Kline house: open space trumps architecture [June 2010 / CCT]

It will be pretty amazing if the Truro ZBA does the right thing and actually orders the razing of the controversial Kline house. That would be a lot of deconstruction: 8300 square feet with, no doubt, a carbon footprint of Sasquatch size. In photos it looks to be substantially built, although various estimates have it at somewhere between 50 and 80 percent complete. $5 million dollars already sunk in the project. (The owners have chosen to continue with the construction despite warnings from the judge that they do so at their own risk.)

I know of one house in a Wellfleet waterview site where they had to chop off a couple of feet to abide by the procrustean height requirement, but this is something else again. Will the members of the board dare stand up to a rich family’s money and lawyers and undo all that architectural fait accompli? Those in Wellfleet who failed in the courts to produce such a result with the much-disliked Blasch house would take comfort in this as a victory.

A state Land Court judge ruled that the building official never should have issued a permit and that the ZBA was wrong for upholding that permit. The ZBA is required now to consider issuing a special permit. The judge based his annulment of the permit on his opinion that the huge new house increases the nonconformity of the teardown it replaces. The question is, will the board agree with him.

The first meeting of the ZBA on June 6 failed to produce a verdict. They will meet again on June 16.

Not everyone in town is against the Kline house. A letter to the Provincetown Banner claims that Truro not inherently a “quaint” town, and that nothing in its bylaw prevents big houses. Besides, the writer goes on, the Kline house is nice. And the Klines, friends of hers, are nice too.

It’s true that Truro lacks a bylaw to protect against the invasion of trophy houses, which have landed in prominent spots in recent years like so many alien space ships. The fact is, Outer Cape towns have never needed such a bylaw before. As to the value of the architecture, I agree with the letter writer. From what I can see, it is, for a house, pleasing to the eye. I would go so far as to say that the Kline house is a lot more interesting than the revered Hopper cottage nearby (which, being a mere cottage, implicitly asks not to be taken as architecture.)

But of course it’s not about the architecture. From the start the critics, opponents of the Kline house have said it’s about preserving the “Hopper Landscape”–what the famous artist saw out his window when he was in town. (“A town tries to protect an artist’s inspiration” ran the headline for an early NY Times story.) If he were still alive he would now see, in addition to the native moors, the Kline house. I don’t know Hopper’s opinions about architecture, but it’s conceivable he might actually like it.

As for the Hopper Landscape so-called, landscape really isn’t the first thing you think about when you think of Hopper. He is called an “iconic painter”, but his icons tend to run to images of early 20th century urban blight, seedy bars, cheap restaurants. On Cape Cod what inspired him more than Truro hills was old gas stations, the rail road, and lonely people in houses. If you were interested in preserving what inspired him, there’s that long defunct gas station on Route 6, said to be the subject for one famous painting, now slated for demolition.

Seems to me that the opposition to Kline house is less about Hopper than a conflict of values: traditional values embodied in modest construction and preservation of open space. Go so far as to call it class struggle: the traditional year-round population of modest means against the vacationing wealthy.

A lot of money has bought a pretty good- looking and even, except for its size, appropriate house. But at this point in history on the Outer Cape, open space and modest values trump architecture, Hopper or no Hopper.



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