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Modernist prefab gem begins its journey from New York to Palm Springs

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The Aluminaire House, rejected by NYC preservationists, has a home in California

Photo via WikiArcquitectura

The long, strange saga of the Aluminaire House is finally coming to a close—on the New York City side of things, anyway. After a lengthy debate over whether or not the all-metal prefab home would find a place in Queens—the answer is no, but we’ll get to that—its owners decided to move it to a much friendlier environment: Palm Springs, home to many other Modernist treasures.

And as of this week, the Aluminaire is on its way: the New York Post reports that the house, which had been sitting in a storage facility since 2012, started its journey from Long Island to California (to the tune of $15,000), where it will eventually be assembled on a site close to the Palm Springs Art Museum.

The 1931 Modernist home, designed by Albert Frey and A. Lawrence Kocher, was the subject of a heated fight between Queens preservationists and two architects several years ago. The architects, Michael Schwarting and Frances Campani, wanted to build a low-rise development in Sunnyside that would have included the Aluminaire as its centerpiece. “We thought it was a no-brainer,” Schwarting told the Post. “We thought it was absolutely the right place.”

The proposed site for the home was a former playground within the Sunnyside Gardens Historic District, meaning that the architects would need to secure Landmarks Preservation Commission approval before it could be put in place—and you can probably guess how that went. (More than 50 people testified at an LPC hearing about the house, most of them vehemently opposed to its placement in Queens.)

“This silver, modern, spaceship-looking edifice was going to be plopped down in the middle of our community,” City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer, whose district includes Sunnyside, told the Post. “Whether you like it aesthetically or not, it just didn’t belong there.”

According to the architects, though, the reason they chose Sunnyside was specifically because of its layout and its low-slung feel. As we previously reported, they “wanted a site within a low-rise, high-density New York neighborhood to showcase the building as it was originally intended, ‘an easily constructed, low cost, modern urban house prototype.’”

For even further proof that it would have been a contextual placement, both Aluminaire and Sunnyside Gardens were included in a 1932 exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art that showcased innovation in modern, affordable housing.

But NIMBYs are gonna NIMBY, and ultimately, the LPC ruled against placing the Aluminaire in Queens. That’s when Palm Springs stepped up, with the city’s mayor spearheading a campaign to raise $600,000 to transport and rebuild the home. While only about $150,000 of that has been raised so far, preservationists in Palm Springs are optimistic that they can restore the Modernist treasure to its former glory. “[New York’s] loss is our gain,” one of those folks told the Post. “Now it’s being appreciated.”