Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In Which I Visit Hatch Cottage

Imagine having this seascape as a view! Last Friday I was fortunate enough to go on a private tour of two unusual Wellfleet houses with Cape Cod Modern House Trust’s founding director Peter McMahon. Like many things in life, the occasion simply presented itself, so I seized it. Before describing our visit to Hatch Cottage, I should offer thanks to our Green Room guests, who instigated what was a marvelous afternoon. Jack is a builder from Pennsylvania and an ardent fan of modern architecture. His girlfriend Anne works as a pediatrician in neonatal care and came in search of a restful vacation. When they asked me about Wellfleet's modern houses last Wednesday, I told them to Google CCMHT. Jack contacted Peter and got to visit the Kugel/Gips house, which I have already been described. I had never been to Hatch Cottage, however. Since I expressed an interest, he offered to show it, too, taking me along.

A veritable walking encyclopedia, Peter spewed fascinating facts as we wound our way out Bound Brook Island towards the bay. This area was once the center of Wellfleet. “The harbor silted up, so they moved the town, flaked the houses, put them on barges,” he said. We were driving past the Atwood Higgins house, in the hollow. “The farms here had all been abandoned. Jack Hall sold his house to the Biddles and moved to the old Baker farm …”

We had already made several turns at forks. I was wondering whether I could find my way here with Sven.

“You really know where you are going,” I said.

Peter just smiled. He must have driven that dirt road hundreds of times already. Down the long driveway we sped, past the hill where Wellfleetians used to hold memorial picnics before sculptor Penelope Jenks’ house rose on the spot. As the car emerged from the woods, all four of us exclaimed in unison, “Wow!”

“Robert Hatch was a book editor at The Nation. His wife lived here until 93. She was an artist and had a lifetime deal on the house from the park ...”

(For those of you not familiar with the National Seashore saga, it's too long to tell here, but you can imagine the complication of creating a national park in an area that already contained homes.)

Hatch Cottage was designed by Jack Hall. Restoration was supposed to start last summer, but Peter is still waiting on final approval of the project from the National Seashore. (If you would like a private tour of four modern houses, consider membership in the Cape Cod Modern House Trust at the $200 gift level.)

“There’s a set of working drawings …. Prefabricated modules … sense of floating …”

Bits of Peter and Jack’s conversation reached my ears. Victoria Kennedy was trying to listen in, too, since she leads this tour when her boss is out of town. A ferocious wind, whistling across Cape Cod Bay, made the task difficult, so we admired the spectacular view of blue sky and landscape, framed by the wooden beams connecting two of the modules. The front wall was boarded up. Behind the boards, Peter said, there was a wall of windows. We could appreciate the high placement of smaller windows on the opposite side and see how the house must capture the summer breeze in a marvelous way. Hatch Cottage seems to float above the vegetation. There's an incredible feeling of freedom, of being close to nature.

Underfoot, the narrow boards of the walkway strained under our weight.

“It’s so fragile,” Peter explained, making a rolling-sea movement with his hands.

Before leaving, we walked down the hill to Cape Cod Bay. The beach is half a mile from Duck Harbor. The Hatches had it made, with this quick and easy path to such an extraordinary beach. The wind was whipping up waves, making for quite a dramatic beach visit.

On the way home, we stopped at what used to be the Biddle compound, also on Bound Brook, where I snapped the photo below. The eleven-acre property now belongs to the National Seashore, a purchase arranged over the past year in conjunction with the Trust for Public Land. Here’s a look at Hatch Cottage from below. During restoration, Peter intends to “pick it up in pieces.” I loved the architecture, the sense of being far from civilization, the proximity to Cape Cod Bay. How fortunate that the Cape Cod Modern House Trust will restore this gem to its original splendor!