Fire Island Pines off Long Island may not be many people’s first port of call as a source for midcentury modern dwellings, but for New York-based architect Christopher Rawlins, it is exactly that. Known as a summer getaway popular among New York’s gay community, Fire Island Pines’s architectural heritage is now accessible via the website Pines Modern’s audiovisual tours.
The tours also explore the island’s social and cultural history as a “safe space” and a premier resort for tastemakers in the 1960s and 70s. As the website says, “AIDS took a terrible toll on the population here, which in turn led to a “dark age” in which so much history and culture was lost. Pines Modern is a non-profit endeavor dedicated to the rediscovery of all that the Pines has created, particularly its mid-century architectural and cultural heritage. These are assets that, properly nourished, will ensure that the Pines remains a meaningful and relevant destination for generations to come.”
635 Fire Island Boulevard, an early Horace Gifford house was recently purchased by Charles Renfro. (Courtesy Tom Sibley)
Pines Modern President Christopher Rawlins spoke to The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) about his relationship to the island, its architectural scene, and why he created the website. “My book, Fire Island Modernist: Horace Gifford and the Architecture of Seduction, gave Fire Island’s most prolific modernist his due,” said Rawlins. Fire Island Modernist focuses on the architect Horace Gifford—who died from AIDS in 1992—and how homosexual liberation was portrayed through architecture. “The guided midcentury house tours that I lead broadened the cast of characters but serve a limited audience,” continued Rawlins to AN. “Pines Modern’s website is intended as the most accessible platform yet to share my research, and will hopefully serve as a model for other communities with a rich architectural legacy.”
122 Ocean Walk was designed by Gifford in 1970 and is where the Pines Modern launch party will be held on Labor Day weekend. (Courtesy Michael Weber)
“On my initial motivations: The architecture of the Pines combines my interests in modernism and LGBT history, and the homes are intimately linked to the Stonewall generation that built them. The diminutive proportions of these houses—abetted by the ravages of nature on this glorified sandbar—often mark them as tear-downs. Meanwhile, the loss of most of these architects, and their audience, during the AIDS crisis has ironically conspired with recent civil rights triumphs to threaten Fire Island’s relevance. As it becomes safer for gay people to venture to any number of leisure destinations, my hope is that Fire Island Pines retains its status as a homeland and a rite of passage, a place where one finds community and a connection to LGBT history. We cannot bring back a lost generation, but we can preserve their most salient artifacts and the environment in which they flourished.”
You can access the website here.