Charles (“Charlie”) Zehnder’s father was a successful physician with an office in Newark, New Jersey. Charlie attended the University of Virginia, where he spent one long evening with a group of other students and Frank Lloyd Wright, an event that had a lifelong impact.
He received a degree in industrial design from The Rhode Island School of Design and, immediately after leaving the Marine Corps in 1957, came to the Cape to help his friend, Ray Brock, build a house in Truro. Settling into Wellfleet, he bought some land on the bayside and started an architectural practice which ultimately produced over forty highly original houses, all on the Outer Cape. He also was one of the prime movers behind building the local drive-in movie theater on what was once an asparagus field.
Zehnder creatively cross-pollinated with the prominent Modernists who had settled in Wellfleet before him while maintaining his own maverick approach to architecture. He was influenced by Wright and Thomas Jefferson (both as an architect and inventor), and by the geometric, concrete bunker fortifications at Normandy. His restless experimen-tation with geometries and materials led to a body of work, remarkable for its intimate relationship with the Cape’s terrain, climate and lifestyle of informal creativity. Most of his clients were artists and writers and many became lasting, close friends.
If he had money he would often buy a car on the spot, and sometimes give it away, just as spontan-eously, to someone who needed it. Charlie loved cars, boats and aero planes, saying that they were designed honestly.
He died in an accident in Wellfleet in 1985.
the Outer Cape
Zehnder / Richter House, Wellfleet, 1957 (moved to Truro)
Katz House, Truro,
Rault House Compound (with Alan Dodge), Wellfleet, circa 1958
Jane Andrews / Peretz Studio (with Alan Dodge), Truro, 1958
Elliot / Cornelia House (demolished), Truro, 1959
Franklin House (with Alan Dodge), Wellfleet, 1960
Francis House (demolished), Truro, 1960
Sprague House, (demonstration house), Truro, 1962-63
Dukess House, Truro, 1963
Becker House, Truro, 1963
Sass House and Studio,
Frambolutti House and Studio, Wellfleet, circa 1965
Hopkins House #1 / Nenner, Truro, circa 1965
Thron / Epstien House, Truro, 1965
Mack House, Truro, 1965
Cohen House, Truro, 1966
McMahon House, Wellfleet, 1966
Bulowa House, Truro,
Glass House, Wellfleet,
Topkis /Critchley House, Truro,1968
Corey House, Truro, 1968-69
Norma Simon House, Truro, 1969-70
Spitz House, Wellfleet, 1974
Paul House, Truro, 1975-76
Levin / Flaxman House, Wellfleet, circa 1975
Goldman House, Wellfleet, 1975-77
Hopkins House 2, Truro, 1976
Edward Hopper House, remodel, Truro, circa 1978
Rothschild, Studio, Truro, circa 1983
Wenders House, Truro, 1984
Wurtman House (with Alan Dodge), Provincetown,
Simon Addition, Wellfleet, Date unknown
Yeaston House, Truro,
The Kugel / Gips House reflects Zehnder’s fascination with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Its corners dematerialize though butt-glazed windows, horizontal planes are emphasized and long cantilevered decks and roof overhangs project the living spaces out into the landscape. It demonstrates Zehnder’s skill for inhabiting a site without overwhelming it.