In the early 1950s, high-flying TV comedian Jackie Gleason embarked on a project to build a one-of-a-kind party house in the woods north of New York City. Drawing on his lifelong fascination with UFOs, the home and its adjacent cottage are round inside and out—down to the curved floorboards, windows, cabinets, bars, and furniture.
He called the twin buildings “The Spaceship” and “The Mothership.”
The current homeowner, a retired orthodontist, had picked up the 8.5-acre property in Cortlandt Manor, NY, in 1976 for just $150,000—roughly equivalent to $660,000 today. The property was listed this month for $12 million.
In the mid-1950s, Gleason was headlining the “Jackie Gleason Show,” a Saturday night variety show with Gleason’s many characters at its center. It was America’s second-most watched TV show (behind “I Love Lucy”), and Gleason wanted a house that was equally impressive.
Designed by architect Robert Cika, the house was constructed by a Norwegian shipbuilder, who shipped the completed pieces to Cortlandt Manor for final assembly, real estate agent Margaret Bailey told the Journal News.
Gleason personally oversaw the project, which cost $650,000—roughly equivalent to $5.6 million today—and took five years to complete. It was a marvel, and one that he shared with his many celebrity guests, including Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and Joe DiMaggio.
The Mothership was the main house. Designed to host large parties, it has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and two bars—the centerpiece being a 14-person, curving bar, which had a baby grand piano and a microphone that would emerge from the marble floor to the delight of Gleason’s guests.
The house was certainly ahead of its time. It had central air conditioning and a built-in, surround-sound system. Each of the Mothership’s marble fireplaces was double-sided, save for the main fireplace, a three-sided, 40-foot-tall marble model that weighed 240 tons. Gleason reportedly commissioned Italian artists to fly to Cortlandt Manor to complete the stonework.
While other round houses in that era were typically supported by straight beams that met in the center of the ceiling, Gleason’s home featured exposed, canoe-shaped trusses that radiated out from the center.
The master bedroom features a uniquely rounded bed (decades before Shaq did it), and a TV mounted on the ceiling. There’s a fishbowl-like shower in the master bathroom, and a curved built-in desk in the office.
Gleason started his career as a New York comedian and then got small parts in 1940s-era movies. By the time the TV made its way into millions of American living rooms, Gleason was one of the medium’s first true stars. His show featured a live orchestra, singing and dancing numbers, and a recurring cast of characters.
One of his characters, Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden, was so popular, a spinoff show was created. “The Honeymooners” recorded 39 episodes in its one-year run, and it later found a new audience in reruns, fueling Gleason’s popularity into the 1980s and beyond. He died in 1987; he was 71.