THE VILLAGE AT LOON MOUNTAIN, Loon Mountain, New Hampshire 1973-1987

In 1966, snow skiing started on Loon Mountain, the brainchild of Sherman Adams, President Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff who was famous for the “Vicuna Coat Scandal” (Look it up, I had to… ).  Adams grew up in the area, served as Governor of New Hampshire, and knew what natural resources would be made accessible through the extension of Interstate Highway 93 to Lincoln and through the improvement of the Kancamagus Highway. Sel Hannah, a former Olympic skier, laid out the trails that he said “kids, mothers and fathers would love.”

Some years later Ace Eaton, a Dartmouth grad starting a real estate development company, met Ed Keating, who was marketing and selling panelized houses in New Hampshire. Together they found an ideal plot of land facing south with expansive views of the Loon Mountain ski area and White Mountains. They reached an agreement with the Marcel Paper Family to purchase in phases 800 acres of land with two and half miles of frontage along the Kancamagus Highway. They hired Sasaki Walker to master plan the site and they assigned a gregarious young planner John Exley to the project. Exley knew Tony Tappé from the Home Builder’s Association and was enamored with the firm’s work, so when the time came to select an architect, he heartily recommended Huygens and Tappé.

Influenced by the founding of Earth Day in the early 1970s and by the mass environmental movement, extensive environmental studies were carried out to ensure that development that would grow in harmony with the ecological balance of the region. The first phase was the reclamation of a gravel pit close to the road, which became the village center.

The first phase of the development, a 62-acre parcel, included 200 hillside townhouses surrounding the Village Center, the heart of the overall community. The Village Center itself is a pedestrian shopping/recreation street between two Condominium Lodges. Along the street are shops, a restaurant, pub, skating rink, swimming pool and indoor and outdoor tennis courts. The two Condominium/Lodges feature efficiency type units which are owned on a time-share basis and are operated under single hotel management.

Rendering of the Built Phase 1 Village

Frank DiMella,  a young architect at the time, was assigned to the project and recalls a ski resort tour out West with Rem to study existing resort housing and bring back lessons learned. He noted that “the basic parti for the houses came very quickly and it was quite simple with vertical rough ship lapped pine siding, cedar clapboard balconies and metal roofs. We started out with wood shingle roofs but learned quickly that the climate required a double roof to prevent ice damming, which became too expensive, so we turned to metal.  The elimination of ‘chatter’ in the assembly of the roofs actually had a precedent in a small townhouse deal that Rem and Tony had done prior to my joining the firm.”

The “chatter” Frank refers to is the effect that occurs when a number of housing units are put in a row on sloping topography. The result is stepped roof forms that single out the individual units, creating visual chaos at the roof line (See example above). This idea of calming the roof plane is significant because it would become a key design element in the housing that would follow, being refined over a number of years and projects to what I have always thought was some of the nicest suburban multi-family work ever done. This approach considered the four units as a building rather than four individual units, therefore “Reducing the Chatter.” We will see more examples of this in the weeks ahead.

Early rendering illustrating the continuous sloped roof plane sheltering four units and photograph showing the built project with vertical rough sawn siding and clapboard balconies. Notice how it climbs the slope to keep the roof aligned.

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We were very conscious of the wonderful southern facing slopes on which our buildings sat, and provided balconies that allowed for wintertime sunning after an early day of skiing (they were quite warm!) . While we consciously ran the roof slopes all in the same direction to settle the buildings into the steep landscape, a penalty for this was that snow run off had to be managed at both the entries and balconies that were under the low sides of the roof.  – Frank DiMella

The buildings were designed and sited to blend into the landscape. The stain colors came from the site, for example, matching the bark color of the trees as shown here. Roofs were bronze colored metal.

Ace and Ed had originally lined up investors to completely finance the project. However, when the project started in 1973, the Arab oil embargo caused a nationwide recession and the collapse of the investment market for real estate.  Ace and Ed came up with a creative development strategy in order to move forward, which was to sell lots instead of houses and then subsequently build the units on them. They essentially financed the development with the money owners paid for the lots and a small pool of investment cash and letters of credit. Ace recalled that the firm was an investor in the deal. Forty years later that is probably “Wall Street speak” that the architect was not getting paid. Ace reminded me that we were paid back in 18 months and ultimately made 200%! Not bad!

The Village of Loon project had many phases over the next twelve years, all of which we designed, and all of which they built. We went on to do Pollard Brook at Loon, several houses with Ace and Ed at Waterville Valley, then Village Green in Vermont, and the Ipswich Country Club, some of which we will learn about in a future posts.

COOLIDGE FALLS

West of the first phase of the Village was a development called Coolidge Falls that we did in the mid 1980s. It was slightly upscale from the original buildings and incorporated a contemporary interpretation of Swiss architecture. It addressed many of the things learned on the earlier phases such as controlling snow slides at entries and decks. I have seen this recently and it is my favorite of the Loon projects. The use of white vertical board bases makes it particularly dramatic in the winter when the buildings seem to grow from the snow covered landscape, the darker upper stories floating above the snow.

According to the website of the homeowner’s association, they are still building this out with the original drawings. In fact, one of our original hand drawn detail sheets still serves as part of their architectural guidelines. See below.

This is a remarkable testimony to the timelessness of the work and to the homeowner’s association’s appreciation of the value of consistency and quality design. Frank DiMella, who I interviewed for this post, offered the following: “I spent a great deal of time on these projects and in retrospect can say that they influenced the type of work and clients that I was attracted to in the following years. Thus the firm’s substantial portfolio of development housing was a byproduct of this interest and filled a large portion of my career.”