County: Monmouth County
The Ben and Bernarda Shahn House was constructed in 1936 as part of Jersey Homesteads (later renamed Roosevelt), a New Deal project established in response to the Great Depression as an agricultural-industrial cooperative community for Jewish garment workers and farmers. Architect Alfred Kastner was commissioned for the project, and he hired a young Louis Kahn as assistant architect. Combining modernist design with suburban American ideals, they used prefabricated construction techniques and clusters of housing with common space in the middle of each block to embody the ideals of what they saw as a forward-thinking community. Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson Shahn, both successful artists, moved to Jersey Homesteads in 1938 after Ben painted a mural in the town’s public school (included on PNJ’s 10 Most list in 2020). George Nakashima, a leading woodworker, architect, and furniture designer of the mid 20th century, and a close personal friend of the Shahns, designed additions and modifications to the house in the 1960s. The Shahns continued to live in the house throughout the rest of their lives. Bernarda Shahn passed away in 2004 at the age of 101. In 2010, the family decided to sell the home and placed a preservation easement on the property through the NJ Historic Trust to protect its significant architectural heritage. The new owners had an interest in Kahn and Nakashima’s work and expressed their intent to restore the home. However, due to a work relocation, they were never able to fully occupy the home, and it has suffered from a lack of attention and regular maintenance over the years. The current owners have made some interior repairs and installed a new roof in 2019-2020, but more repairs are needed. There is a separate detached studio on the property, not a Nakashima design, that is not included in the easement and is in poor condition. Unless the property receives the full attention it needs and deserves, it will continue to deteriorate. Preservation New Jersey encourages the Trust to maintain the intent of its easement and work to ensure the preservation of this important resource.