Horror Central, Maine

Tonight in eastern Maine, as little ghosts, ghouls, and Lady Gagas rampage the streets in ruthless search of a candy high, there will be one terrified middle aged couple who are forced to flee for their safety, even though there is not a day in the year that the husband does not himself scare a few poor souls out of their wits.  Nevertheless, he is no match for the crazed hordes of children and adults who wish to descend upon his spooky mansion, and storm its iron gates on All Hallow's Eve.  Nobody knows where he goes on this night, but nobody blames him.

(Photo by Wendy C. Allen, found at eelkat.proboards.com)

The man in question, of course, is horror writer Stephen King,  and when he and his wife Tabitha moved into their appropriately Addams family-ish mansion in Bangor, they learned the hard way that they Halloween really is the scariest day of the year.  Since then, the couple have been forced to place notices in the local papers that they will not be in on Halloween.  It is a rare day, perhaps even a rare hour, that a fan, having made the pilgrimage, cannot be seen being photographed in front of the King house.

 Stephen King in front of his house in 1982, with the appropriately creepy iron gates he added to the property (Bangor Daily News photo)

Bangor, 'The Queen City of the East" is the largest city in Eastern Maine, third largest in the state in fact, with a population of 31,473 (we think big up here)   Speaking of scary, it sometimes seems that there is a big box store for  every one of those 31,473 souls, ringing the entire outlying perimeter of the city like giant fluorescent fortresses.  In the mid 19th century, at the edge of the wilderness, it was one of the lumber capitals of the world.  Thoreau visited on his trek through Maine, and found a raw town full of activity---brothels, muddy streets, tent encampments, new mansions for the newly rich, the Penobscot River flowing through clogged with logs, and the ships that would then take them around the world.  In the 20th century, Bangor was a dying backwater.

  An English steamer and a Scottish 4-masted bark loading birch spoolwood (for spools or bobbins) at Bangor in 1895

The lumber barons mansions were mostly turned to rooming houses and offices, or torn down for gas stations, and half of the handsome downtown was eradicated for urban renewal in the sixties, giant riverfront parking lots replacing 19th century warehouses, beaux art theatres, a magnificent Romanesque train station, and cobblestone streets.   In desperate need of a tourist attraction, the city fathers built a new civic center, and in front of it, erected a giant statue of Paul Bunyan (much to the chagrin, understandably, of many a Michigan resident).   This statue became THE place to be photographed when visiting Bangor, and wasn't displaced until Stephen King moved to town, bought an 1850's lumber king's Italianate mansion and gave local tourism a much needed shot in the arm.

 The giant Paul Bunyan statue in front of the Bangor Civic center--the old tourist attraction

Stephen King at home---the new tourist attraction (Life Magazine)

When I was growing up in Blue Hill, the local celebrity, in the next village over, was writer E.B. White.  It was a very different scene from Bangor and Stephen King.  White once famously convinced an interviewer to merely report that he lived in 'a New England coastal town somewhere between Nova Scotia and Cuba'. We all assiduously protected--and respected--White's privacy.  In the summer, when the hordes half crazed fans would show up, wielding the predictable cameras around their necks, and in their hands copies of Charlotte's Web or One Man's Meat that they just knew they could get autographed if only they could find his house, we locals would just have no idea how to direct people to his farm.  Nope, no idea at all how to get there.  E.B. Who? 

As for Stephen and Tabitha King, we have never met (although he and I were both patients in the orthopedic ward of the same hospital at the same time, both of us considerably fractured in encounters with careless drivers, although his presence there elicited considerably more press attention than mine did), but my admiration for them is boundless.   Their lifestyle is relatively simple in relation to their means--oh sure, there are those private jets to baseball games-- but their philanthropy is huge by any measure, their Stephen and Tabitha King foundation having given away tens of millions of dollars locally.  What has impressed me, countless times, is the thought and intelligence behind their gifts---a serious desire to nourish mind and body is a hallmark of a King gift.  The gift can be small and personal---new uniforms for the local little league---or large and grateful---a multi-million dollar writing fellowship in honor of King's writing teacher at the University of Maine, hitherto a school that tended to emphasize hockey instruction over education.  King made a multi-million dollar lead gift to the Bangor Public Library, enabling this central library for the eastern half of the state to upgrade facilities and services.  Although the Kings understand the importance of lending their name as well as giving money to some projects, most gifts are quiet and gracious---the Shawn Mansfield Stadium---named for a local little league coach's son who has cerebral palsy---the Beth Pancoe Aquatic Park in honor of a local swimmer who died of cancer.  The local Y's have state of the art facilities thanks to the Kings, and they fund literally dozens of high school and college scholarships.  There is hardly a library in the state that has not received a grant from the Kings.  The list goes on:  Public Radio.  Progressive political causes, more important than ever in these politically regressive times.  Conservation.  The arts.  The Eastern Maine Medical Center.

