I live in an old house built in the 1820s, passed down through five generations thanks to a lot of childless great-aunts and the strange coincidence of only-child status enjoyed by my father and his father. It was added onto over the years in a haphazard marriage of outbuildings, barns, porches and what-not all tacked together into a big mess I have been told is an example of “Greek Revival.” My architectural antenna isn’t very sharp. I know what I like and I know what I don’t like, and I’d say my tastes run towards more to an old New England sensibility than anything else. But I’ve always loved modern architecture from the 50s and 60s ever since my rowing friend Steve moved to Cotuit and his parents built a very cool concrete and glass house in the pine woods overlooking Shoestring Bay. There isn’t a lot of modern examples around Cotuit. A few are scattered along the waterfront, looking tired and overwhelmed by the trend towards wedding-cake ostentation that polluted the views of Osterville and Cotuit in the go-go years of the early 1990s and can be attributed to a local architecture (who shall go unnamed) who had an affinity for faux widow’s walks and lighthouse-like turrets and a love affair with round windows, as if her designs were catalogue models for the Pella Window Company. Whatever, there was a nice little stink when former local TV celebrity carpenter Bob Vila threw the offending architecture under the bus in an interview with a local newspaper.
Reading the Wall Street Journal yesterday I learned something about Cape Cod architecture I never knew before. The outer Cape, especially in Wellfleet and Truro, is renowned among architects as a trove of very innovative designs from the 50s and early 60s. There is a group devoted to saving these places as they grow dilapidated and face being torn down. The Cape Cod Modern House Trust …
From the WSJ: “Cape Cod was … a stronghold of architectural experimentation, where the aesthetics of Europe’s progressive-thinking designers dovetailed surprisingly well with the casually built oyster shacks, saltbox houses and seaside piers that dotted the woods and dunes.”
I was so smitten by some of the designs on the CCMHT’s website I ordered a copy of their coffee table book. Some of the designs are absolutely awesome, especially when you consider some of them are close to 70 years old and look as fresh as anything designed today.
That “recent old Cape” of the last century — when the outer Cape was a haven of bohemian intellectualism beginning with the writers and painters of Provincetown, then the summer stock theater scene around the Falmouth and Cape Cod Playhouses …. followed by the reputation of Wellfleet as a summer writers’ colony for New Yorkers — gave a lot of flavor to the place before subdivision disasters of the 70s and 80s when the woods were turned into so many Levitttowns and the the seashore became a stage for the Masters of the Universe in their trophy homes with their trophy wives.
It’s cool to see these modern classics lovingly restored.