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Leroy Reynolds carefully arranged a lime-colored wig on a dark-green foam head. The head was perched on a pole. The pole protruded from a big rusty metal ball.
All this wasn’t as unusual as you might think. The head and pole and ball sat in front of a shiny silver house shaped like a spaceship.
“We’ve got to fix her back up,” Reynolds told a young girl there to see the spaceship house. “We can’t have her bald – she’ll get a sunburn.”
The green foam head was just one of many odds and ends scattered in front of the 26-foot-diameter, hamburger-shaped dwelling set a little askew on a lot just off N.C. 12.
The unoccupied UFO house draws hundreds of visitors each year who gawk at the strange sight in the middle of Frisco where otherwise boats and fishing nets and a few shops line the highway. It’s also at the center of some controversy.
Reynolds, 55, and owner Jim Bagwell want to turn the house into an art and music museum, but county officials are requiring that an engineer examine it and certify what it would take to bring the plastic-and-fiberglass structure into compliance with modern building codes. It contains a small bathroom and bedroom and wiring and plumbing, but it is not hooked up to electricity or running water.
The UFO house can remain in place as an “ornamental feature” but cannot be opened to the public, according to a letter last month from the Dare County Planning Department to Bagwell. He received a similar answer when he first asked permission in 2006.
“Our responsibility is the public safety and welfare,” county Planning Director Donna Creef said. “We take that very seriously.”
Reynolds, a lean former Marine with tattoos on both forearms and a graying goatee, said he is not backing down.
“Either I’m going to fly like an eagle or I’m going down in flames,” he said.
Code-compliant upgrades could cost too much, Reynolds said, and may be impossible.
“I cannot find an engineer to certify that spaceship,” Bagwell said. “I either have to move it, or it’s going to sit there and rot. This is what they call ‘arbitrary and capricious.’ Nobody’s having to do what I’m having to do.”
Word has spread. An online petition to save the house had more than 3,000 signatures as of Tuesday. Social media has drawn thousands of comments and words of support, Reynolds said.
Teri Housenger, 35, and her family have been coming to Hatteras Island since she was 7, and they always stop at the UFO. Now her 1- and 4-year-olds love to see where the “alien” landed.
“Definitely the most odd and one of the most interesting things we see here,” she said.
That seemed true Monday, when one car was turning left into a small, grassy parking area and another vehicle heading in the other direction suddenly stopped and backed up for a better look, crunching into the left-turning car.
Bagwell remembers the UFO house first came to Hatteras Island new in the early 1970s.
The structure is one of about 100 Futuro Houses designed and built by architect Matti Suuronen beginning in 1968 as a ski cabin that was quick to set up on just about any terrain, according to www.thefuturohouse.com. The website displays photos of 64 of the prefabricated houses still existing around the world, including in Japan, Russia, Norway and Crimea.
They were constructed of plastic reinforced with fiberglass, according to the website. The plastic became too expensive when oil prices soared in the 1970s, and the company quit making them.
The Frisco house was on the oceanfront for a few years, then moved to the road and used by Boy Scouts for a while. It was moved again and became a hot dog stand in Frisco until Reynolds and Bagwell bought it and moved it to this spot in the early 1990s.
A set of stairs folds down from the only door. Oval windows are set less than a foot apart around the entire circumference. Four steel supports extend from the bottom and sit on concrete pads.
A green alien-like mannequin rides out front in what was once a buoy, looking as if he would fire what resembles a machine gun made from a metal power tool with a tube attached. A Buzz Lightyear toy lies near the front steps along with a sign on spindly legs that says “believe.”
Reynolds, who lives in Buxton, comes to the UFO evenings after work, he said. He dons an old lime-green car racing suit and a green Martian mask. Halloween is a hoot around here, he said.
“When Leroy pops out of that thing in a alien suit, those kids scatter,” Bagwell said. “It’s just fun. That’s what it’s all about.”