Atlantic Beach: Treehouse Over Spacecraft

by Tim Gilmore, 6/21/2015

When architect William Morgan’s designs don’t reflect natural shapes and contours, they reflect older human habitations that do. He’s built museums that echo Pre-Columbian terraced mounds and savings banks inspired by the ancient American Indian city of Cahokia in Illinois.

And he’s built homes in the form of treehouses, pyramids, and sand dunes.

Morgan’s 1983 Atlantic Beach Treehouse, at 1970 Beach Avenue, stands just westward of his 1982 Goodloe Townhouses, and offers a view of the ocean from behind but above the oceanfront townhomes.

Courtesy North Carolina Modernist at

Courtesy North Carolina Modernist at

For while the townhouses spread wide into the dunes like the spacecraft so much “mid-century modernist” architecture resembles, the Treehouse stands a third-story cube atop a two-story pyramid, with cedar siding amidst the palms that surround it, to offer an ocean view from the far side of Beach Avenue.

The Goodloe Townhouses look like a spaceship that planted itself in the dunes in the days when Hanna-Barbera broadcast The Jetsons to the nation, but like Morgan’s Dunehouses, they open upward into and out onto the beach and toward the sea.

Orbit City, where the Jetsons lived, courtesy The Jetsons Wiki at

Orbit City, where the Jetsons lived, courtesy The Jetsons Wiki at

But the Treehouse presents Beach Avenue its backside, making its presence even more inconspicuous than that of the Dunehouses. Still, its third-story open balcony outside the glass wall of the living room fulfills, in the words of architectural critic Paul Spreiregen, the concept of the treehouse as “one of mankind’s most ancient urges.”

courtesy North Caroline Modernist at

Courtesy North Caroline Modernist at

For it’s at least as possible to write postmodern neo-Romantic poetry, a libretto, or Southern Gothic psychogeography, while facing a winter sunset through the spinal fronds of a cabbage palm as it while baldly facing the ocean in a lawn chair between dunes.