The Modernist home built by the late Paul Weidlinger, P.E., a longtime ASCE member, in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, is structurally sound but was damaged when a tree feel into it during the years when it sat vacant. Funding is being sought to restore the house. Courtesy of Peter McMahon
An innovative fund-raising campaign is being employed to save a Modernist summer home in a historical community on Cape Cod.
October 29, 2013—In the summers of the 1950s and 1960s, the lakes and ponds of picturesque Wellfleet, Massachusetts, were host to an impressive community of architects, engineers, scientists, and artists. Many of these influential professionals had fled Europe in the runup to World War II, ultimately building careers at Harvard or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or in corporate firms in Boston and New York City.
As the community coalesced, approximately 100 Modernist summer homes were built in the area. Prominent architect Marcel Breuer was one of the first to build a Modernist summer home in 1948. In 1953, influential engineer Paul Weidlinger, P.E., a member of ASCE until his death in 1999, built a summer cottage across the pond from his friend Breuer. Many others followed into the early 1960s.
The ensuing years have not been kind to these structures, some of which were encapsulated into the Cape Cod National Sea Shore in 1961. Eventually, the National Park Service became the owner of seven historically significant structures in pressing need of repair.
Those repair efforts have begun, thanks to the work of the Cape Cod Modern House Trust (CCMHT), a nonprofit formed by Peter McMahon in 2007 to negotiate leases for the homes and restore them to their original state. “There’s nothing sadder than an experimental modern house that’s become a ruin,” McMahon says. “It’s really fascinating, all of the people who were here. Not only architects, but painters, academics, engineers, and scientists—mostly from Harvard and MIT.”
The CCMHT has already restored two of the seven houses. Attention has now turned to a third, the summer house designed by Weidlinger. For this project, the CCMHT is employing an innovative funding option—Kickstarter. The Kickstarter website enables people to conduct grass-roots fund-raising campaigns for inventions and creative projects.
“We wanted to try something different,” says McMahon, noting that the primary source of funding for the first two projects—grants from the Community Preservation Act (CPA)—became more difficult to obtain following the economic downturn of 2008. “Kickstarter seemed like an interesting way to go.”
The Weidlinger House is likely one of the first—if not the first—historic preservation project to be presented on Kickstarter that is not a theater renovation. “We actually had a problem because there was no designation for where to put our project,” McMahon says. “There is no category for architecture. Maybe this might open up a new venue for preservationists. I’ve been impressed. It is something new, but it seems to work.”
The house was built at the edge of a slope and is elevated
approximately 12 ft at the highest point, supported by timber
beams and steel cross bracing. Courtesy of David Kennedy
It works so well that the CCMHT had already raised more than $40,000 from 133 donors toward a $50,000 goal with more than two weeks to go in the campaign. Overall, the project will have a budget of approximately $150,000. The CCMHT hopes to find funds via a matching grant and some funds from the CPA. “If we get up to $75,000 with Kickstarter, it would be great because it takes pressure off the other two,” McMahon says.
The Weidlinger house is sited at the edge of a pronounced slope toward the pond. Founded on the ground at one end, the structure extends 12 ft above ground at the other end, above the slope, supported by large timber beams that are cross braced by threaded steel rods.
“You can tell it’s an engineer’s house,” McMahon says. “It’s on a very strict eight-foot grid. It’s a very clear structural diagram because there are sheer walls above that have cross bracing below. They call it the flying box, which makes a lot of sense when you see it in person. It gets up in the air to get this view over the pond.”
Weidlinger founded the engineering firm now known as Weidlinger Associates, Inc., in 1949. He was a graduate of the Swiss Polytechnic Institute in Zurich. During his career he received the Moisseiff, Howard, and Croes awards from ASCE.
The house has an open floor plan in the public area, with plentiful glass. The private area of the house is more conventional and enclosed. Replacement for the custom sliding glass door, 16 ft wide and 8 ft tall, will be fabricated and installed by IT Windows & Doors, Inc., and Internorm, London, thanks to a donation valued at $10,000.
The structure needs a new well, septic system, upgrades to its electrical and plumbing systems, and repairs to a corner that was damaged by a felled treed. The siding will be removed to enable crews to install closed-cell foam insulation.
“It looks pretty bad, but it has remained dry inside,” McMahon notes. “The fact that it’s up in the air has kept it dry. The big problem here is mold. It looks bad, but we have had worse.”
When complete, the Weidlinger house will serve as a residence for artists during the “shoulder seasons”—spring and fall—on Cape Cod. Donors to the CCMHT will be able to spend July and August in the house.