10.3.10

When Bad Things Happen to Nice Houses: "The Willows" Becomes "Atlantic Oakes"

 The Willows in 1958
Located immediately south of the E.T. Stotesbury cottage on Eden Street in Bar Harbor, 'The Willows' was built in 1913 as a summer home for Miss Charlotte Baker.  Miss Baker, an heiress to the fortune of her aunt's husband, railroad financier John Stewart Kennedy, was also a major benefactress to and later head of the Spence School.

The 27 room cottage was designed by the prominent Boston firm of Andrews, Jacques & Rantoul,, who maintained a practice in Bar Harbor.   While not an architectural masterpiece, The Willows was nevertheless a comfortable and gracious design in a modified Regency style that architects used to do so well, set on rolling lawns at the edge of an ocean bluff.  Here Miss Baker spent her summers pleasantly, entertaining the many Spence alumna who summered nearby, painting in the mornings in her large conservatory, giving musicales, and visiting her aunt's fortress-like cottage, Kenarden Lodge.

The Willows, 1958
In 1938, the estate was purchased by the legendary Sir Harry Oakes.  Born in Sangerville, Maine, Oakes studied to be a doctor at Bowdoin, but, lured by the adventure of prospecting, he instead went to the gold fields of the Yukon in 1898.  Failing to find fortune there, he moved on to California and Australia, before finally striking a lode in Kirkland Lake in Northern Ontario in 1912.  And what a lode it was.  It proved to be the second largest strike in the Americas, and within a decade was the most profitable mine in the Western Hemisphere.  By 1920, he was one of the world's richest men.  Married to Australian beauty Eunice Bailey, Oakes became a British citizen in protest of high Canadian taxes, and in 1939 was created a baronet in recognition of his philanthropic endeavors.

On July 8, 1943, Lady Oakes and three of their five children were in residence at Bar Harbor, with Sir Harry expected to arrive the next day from their home in the Bahamas.   He never arrived.  That morning, he was found murdered in his bed, in what became one of the most sensational murder cases of the day, temporarily blowing World War II from the top of the headlines.   The stylish but not very bright former King of England, Edward, Duke of Windsor, was governor the Bahamas at the time.  Feeling that local police were not up to the investigation, he imported two detectives from Miami, whose methods were later found suspect.  Count Alfred de  Marigny, the new husband of Oakes' 18 year old daughter Nancy was arrested and tried, but not convicted for the murder, which was never solved.

In 1947, a devastating forest fire swept through Bar Harbor, destroying much of the town, including seventy of the summer estates that had survived the twin depredations of the Great Depression and WWII.  In 1953, the abandoned Stotesbury estate next door was demolished and replaced with a Canadian National Railways ferry terminal, providing tourist service to Nova Scotia.  Across the road from the rolling lawns of The Willows, two burned out estates were replaced by motels.  In only a few years, the neighborhood around the Willows had changed irreparably.   In 1958, Lady Oakes donated The Willows to Bowdoin College as a conference center.

By the late sixties, the Oakes Center of Bowdoin had become an expensive luxury for the college, and the estate, still holding graciously against its changing neighborhood was sold to a local developer, and the coup de grace arrived soon after.

The Willows as it appears today
In their coverage of the Bar Harbor Fire, the radical French newspaper 'Le Figaro' reported that the local peasantry, to protest the long occupation by the landed aristocracy, had taken torches to the homes of the rich.   There may have been some metaphorical truth to this, as in the decades following the fire, several local developers, correctly divining Bar Harbor's future as a tourist destination for visitors to nearby Acadia National Park, bought many of the estates and almost willfully destroyed them, and the lovely landscape their grounds collectively created, in the rush for a buck.  (see Sonogee).  The new owner of The Willows first leveled the elegant grounds, filling them with cheap and poorly sited motel units.  Then, he turned his attention to the main house.

The stucco exterior was stripped of detail and clad in vinyl siding, (and the Dilettante's bete noir, poorly scaled plastic shutters) and the third floor dormers were replaced with a 'penthouse' that more resembled a mobile home that had somehow landed on the roof---one half expects to see a pair of ruby slippers peeking out above the gutter. The new resort was christened The Atlantic Oakes.

Sic transit gloria.  The new corporate owners, with all good intention, like to refer to their recent elegant restoration of the estate, but I think the pictures speak for themselves.  As for the interior decor, don't ask, don't tell.

Another view of The Willows as it is now.  In the distance is the now unused Nova Scotia Ferry Terminal at the site of the former Stotesbury estate.


Aerial view.  The house is left center above the dock.