Yup, the Dilettante has a big ole philanthropy crush on Mr. & Ms. King.  There should be more like them.  They've earned their day of rest from the creepy and the spooky.

Detail of 3-headed serpent on the King's gate (Bangor Daily News)


Obsessive Building---More of Mr. Searles and His Castles

Aw, c'mon who among us is so cynical as to not secretly enjoy the idea of a castle, even if it is only a rich man's evocation of medieval glory?

Remember Edward Francis Searles, the aesthetically inclined bachelor decorator who married his richest client, the much older widow of railroad tycoon Mark Hopkins, and embarked on one of the biggest residential building sprees this side of the Vanderbilts, becoming one of the most prolific--and manic---mansion builders of the Gilded Age?  We covered Kellogg Terrace, his Great Barrington Massachusetts, estate here, and  Pine Lodge, his Metheun, Mass, estate here.

Mr. Searles and Mother on the colonnade  at Pine Lodge.

Gothicist architect Henry Vaughan, primarily an ecclesiastical designer, was Mr. Searles' architect of choice.  In addition to Pine Lodge, Vaughan designed three other residences and a host of public buildings paid for Mr. Searles.   Herewith are three more of Mr. Searles' fantastical creations

'Dream House', the Searles summer cottage on Block Island, after devastation by hurricane and subsequent abandonment.  Missing in this photo is a domed cupola, destroyed by lightening, that crowned the center portion. Dream house was planned as two mirror image apartments flanking a great hall, separate quarters for Mr. & Mrs. Searles

The bath house on the beach at Dream House, a miniature version of the main house.

The first carillon tower at Pine Lodge.  When the spread of wings from Mr. Searles endless remodelings subsumed this formerly free standing structure, Mr. Searles had a new and massive stone carillon tower built on another part of the property to replace it.  Photos of both may be seen in the Pine Lodge post here

Although there were extensive service buildings including farm structures, on the Pine Lodge estate, in 1904 Mr. Searles bought land a few miles away in the neighboring town of Salem, New Hampshire, where he built Stillwater Manor, a gentleman's farm more Marie Antoinette at le Hameau than Old MacDonald,  replete with ornamental dairy, henhouses and stables, landscaped with ornamental ponds, and surrounded by another of Mr. Searles' signature high stone walls, complete with Tudor gate houses.   It was rumored that the walls of his Pine Lodge and Stillwater estates once joined,  spanning a distance of seven miles.  This is urban legend, although the two estates do encompass over two miles of these turreted and castellated walls.

The main house at Stillwater Manor, the simplest of Mr. Searles' six houses.

 A view of outbuildings on the Stillwater estate

A barn at Stillwater Manor

In 1915, to escape Massachusetts taxes, Mr. Searles embarked on his last residential building project, a few miles up the road from Stillwater Manor, in Windham New Hampshire.  Having already essayed the Loire Valley at Kellogg Terrace,  a range of English Historical Styles from Gothic and Tudor and Jacobean and Burlingtonian Palladian at Pine Lodge, Elizabethan at Stillwater Manor, he now tried out the Scottish Highlands for this house, which he named Stanton Harcourt, for an English estate that he hopefully considered an ancestral seat.  Once again Henry Vaughan was the architect.  For this project, a quarries in Pelham New Hampshire were purchased to provide the granite and red sandstone that make up the walls and trim. As with Mr. Searles's other properties, Stanton Harcourt was inherited by his male secretary Arthur Walker, then his heirs and a succession of owners, eventually being purchased by the Sisters of Mercy, who erected the usual  yellow brick box in the grounds.
One of the entrance gates to Stanton Harcourt

At another gate, the ubiquitous yellow brick building put up in the sixties by the nuns.  Apparently the church gets a discount on yellow brick.

The estate roads wind through an English inspired landscape park, with bridges and ponds and follies along the way.  The drive then passes through a pine forest...

...eventually winding uphill beneath the castle complex...

...through the first gatehouse...

...to the second, inner, gatehouse...

...through which can be glimpsed the castle 'keep'..

An aerial view of the castle.  Click pictures to enlarge

The hall features a mantel salvaged from the ruins of the Tuileries palace

Drawing Room

The leaded windows in the solarium, complete with modern department store furnishings.  Mr. Searles would roll in his grave

 At one corner of the Stanton Harcourt property was the neighborhood school.  To complete his grounds, Mr. Searles negotiated a deal for the land in return for which he would build a new school across the street, also designed by Vaughan.

