The Rice House was designed by architect Richard Neutra in the mid 1960s for Ambassador Walter and Inger Rice. It is the only example of International Style architecture in Richmond. (Ansel Olson photo)
One of Richmond’s most architecturally significant homes has quietly changed hands. The Science Museum of Virginia has sold the Rice House to Christine and David Cottrell for $2 million.
Designed by modernist architect Richard Neutra for Ambassador Walter and Inger Rice in the mid-1960s, the 5,417-square-foot house sits 110-feet above the north bank of the James River on the private Lock Island. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1999, the Rice House is the only example of International Style architecture in Richmond.
The Rices donated the house and the 18 acres it sits upon to the Science Museum of Virginia Foundation in 1996. Other land that was donated at the time was sold, and the proceeds were put into a $1.5. million endowment to maintain the house. Mrs. Rice continued living in the house until 2007, when she turned it over to the museum. The Rices’ original agreement with the Science Museum stipulated that the museum could never sell the house.
“The museum really put some money into fixing up the house and making it available for rentals,” says Kinsey Peeler, executive director of the Science Museum of Virginia Foundation. Improvements included a new roof, electrical work, new cork floors, a fresh coat of interior paint, and a new second-story deck and railing. The Rice House was managed by the Foundation, a separate 501(c)3 nonprofit organization created to support the museum. It was a popular site for weddings, photo shoots and other special events, but Peeler says it was difficult to maintain it as a public venue.
“We had tried for years to make it fit into the mission of the museum, but it was really meant to be a private residence,” she says. “It did not have the infrastructure for events … parking was a problem, we needed trailers for port-a-potties and there was really no place to put them. We were trying to use the house to generate revenue, but we had to balance that with [not being a] strain on the neighborhood.”
Mrs. Rice recognized that her and her late husband’s gift had unintended consequences and last year changed her mind about allowing the museum to sell it. “Inger never intended for the house to be a burden to the museum,” Peeler says. “…She realized the best use of the house was to be a private residence.”
Mrs. Rice’s change of heart coincided with a proposal from the Cottrells to buy the house, Peeler says, noting that the couple had approached the museum on previous occasions about a purchase. “We have known the Cottrells for a long time and they have always loved the house,” she says. “They asked about it numerous times but we could never sell it.”
The Cottrells own Retail Data, a retail pricing research firm Christine founded in 1988. A number of their homes have been written about in local publications (including R•Home): their 8,000-square-foot Tudor in Westhampton on the 18th hole of the Country Club of Virginia; an upscale, modern condo in Rocketts Landing; and a waterfront vacation home designed to resemble a lighthouse in Urbanna.
“They are able to devote the resources and are committed to respecting the vision of Richard Neutra,” Peeler says. “They are not going to do anything drastic to it to cause it to lose it national historic landmark designation. …They are going to do [to the house] what we would have loved to have done if we had had the resources to do it.” The Cottrells will be working with 3north Architects on the project and are in the early stages of the design process.
Peeler says the Science Museum never put the house on the open market and that the $2 million price was agreed upon after both the Cottrells and the museum had the property independently appraised.
The Science Museum’s Board of Directors had to approve the sale and lawyers were brought in to change the terms of the Rices’ original endowment to the museum. “There were a lot of different parts to the endowment and a lot of details that had to be worked out before [the sale] could happen,” Peeler says. The property was sold on Dec. 21.
With the sale of the house, the $1.5 million endowment was no longer restricted to maintaining the home, and those funds will now benefit educational programs at the museum, as will the $2 million raised from the sale of the Rice House.
On April 17, the Science Museum will dedicate the new Inger Rice Learning Center on the second level of the museum’s west wing to honor the impact of her $3.5 million gift to the museum.