“We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
History isn’t just words on the page of a textbook. It comes alive in North Carolina. And now, you can spend the night in a piece of history.
Originally built in 1947 by the U.S. Navy, this stunning home was first used for Operation Bumblebee. There were eight original missile towers. Only two are available to for vacationers to rent. And this is one of them.
The operation began in secret, but the U.S. Navy eventually gave the public the inside scoop. They sent out a press release to inform residents about the amazing rocket tests. They had already been testing and developing supersonic guided missiles for months.
The supersonic flights we have today were made possible through the controlled ramjet engine. These engines were tested and checked at the Operation Bumblebee towers.
One day in 1998, a Southern entrepreneur was cruising down Topsail Island’s South Shore Drive with his real estate agent. They were looking for the perfect piece of oceanfront real estate. The agent casually pointed out Tower Four, which had been on the market for a while. John West dismissed the idea quickly because it would take so much work, but the seed was planted.
Through the following weeks, John West couldn’t shake the thought. Turning Tower Four as a vacation rental would take an incredible amount of work. The lot was overgrown with shrubs and vines. The pillars and ceilings of the tower were still standing strong. Hurricane Hazel had destroyed so much of Topsail Island in 1954, but the tower remained, unfazed by 100+ mph winds.
Best of all, the location was fantastic. Oceanfront. Near the Surf City Swing Bridge. Breathtaking views. Close to Surf City and Hampstead. Wilmington was just a short drive away. It had it all. Except walls of course. But those could be built.
The history buff with a strong work ethic couldn’t ignore the captivating historical significance of the missile tower. This was just the sort of project to merge his passion for history with his love for Topsail Island.
A local guy, John West had moved inland for his career, but he couldn’t get the sound of the ocean out of his mind.
“You get Topsail in your bloodstream and it’s hard to get out. It’s just the best place to be,” John West explained. “It was the childhood family memories of Topsail Island that brought me back.”
John West set to work and quickly discovered the many challenges that would come with the investment. Turning a neglected piece of history into a relaxing vacation home was no easy task. Especially with the task of preserving the remaining elements and the look of the missile tower that once was.
The walls were long gone, but the corner pillars and ceilings were solid. Imagine installing light fixtures and such into a rock. A very tall, very solid rock. A rock full of rebar and chunks of granite.
“From day one, it was a difficult process. Projects like these always takes more time than planned and things come up that you never would anticipate,” he recalled.
But it was all worth it.
Among the pastel, siding covered beach retreats, Tower Four is easy to spot.
Deep brick red colored stucco.
Swaying palm trees.
Crisp, white trim that highlights the elevation and shape of the missile tower pillars.
And tall. It is so tall!
The integrity of the original silhouette was maintained handsomely, even through the incredible transformation.
The side entrance deposits you into a dining room. There are chairs and a table and everything, I promise….
But you won’t see them!
Because the jaw dropping view of the Atlantic Ocean will overwhelm all your senses.
Floor-to-ceiling glass doors and windows span across all three walls. The sound of crashing waves and the soul-quenching hum of the ocean plays in the room like sweet background music.
Enormous decks create a space to breath in the salty ocean air. A private beach entrance will lead you directly onto the sand. And at the end of a surf, tan, and sandcastle filled day, you can rinse the sea and sand away in a private, outdoor bathroom, complete with a bathtub and shower.
Sharing the dining room views, the living room and kitchen are equipped with everything you need to make yourself at home for a week. Near the kitchen is a vertical, spiral staircase, made of wood and iron.
Just like the original missile tower, the footprint of this dream vacation rental near Wilmington is vertical. That doesn’t leave space for traditional staircases, and the creativity John West employed to that challenge makes for a one-of-a-kind experience.
If the spiral stairs are too much for you to navigate, there is a second, wider entrance through a traditional staircase from the deck outside.
At the top of stairs is the master bedroom with all the amenities one would expect from a vacation home, like a king size bed, Jacuzzi tub and towel warmers. The ocean will beckon you through the glass doors and onto the deck.
The history buffs in the group will want to scale right up the captain’s ladder that’s perched near the window in the master bedroom. It leads to an enticing little cupola at the top of the tower. On the floor is an original brass stamp that reads, “1947 – Tower Four.”
Glass panes embedded in the ceiling for stargazing create an unforgettable space.
From an old missile tower without walls, Tower Four has been transformed to a delightful three bedroom, three bathroom, oceanfront vacation home.
Beach lovers, surfers, paddle boarders, and those who love an ocean sunrise will argue that the location is the most exciting feature, while those with a passion for antiquity will argue the structure itself is the most exciting aspect.
Scandinavian House | NC Modernist Houses | B+O Design
Written By: Scott Ogden
“Architects live and die by the images taken of their work; as these images alone are what people see. For every one person who visits a private house, there may be ten thousand who only view it as a photo.”
-Julius Shulman, father of modern architectural photography in LA throughout the 40’s to the 80’s.
This sentiment couldn’t be more true with Pinterest, Houzz, and design blogs and plan websites as the prime way many people ‘shop’ for home ideas, be they full residential designs, spatial ideas, new materials/colors, or objects such as furniture, appliances or lighting.
Many of Shulman’s images are the reason that architects like Charles & Ray Eames, Richard Neutra, Rudolf Schindler, Pierre Koenig and others became household names after WWII. There’s a great documentary about him; (Visual Acoustics; The Modernism of Julius Shulman– which is available on AmazonPrime and sometimes shows on PBS and Sundance Channel) http://www.juliusshulmanfilm.com/
In eleven or so years here in Wilmington, our office, B + O design studio, has developed a specialty of designing custom, contemporary, ‘green’ houses and buildings. As an architect and landscape architecture firm on the coast, we get to work on some wonderful, unique sites and neighborhoods in North Carolina. These are one-off, special residential buildings that need some planning and thoughtfulness in terms of capturing those photos that take it from the owner’s day-to-day, intimate use and understanding to sharing as spaces that communicate & encourage others to think ‘outside the box’- even if it is in actuality still a rectangular volume.
It’s also fun to document the process. Working with an architect is much different from that of a design/build/development or buying stock home plans; the process creates the product and each result is as different as the specific site and the arrangement of rooms & spaces of the program. This image is a GIF of an early rough perspective rendering of the house, bled into the house as finished.
Shulman had the luxury of LA’s mountains & Palm Springs deserts for the contrast of houses with clean lines to jagged mountains, exotic landscapes & sandy vistas. We’re in a flat relatively urbanized coastal plain with less distinctive natural topography, but when the subject, a simple grey & white box (that’s been nicknamed the ‘Scandinavian House’) is juxtaposed to the surroundings, the uniqueness of the architecture can stand out. Given that Wrightsville Beach is known for simple salt-box & mid-Atlantic vernacular forms, having the two adjacent houses in this shot shows contrast and difference at all levels. Windows (black vs. white), (big vs. single), trim (none vs picture framing), siding (lines/texture vs. flatness), accent color (grey vs white), Roof (flat vs. pitched), etcetera.