Reprinted from the Outer Banks Sentinel
FRISCO – For decades, countless Outer Banks residents and visitors have done a double take while driving down Highway 12 on Hatteras Island and catching a glimpse of what appears to be a flying saucer that landed just south of the Milepost 66 mile marker on the ocean side of the road.
Often called the Frisco UFO House — but referred to by owner Leroy Reynolds as “the spaceship”— the structure is officially a Futuro House, one of nearly 100 built in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Constructed of fiberglass-reinforced polyester plastic, the 13-foot-tall by 26-foot-wide homes were designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen as structures that could be easily transported, assembled and used as vacation homes.
Once advertised in Playboy Magazine as a “portable playhouse,” there are just 61 of the structures left the world, according to the photo gallery on thefuturohouse.com site.
Now, amidst swirling rumors, the future of “the spaceship” is the subject of a dispute between Reynolds and Dare County over what it is required to make improvements on the property. Reynolds wants to focus on bringing in a 12-foot-by-12-foot shed and installing a power pole that will provide space and power for the air conditioning that will help pave the way for a souvenir shop.
The county says before any work can be done, Jim Bagwell, who owns the property on which the structure sits, must submit a set of plans produced by a licensed engineer about how to bring the uninhabited property up to code and how to physically support the structure.
The UFO House issue took center stage at the June 19 Dare County Board of Commissioners meeting when Reynolds spoke during the public comment portion. Introducing himself as “the alien at the Frisco UFO for many years,” he began by declaring simply: “I come in peace.”
Reviewing the growing popularity of the “Google landmark,” Reynolds declared, “It is just for fun. I am not trying to make it a major business venture. I’m just trying to do my best to preserve it for our island.”
Reynolds’ friend Dewey Parr followed up with a request that the commissioners “look into this problem about the Frisco UFO. The people here are concerned with why it’s going to be closed down.”
In an interview, Dare Planning Director Donna Creef said that landowner Bagwell “asked for permits to ‘refurbish’ the unit inside and outside. I have advised him that we need engineering info. The unit meets no codes. Bagwell signed an agreement in 2006 acknowledging the unit was not to be accessed or occupied.”
Dare County Planner Noah Gillam added that the matter is a “safety issue” and the county is taking no steps to “shut down” the house.
“The rumor mill on social media has been flying that we’re tearing it down or taking it, but none of that is the case,” he added. “We are just simply saying people don’t need to be going into it or using it for any other purpose than as an ‘ornament’ until they can get us a set of engineered plans.”
Dare Commissioner Danny Couch, who represents Hatteras Island, told the Sentinel, “There is a lot of misinformation running around, but nobody is trying to shut him down.”
Acknowledging that the house is “iconic” and one of the attractions that make the Outer Banks distinctive, Couch said that the guests on his Hatteras Tours tour bus just that morning “had to stop and take pictures.”
“But the rules are there for the general public and for Leroy [Reynolds] as well,” Couch added. “If he wants to make a retail go of that, the commercial insurance company is going to insist that that thing have all the building inspections and everything to make it legally viable.”
History of the House
The UFO house was originally bought in 1972 by vacationers Lee and Mary Jane Russo, who used it as an oceanfront cottage in Hatteras Village until the 1980s. Bought by Scotch Bonnet Campground owner John O’Brien, the house was later moved to several different locations in Frisco, where it was used as a Boy Scout meeting place, a magazine office, the Scotch Bonnet office and finally as the Scotch Bonnet’s “Footlong Out Of This World Hot Dog Stand.”
Reynolds said he bought the house in 1994 and arranged with Bagwell to have it moved to his property about a mile south of the campground.
Originally from Trout Run, a small community near Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Reynolds said he never cared much for science fiction growing up. He was a “good student” in high school, he said, but didn’t really apply himself because he knew he would join the Marines right out of school.
Enlisting at the age of 17, Reynolds served six years at Camp Lejeune. He recalled vacationing on Hatteras Island in the late 1970s with his family while growing up. And he chose the island as his destination during leaves from the Marines.
And he remembered being struck by the sight of the UFO House from his earliest days visiting Hatteras Island. “I thought, ‘Man! Who else has a space ship? This is so cool!'”
Moving to Hatteras Island in 1993, Reynolds started working for Lattimore Construction. But the following year, in partnership with Bagwell, he set up the house in its new location, painted over the original green color with silver and worked on the foundation himself.
Displaying his handiwork and trying to make a case for the sturdiness of the structure, Reynolds said, “See this steel I-beam? It’s welded to another I-beam and set three inches into the concrete slab. It’s not going anywhere.”
“I’ve just been doing this for free as a hobby and just for fun,” Reynolds added. “It’s all about bringing a smile and laughter.”
But he has also been seeking permission to expand the uses of the house since 1996. Reynolds and his wife and daughter currently sell T-shirts and refrigerator magnets from a table beneath a shade tent when a crowd gathers at the site. The T-shirts bear an image of the house with the words, “Take me to your island.”
“The spaceship is the second most viewed thing on Hatteras Island, after the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse,” he said, claiming that he could easily sell $5,000 in merchandise a day if he had the shed and power that he wants.
Reynolds argues that by refusing to cooperate with his plans for the site, the county “is just shooting themselves in the foot. If we have money coming in, the county has money coming in in tax revenue.”
Donning his flame retardant green suit, acquired during his days driving in demolition derbies in the ’80s, Reynolds explained that he is on his third generation of masks—each one “scarier” than the last. And as visitors quickly gathered to ask questions and snap pictures, he paused to consider a question about whether he believes in UFOs.
“I believe that there’s a higher power,” he said. “I believe that there’s someone smarter than us. You know that cell phone and those cameras we play with? We didn’t get that smart overnight. That intelligence had to come from somewhere—whether it’s God or aliens. I don’t know. Maybe God rides in a spaceship.”
Offering a surprising assessment of the net effect of the “UFO House controversy,” Dare Commissioner Couch recalled that the debates and turmoil that surrounded the relocation of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse in 1999 — dubbed “the Move of the Millennium”— were actually “good for business.”
“This year’s tourist season is a screaming nuthouse,” he continued. “And I say that in a good way.”Original owners Lee and Mary Jane Russo and property owner Jim Bagwell appear in a short documentary about the Futuro House on the Outer Banks.
This story is provided courtesy of the Outer Banks Sentinel, a weekly Dare County newspaper that is published in print every Wednesday and headquartered at 2910 South Croatan Highway, Nags Head. Aside from the print paper, the Sentinel also produces a continually updated digital version at www.obsentinel.com.