Stanton Harcourt has a place as a footnote in American fiction.  In 1956, a housewife from nearby Gilmanton, Grace Metalious, wrote a novel that became synonmous with small town scandal and secrets, using Searles Castle as the model for the home of the richest and meanest man in town, Samuel Peyton of Peyton Place.  

Today the castle is leased by the Sisters of Mercy to an events company, and is the setting for weddings and corporate events.


Modernism in Maine: Exhibits, Prizes, A Marvelous House

In General
When one thinks of architecture in Maine, three tropes come immediately to mind:  The classic and spare early 19th century white houses and village buildings so beloved by the Dilettante; the large shingled summer houses of the rich that occupy much of our 3,000 miles of coastline; and the prefabs and mobile homes that are the homes of necessity for much of the state's population.  But of course, there are many other styles too, from the cardboard corporate Spanish of Taco Bell to a flourishing scene in modern architecture.

 An early 19th century house in Fryeburg, Maine

 Mossley Hall, the W.B. Howard cottage at Bar Harbor, designed by William Ralph Emerson, 1888
The other end of the spectrum in Maine building and housing. 

The Exhibit
I had hoped to run down to Portland today--a nearly 3 hour drive---to view the Storefront for Architecture's exhibit about the last 50 years of modern architecture in Maine, and hear a lecture about same by Philip Isaacson, a Harvard trained lawyer who loves architecture and  is architecture critic of the Portland Press Herald, and winner of the 2010 Maine Prize for Architecture.  Unfortunately, fall chores and commitments made the trip impossible for today, and I will forgo the exhibit until next week, sadly missing the lecture.

 Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle, by Edward Larrabee Barnes

I have never met Philip Isaacson, but have been entertained and educated by his writings about art, design and architecture, including his very grown up children's book Round Buildings, Square Buildings, and Buildings That Wiggle Like a Fish, which I highly recommend for both its wonderful photographs of vernacular and designed architecture, and the perceptive writing about what constitutes great design.
I have however, had several occasions to chat with Mr. Isaacson by phone on other matters of art & history, and by coincidence happened to have reason to talk to him yesterday.  In the course of the conversation, which was about early 19th century woodcuts, he mentioned that his own house, featured in the current exhibit, was also in last month's Dwell magazine.   Naturally as soon as we hung up, I was off to both the Storefront for Architecture website, and to Dwell Magazine's web site. ( I was supposed to be off for work, but I've never met a diversion I didn't like).

Courtyard of the Isaacson House, Lewiston, Maine (Photo by Eric Roth, Dwell Magazine)

The Isaacson House
As a student at Harvard, Issacson studied law, but was fascinated by design, and followed closely what was happening over at the graduate school for design, then headed by Josep Luis Sert.  In the late 1950's Isaacson proposed a project for his own house, a small house on an in-town lot in Lewiston, Maine.  Although interested, Sert ultimately declined, and in 1959, Harvard trained F. Frederic Bruck was commissioned for the job.  For a budget of $25,000 (ultimately $32,000), Bruck produced a small jewel box of a house, functional and spare, with a floor plan that echoed that of the traditional maine farmhouse, rooms arranged around a chimney core.   The house is carefully maintained by Isaacson in its original state.

Philip Isaacson at home in his library (Roth photo, Dwell)

 The Isaacson Living Room, looking through to Dining Room (Roth, Dwell)
The Dilettante's chair obsession is more than satisfied by the collection seen here, including 
Cab chairs by Mario Bellini for Cassina, a pair of Cowhorn chairs by Hans J. Wegner for Johannes Hansen.

I will review the architecture exhibit next week.

For the complete story of the Isaacson House, by Chelsea Holder Baker, and a terrific slide show of photos by Eric Roth, please visit the full article, A Fine Vintage, on the Dwell website by clicking HERE.


Plus ça change...

Even though the modern world has  caught up with us here in Down East Maine, and we mostly lead our lives in real time nowadays, some old ways die hard—place names are a prime example.  After all, until GPS came along to spoil the fun, this was a place where directions often started out "Go past where the old sawmill used to be, turn left..."
 "Charlie Ware's"

For example, this building was formerly the  Blue Hill Department Store, which did business on Main St. for about 100 years.  In my childhood, it was owned by a man named Charles Ware, and was always referred to as ‘Charlie Ware’s” (as in “Mommy, can we go to Charlie Ware’s and buy a new toy?”).  For the last 20 years of its existence, it was owned by a woman named Ellen Werner, a great friend of mine.   Ellen was not unknown in the community— as a state legislator, a community activist, and the wife of the local obstetrician.   Nevertheless, throughout most of her ownership, she gracefully suffered her business being referred to as ‘Charlie Ware’s’.  And when modern times brought an end to the era of the small village dry-goods store, the question around town was ‘Have you heard that Charlie Ware’s has closed?’   And now, a few of us still refer to the place, for the last decade a crafts gallery, as ‘The Department Store'.

