Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On Mc(Vacation)Mansion Pond

Even the lovely shores of Lake Winnepesaukee, New Hampshire, are being transformed by the mega-house invasion. The Times article is a decent representation of what is going on, though a little slow in noticing the phenomenon. Unfortunately, in a state where tax income is mostly from property taxes, there's little incentive to put the brakes on the trend.

We have a lakefront property up there and have been seeing more and more little "camps" getting demolished and replaced by these massive new houses, with their equally massive garages, boathouses, docks, and septic mounds. (Some of them are adjacent to our place and I've had ample opportunity to check them out on road walks or kayaking along the shoreline). While the camps are generally dinky and not much to write home about, and many aren't even that old (i.e. 1960s), it's still a sea change in the landscape.

There's really no way to protect the camps. Most are scattered randomly along the waterfront, often interspersed with newer places or empty zones. Other than the odd family compound here and there, there's not enough of a concentration of the little guys to create a historic district. Architecturally, they lack distinction - most are modest-to-tiny vernacular buildings with minimal detail and dating from the mid-twentieth-century. Charming at best, but not even close to the Adirondack Great Camps. Still, they represent a humble rustic vernacular, and recall a vanishing era when even Joe Schmo could own a little piece of lakefront.

Many of the lake camps survive on the smaller lakes in the Lakes Region, but they're vanishing rapidly from Winnepesaukee. It's hard to argue that the new mansions aren't an improvement on what was there before, but it's almost TOO much of an improvement. These vacation places are so extravagant that they're probably even nicer than the owners' regular houses - they defy the rustic simplicity that has drawn vacationers to the lake for generations. They bring all the trappings of modern life to the lake, rather than being a place to get away from all that.

It almost reminds me of the Gilded Age transformation of Newport with palace-like "cottages" owned by the summering nouveau-riche (Astors, Vanderbilts, etc.). But I'm not sure people will be opening these lakefront monoliths as house museums a century from now....

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