Separated from the mainland by the James River and Kanawha Canal, manmade Lock Island provides the picturesque setting for Richmond’s only International Style residence, which was completed in 1965. Remnants of a Civil War-era shot tower and the graves of three soldiers indicate the historic occupation of this site. Following their 1962 purchase of the 4.5-acre property from the C&O Railroad, Ambassador Walter Rice and his wife commissioned Richard Neutra and Thaddeus Longstreth to design the house on a precipice overlooking the canal’s stone locks constructed in 1854.
The island is accessed via a narrow bridge across the railroad and defunct canal; a cobblestone-lined road that winds around the hill gradually reveals the cantilevered house on the ridge. Asymmetrical geometries, white marble walls alternating with floor-to-ceiling windows, and panoramic views of the river characterize the 6000-square foot house. Though primarily orthogonal in elevation, the structure is rooted to the hill with massive boulders softening the transition to the native exposed rock bed. Neutra’s design incorporated private and public balconies that provide access to outdoor spaces comprised of rock and naturalistic vegetation. A cantilevered terrace was built to extend out over a rock-lined swimming pool while Neutra’s dramatic lighting accents both the house and the falls below.
Ambassador and Mrs. Rice donated the property to the Science Museum of Virginia in 1996 and three years later the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2011 the house and landscape were rehabilitated and the pool area was re-envisioned as an outdoor gathering space.