largely a wetland.

The original layout of the first floor included an open living/dining room at the north end of the house; a kitchen to the south of the entry doors, separated from the living/dining area by built-in cabinetry (designed by Johnson); and two bedrooms and a bathroom. The north wall in the living/dining room has a large fireplace with a soapstone surrounding mantel which floats approximately two feet above the floor line. The floors were finished with slate pavers, which along with the floor-to-ceiling glass, reduced the distinction between exterior and interior spaces.


Significance

Alice Ball purchased the property from John Mulliken for $7,000 in 1952. It appears that Mulliken subdivided a larger parcel and sold the portion fronting the street to Alice Ball, retaining the adjacent land to the north and east. By early 1953, Ball commissioned Philip Johnson to design a small house for the site. Johnson's drawings for a "Residence for Mrs. Alice Ball" are dated February 1953, and were revised in June and July 1953 (Johnson, "Residence for Mrs. Alice Ball," February 1953). A 1951 article about Johnson's Hodgson House (1951), mentions that his next project would be a "'pink palace' with a hanging fireplace," most certainly referring to the Ball House (New York Times, 6 May 1951). The assessor records describe the Ball House as a "Modern" one-story, single-family residence.

The 1954 and 1955 town directories do not list the Ball House, but this could simply be because no one was home during the neighborhood canvass. The 1956 directory lists "Mary C. Ball" as residing at the house and running a clothing store called "The Wharf" at 75 Elm Street. In the 1957 directory, "Mrs. Hougen Ball" is listed as living at the house with two grown children: Mary T. Ball, who still owned "The Wharf," and James, who was in the U.S. Air Force. Mrs. Hougen Ball was presumably Alice Ball. She is not listed as a widow in the directories, so it is unclear if she was divorced or widowed.

In 1959, the assessment on the land was reduced by 20% because the lot was "low & wet" with "cattails in rear." In 1960, the property was purchased by F. Jay Ward, Jr., et. al. A garage was constructed on the property in 1962. In 1965, the house was sold to Margaret Mary Ward (no apparent relation to F. Jay Ward, Jr.), the wife of Commodore Sir Melville Ward, Baronet. In 1969, Marjorie K. Macrae purchased the property. In 1977, Janet T. Phypers acquired the property. On July 20, 1977, a permit was filed to convert an existing room in the garage into a bedroom and bathroom for $9,000; this work was completed in 1978. It also appears that the bathroom addition off of the master bedroom was constructed between 1969 and 1977. In 2005, current owner Cristina A. Ross purchased the house. Ross completed some restoration work on the building in 2007.


National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2009.