Henry Klumb House

World Monuments Watch
San Juan, Puerto Rico

2014 World Monuments Watch

The Henry Klumb House is a significant example of modern movement architecture in the Caribbean. Renowned German-born architect Henry Klumb, a former student and chief draftsman of Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the home for himself after he settled in Puerto Rico in 1944 at the behest of Governor Rexford Tugwell. Puerto Rico was the backdrop for some of Klumb’s greatest accomplishments, including many important public works and his private practice.

For his own dwelling, the architect modified a typical nineteenth-century hacienda, codifying his philosophy of architecture and his ideas regarding modern tropical living. Klumb removed most of the outer walls, opening the house and creating a direct relationship between interior and exterior. In the surrounding landscape, a lush oasis within a dense urban environment, Klumb created a private botanical garden that protected the living space from direct sun and rain.

Following Klumb’s death in 1984, the site was purchased by the University of Puerto Rico and used sporadically for several years. The house and grounds were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, yet, after a hurricane in 1998 destroyed the kitchen and damaged the roof, the house was only minimally maintained. As a result, it has suffered significant deterioration and requires urgent conservation measures. It was included on the 2014 World Monuments Watch in order to encourage the development of a comprehensive plan for its rehabilitation that would lay out measures for sustainable protection and maintenance through physical repair and a viable programmatic use.

Watch Day

The Henry Klumb House Watch Day was celebrated in September 2014 at the University of Puerto Rico’s Student Center, which was one of Klumb’s designs. Earlier in the year, local artists had spent a day at the Klumb House before creating work inspired by the house and gardens. Their work, collectively exhibited as "La casa en ti y en mi," opened on Watch Day. The pieces of the exhibit were put up for sale in order to raise funds for the preservation of the building. Over a hundred people came to the event, including university students and professors, fellow artists, collectors, and neighbors. Visit our Facebook page to see photos from the Henry Klumb Watch Day.

Since the Watch

In January 2014, the chancellor of the University of Puerto Rico established the Comité Casa Klumb, a permanent interdisciplinary task group that would coordinate the rehabilitation of the house and grounds. Since then the committee has coordinated several public events at the site to increase awareness of its value, including a “rake-off” where students helped clear the fallen branches around the house and a botany event where experts began to catalogue the variety of plant species throughout the 7-acre grounds. Sadly, in March 2014 the house was looted of its metal components including wiring, jalousies, and sections of the roof. The theft is the first in over twenty years and underlines the need to rehabilitate the site for continuous use.

2020 Fire 

On the night of November 10, 2020, a fire broke out that destroyed the historic house. The loss of this important example of Caribbean modernism is another reminder of the vulnerability of our cultural heritage to fire. For more information on safeguarding heritage places from fire damage, visit our fire protection resources page.

Last updated: June 2023.

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