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Charles Zehnder

Charles Zehnder, Architect [1929-1985]

Charles (Charlie) Zehnder was [†] born in Newark, New Jersey in 1929 and enrolled in the architectural program at the University of Virginia (UVA), which was established and designed by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson's design work reportedly influenced Zehnder as a student, but his introduction to Frank Lloyd Wright had a profound impact on his architectural career. While studying at UVA, Zehnder entered a design contest judged by Wright and won the prize of dining with him. Wright's innovative abstract forms and organic design theories resonated with Zehnder, who later studied the geometric forms of concrete bunkers in Normandy. Zehnder possibly observed the bunkers while traveling through Europe in September 1951. He served in the Marine Corps from 1951 to 1952 during the Korean War and sailed from Genoa, Italy to New York City on the tourist vessel Atlantic from September 20-29, 1951.

Upon his return from military duty, Zehnder attended graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), earning a degree in industrial design in 1956. The following year, Zehnder visited Truro to help a friend build a house there and he subsequently relocated to the Outer Cape, settling in Wellfleet. In 1959, Zehnder established a design/build practice with fellow RISD graduate Alan P. Dodge who had moved to Provincetown to paint in the dunes. The same year, Zehnder and Dodge volunteered with a group of about 12 local carpenters in a project to provide the dune poet Harry Kemp with his own living quarters. Zehnder subsequently designed and built at least 40 houses, additions, and renovations between 1958 and his death in 1985. Dodge opened his own firm in Wellfleet in 1970 to pursue ideas for modular housing.

Zehnder completed more design commissions for Modern style residences on Outer Cape Cod than any other architect. He completed around 40 known residential commissions including the Zehnder/Rose ("Shoebox House" 1957), Zehnder/Richter (1957), Rault (ca. 1958), Franklin (1960), McMahon (1966), Glass (ca. 1970), Kugel (1970), Spitz (1974), Levin/Flaxman (ca. 1975), Goldman (1975-1977), and Baltzell (date unknown) houses; Frambolutti House and Studio (ca. 1965); and Simon House Addition (date unknown) in Wellfleet; the Katz House (ca. 1957), Elliot/Cornelia (1959), Francis (1960), Sprague (1962-1963), Dukess (1963), Becker (1963), Hopkins 1/Nenner (ca. 1965), Thron/Epstien (1965), Mack (1965), Cohen (1966), Bulowa (1967-1970), Topkis/Critchley (1968), Corey (1968-1969), Simon (1969-1970), Paul (1975-1976), Hopkins 2 (1976), Broedur (1977), Pasenen (1981), Wenders (1984), and Yeaston (date unknown) houses; Peretz (1958) and Sass houses and studios (1963/1976); Rothschild Studio (ca. 1983); and Edward Hopper House remodel (ca. 1978) in Truro; and the Wurtman House (1984-1985) in Provincetown. All of the houses display Zehnder's experimentation with architectural geometries and incorporation of elements intended to highlight or complement the surrounding landscape.

† Jenny Fields Scofield, AICP, Architectural Historian and Virginia H. Adams, Senior Architectural Historian, PAL, Peter Kugel House, Barnstable County, MA, nomination document, 2011, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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