13 comments:

ArchitectDesign™ said...

is it better to be left standing in ugly disgrace or torn down? I'm not sure which is preferable. It was a lovely house though. What a view of the lake -charming!

The Down East Dilettante said...

It's a conumdrum, Stefan, and I go back and forth on the question. Certainly in this case, the building's original context is long gone, anyway, but still, the rule should be never to demolish or remodel unless what you do is better than you started out with.

La Petite Gallery said...

So this is progress?

little augury said...

What always shocks me is that- some consultant will come in and do this, that they get hired, that owners believe they are improving things. The vinyl, and shutters- are hideous, as with Stefan's post-patina is preferred- and that topNOT is horrendous- honestly. It is all beyond me. I am certain these people could have done better. Whether it would have been demolished- who knows-it certainly is destroyed. pgt

Reggie Darling said...

Unfortunately, with preservation every victory is temporary, and every loss is permanent as you so vividly document here. I am routinely depressed by the ruination of houses and buildings in this country, "improved" with ugly new windows, removal of cornices, covered with ugly vinyl siding, etc. Once the process begins reversing it is almost impossible. The relentless slide of what once were buildings with architectural integrity into stripped down and supposedly improved faceless boxes with one of every window in the catalog littering once handsome facades is depressing beyond belief. I fear that where I live, the Hudson Valley, will soon have almost no good houses left, given the steady pace of ruination of those that remain that I witness, almost daily. The community of those of us who appreciate and care for what we have is contracting alarmingly in the face of the avalanche of cretins who are responsible for the violation of such structures as you present in this post. Good work DED, I toast you.
Reggie

The Down East Dilettante said...

The human need to 'improve' is so strong that it sometimes overcomes common sense. And 'improve' is invariably what most people think they're doing. But, as I keep saying in this blog (and in real life, sometimes it "just ain't broke and don't need fixin'". Here in Maine we are under the same assaults that Reggie details for the Hudson Valley---the inexorable slide toward the easy, and quick, and the failure of the preservation movement to educate. Here in Maine, the preservation movement, at both official and grassroots level is almost dead in the water.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

I think the national trust for historic preservation is a great entity (I know not everyone agrees with me though) and I do my part by donating a small sum every year. The accompanying magazine which is very good, Preservation, is a nice side bonus. They are available for different community groups and to help nationalize localized preservations 'problems'. While we may never get to european standards, I have high hopes. Just look at the leaps and bounds the preservation movement has made in the past 20 years. Wait for the trickledown *fingers crossed*.

Turner Pack Rats said...

yes its true that great strides have been made in preservation (finally) in the last 20 years but the cretins are still there and still too stupid to be believed - the latest evidence being the wanton and needless destruction of La Ronda in PA. a guy offered to buy it and move it to the lot next door but no dice - the owners turned him down and demolished it so they could build some tacky mcmansion. the horrendous devastation of long island mansions in the 50's is mirrored here in maine esp in portland in the 60's and 70's and still the bloodletting continues. why these morons can't get it through their head that they are destroying things that will never be created again and robbing the populace of the opportunity to experience the past, i will never understand. better some of these houses survive in decay than undergo the misfortune of Atlantic Oakes and its surrounding catastrophe.

security word definition - "ledalu' - company delivering portapotties.

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic blog. I especially enjoy your rare material on old Bar Harbor. Truly a place of wonder!

Thank you.

The Down East Dilettante said...

*bows* thank you, thank you. It's my one talent---recognizing rooms that I first saw in magazines 30 years before. You'd be amazed at how little demand there is for such a talent. Why oh why couldn't I have been born with a talent that makes money? Like the former Mrs. Traina---oh, wait, talent....

I found the clippings. I love the Dickinson version as much now as I did when I clipped it as a two year old 30 odd years ago...

Carmel area of Charlotte, NC: New Homes said...

Amazing article man!The theme of your blog is very beautiful and the article is written very well, I will continue to focus on your article. I loved it!

Thomas said...

Houses, if not maintained, chances are more damages are to occur. There are a lot of beautiful homes, but they are not being taken care of properly so it becomes ugly and not nice to look at. I always clean and maintain my home. I always keep it clean from the outside to the inside. I've fixed the broken windows and doors, even the roof and the siding. Boston is where my home is located and I'm very happy now because I am not alone there anymore now that I have a wife.

Moving Company said...

Great Story ! I enjoyed it very much. Yes If you're not able to maintain your house properly then there are lot of chance of occurring the damages. I just shifted in my new house. It is just like my dream home and I am very much possessive about it. I am taking care of every time and try to keep it clean and beautiful.