Someone asked me a few years ago about a dwelling called "The Telephone Pole House" in Greenwich. He wanted to know if the house still existed and where it was located. So I began to research it.
One of my favorite research tools is "Building Greenwich: Architecture and Design, 1640 to Present" (2005) by Rachel Carley, who was commissioned by the Greenwich Historical Society to write an updated history of the town. I'm proud to say she was able to use many of our Local History resources to complete her book. Ms. Carley included a short paragraph and a photo of the Telephone Pole House, which was built in 1968, for Mr. and Mrs. Chase Ritts.
I also found an article by Stepen Mahones online from the February 2, 1968, issue of Life magazine. The Ritts family moved to Greenwich after having moved around the country for years. The town was ideal since it was only 45-minutes away from New York City. They wanted to build a house that would give them "roots". Mrs. Ritts wanted a structure that was warm, rustic and mysterious. To this end, they hired well-known architect John Johansen.
Johansen was born in Manhattan in 1916, and was the son of a well-known painter. He attended Harvard, and was one of the "Harvard Five" architects, who settled in New Canaan. As a proponent of the Modern Movement, he incorporated bold lines in his architecture. Mrs. Ritts wanted a house that would fit in with a rustic environment. When she showed him one particular 4-acre plot overlooking the Greenwich Horseneck Brook on Rapids Lane, Johansen practically chose the site himself. He envisioned a "Viking effect", a pop art-type of structure in an Andy Warhol style. He wanted to incorporate direction, velociy and power. Mrs. Ritts suggested using telephone poles to give it a natural effect that fit in with the surrounding oak and hemlock woodlands.
The telephone poles were shipped from Oregon. They were 16-inches in diameter and 4-feet in circumference. One source stated that 150 poles were used. Another source reported 104 poles 40-feet long were used. Only one pole a day was installed due to the intricate placement. A Scandinavian shipbuilder was hired to notch out the poles for a proper fit. Heavy, protruding bolts were used to connect the poles, and electrical wiring was (unattractively) visibly exposed. There was a lot of shifting and positioning involved, creating sharp angles. The poles were neither horizontal nor vertical. This design gave an impression of lines going on forever. Despite the installation of heavy glass, the unusual design offered great privacy. Each level was considered a "platform" instead of a floor. Massive telephone poles held up the heavy wooden roof. The structure was reinforced with fieldstone and concrete. There were several hearths and fireplaces to give the structure that warm feeling Mrs. Ritts sought for her home. The final result was a structure with 6 different levels and 14 stairways. It was called "The Palace of Poles" and "The Tree House".
According to The Grand List tax records of Greenwich, the Ritts were listed as property owners of over 4 acres (on the west side of Rapids Lane off Lake Avenue) as early as 1964. A dwelling is listed in 1968. The Ritts family is listed as owners until 1998, when a new family bought the property. Ms. Carley stated in her book that the house no longer exits. I don't know if this building is still standing, or was demolished to construct another structure. if anyone has any further information, I would welcome your comments.
SOURCE: Mahoney, S.; Palace of Poles; Life Magazine, Vol. 64, No. 5; Page 73; Accessed on 6/7/2013 at: