The Mushroom House: A Peek at Perinton’s Crown Jewel

The Mushroom House: A Peek at Perinton’s Crown Jewel

Photography and text by George Cassidy Payne

One of my all-time favorite coffee table books is 200 Years of Rochester Architecture and Gardens (2006), published by the Landmark Society of Western New York. I’ve visited many of these buildings and gardens first hand, but there is one house that I have always wanted to check out that I just kept putting off. Well, the wait is over. This past weekend, I finally made my way to Powder Mills Park in Perinton, NY, and the structure popularly referred to as the Mushroom House.

Next to a city with buildings designed by world-famous architects such as Frank L. Wright, Louis Kahn, Claude Bragdon, McKim, Mead & White, J. Foster Warner, Harvey Ellis, Gervase Wheeler, and Robert Gibson, the Mushroom House (1971) is the most unusual and visually striking structure in the Greater Rochester region. As Richard Reisem, author of 200 Years of Rochester Architecture and Gardens, wrote: “The owners wanted an imaginative, contemporary look in a single-level structure. Because “the steep hills and ravine on the site didn’t lend themselves to a single level, local architect James H. Johnson devised a stem-and pod design, inspired by Queen Ann’s lace growing wild on the site.” Apparently, Johnson’s primary goal was to have the building stand over the ravine and blend naturally with the landscape. It was not his original intention to create something that resembled fungi or a spacecraft (which it most certainly does).

Having known about the Mushroom House for over 20 years, and now having seen it up close for the first time, I find it a little surprising that the owners did not envision a house that looked this way when they started. That reveals much about their personalities, the implicit trust they had in Johnson as the principal designer, and the remarkable outcomes which can happen in architecture when the environment necessitates the shape and function of the structure. The Mushroom House may not match Wright’s Boynton House in elegance, but the master would be pleased with Johnson’s devotion to the organic approach.

Although I wanted to get closer, I resisted the temptation to peer in the windows of this now for rental property. But I have seen online that the organic approach continues inside with tree-like forms rising and branching out from the center of the five pods. It has three bedrooms, three baths, a spa, a great room, a three-car garage, and a waterfall. At $5,500 a month, I am sure that it is a steal for someone with far deeper pockets than I will ever wear. Too bad, I thought to myself, the county could not find the cash to make it part of the park in which it so creatively inhabits. I am hardly the first person that has imagined the Mushroom House as a museum, conference center, wedding reception site, or public attraction.


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About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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