"The Haskell Cottage"

Above is Dundree, a summer cottage overlooking the entrance to the harbor.  It was built in 1913 for Cleveland industrialist Coburn Haskell, inventor of the modern golf ball, and his wife, Gertrude Hanna, a daughter of Cleveland’s wealthiest family.  The house was owned by the Haskells until Mrs. Haskell’s death in 1938.  It was then owned in succession by the Harry Gerhausers, the Merritt Taylors, and Katherine Filene Shouse, the department store heiress who gave Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts to the nation.  Kay Shouse was no slouch.  She held the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was a Dame Commander of the British Empire, and first woman chairman of the Federal Prison for Women board.  But even she was not prominent enough to dislodge the Haskell name from the house  (although the sight of her liveried chauffeur taking trash to the dump in cans lashed to the rear of a stately 1951 Jaguar Mark V Saloon was a summer tourist favorite.  Never has garbage traveled more elegantly to its destination).   The present owner’s parents bought the house in the late 1970′s, and hence the current family has owned it longer than any other, including the Haskells.   But yes, you guessed it, it is still referred to as the ‘Haskell Cottage’, even by those of us too young to remember the Haskells.

"Josie Barker's House"

My great grandmother’s cousin, Mrs. D. Chase Barker, lived in an old cape  on Pleasant Street in the village.   Josephine Barker, a pillar of the community,  was of that generation of ladies who revered their ancestors and the artifacts of the past, and the house was always on local house tours, where visitors would oooh and aahh over the warming pans by each fireplace, and the six foot cooking fireplace and brick bake ovens in the original kitchen. Mrs. Barker died in the mid-1960′s, and the house had two owners after that before being acquired in the 1980′s as the home of a terrific bookstore. The locals referred to the bookstore not by its name, Blue Hill Books, but as ‘the bookstore at Josie Barker’s’.   I remember well the day my grandmother rang me up in the bookstore’s third year of business and asked, “Would you stop at that bookstore at mother’s cousin Josie’s and pick up a copy of Roy Barrette’s new book for me?”

"The Forge"

The local blacksmith shop, next to the Mill Stream,  ceased operation in the late 1960′s, and the building became a charming restaurant known as The Firepond.   It has been a restaurant in many incarnations since—’Toscana (don’t ask), Firepond again, and most recently ‘Table: A Farmhouse Bistro’ (don’t get me started on that one!  I abhor such nomenclature.  Subtitled restaurants, indeed!).   And yes, you guessed it.  I still hear it referred to as ‘the forge’.
There are many other examples, several of which I will be posting about for their own colorful stories—this is just a random sampling.

…plus c’est la meme chose.


Blogging Divorce. The Dilettante is Moving to New Digs

Well, Blogger didn't hear me.  I'm suffering a technical glitch that brought my blogging to a temporary halt.  Their community based support brought no solutions, only tales of the same woe from other bloggers.  Hence, I have decided to give Dilettante a new home at Wordpress.  For the next month, posts will be created in Wordpress first, and exported here, for a smooth transition.   Then I am abandoning this site.

The new URL to The Downeast Dilettante will be :  http://downeastdilettante.wordpress.com/

I can't find a way to use my familiar Asher Benjamin logo, and wordpress is less visually elegant, but the superior text editor, easier photo uploader, and above all, real tech support, will be worth it.

See you all soon.


Why I'm Not Blogging Much---Blogger Can You Hear Me?

About three weeks ago, something caused pictures to not upload from Blogger on my laptop. They simply won't. I can upload from my office computer, but of course when I'm at work, I'm not blogging, but rather---surprisingly---working. Work, as we all know, can be distracting, and definitely interferes with fun, blogging for example.

I suspect the culprit is some new anti-spyware installed on my laptop around the same time as the uploading problem began. My laptop is otherwise configured pretty exactly like my office desktop. Blogger, of course has no direct live help----'help' is 'community based', and two pleas for help have only turned up other people with the same problem, no one with workable solutions. I have ventured deep into my anti-spyware settings to try to find the source, and I have googled myself silly trying for an answer--well, okay, I was silly before the googling, but you know what I mean.

So, lately, there has been no posting pictures and writing about them as I get up in the morning.

Most tiresome.