Goodbye, old paint

How did the ‘renovation’ of the American Boathouse end up with it being torn down? Where is the line between private property rights and preservation to be drawn?
Pamela Casper did this painting of the boathouses during my workshop several years ago.

The American Boathouse was an historic boathouse on Camden harbor, one of the nation’s oldest remaining recreational boathouses. It was built to house the 130-foot steam-powered yacht Maunaloa in 1904. Three boats of this name belonged to Chauncy Borland, the first commodore of the Camden Yacht Club. The building had been on the market forever, its redevelopment encumbered by its being on the NationalRegister of Historic Places and in an area zoned for business.

Earlier this year, I’d read in the paper that the boathouse was going to be ‘restored’ as a private residence. “[T]he Reeds want to buy it and spend approximately $5 million rebuilding it from stem to stern, and convert its use to a residence, with room underneath for a yacht,” reportedthe Penbay Pilot. “They need, however, to change town ordinance so that the zone in which the boathouse sits – Harbor Business District – will allow residential development at the first floor level.”
The boathouse in happier days.
What I didn’t realize is that ‘rebuilding’ it meant razing the original structure and starting again. I’m apparently not the only one who thought that. “It would not have lasted very long vacant in its old age. We residents are so glad the Reeds wanted to repair it and use it, after going through changes in zoning, etc. We are fortunate that the American Boathouse has been saved,” wrotelocal historian Barbara F. Dyer.
Maunaloa off Camden.
I have an architectural historian visiting me this week. I thought she would enjoy seeing the schooner fleet at Camden. Instead, she watched me goggle and sputter at the irredeemable loss at the head of the harbor. I haven’t painted at Camden since the Camden Classics Cup in July. In my absence, the boathouse has vanished and a new building is being constructed on the site.
Not that I have any say in the matter, of course. I’m not a Camden voter, and the boathouse was private property. At $2.4 million for a derelict building, it was also too expensive for any local yokel to buy. That’s the fate of waterfront property these days: it’s the exclusive province of the rich.
Drying sails, by Carol L. Douglas. Private collection. The boathouse is a soft background.
But the boathouse was an icon on Camden harbor, and now it’s gone. It’s figured in my paintings, and been the subject of many other artists. That long sloping building was difficult to draw correctly, and its green doors against the red shed next door set the mood of artwork done from the landing side of the harbor.
Wealthy people like Chauncy Borland have been coming to Maine to rusticate in the summer since the end of the 19th century. Seeing old things torn down to accommodate them is nothing new. In that sense, the end of the American Boathouse is historically more accurate than any true renovation would have been.
Spring Pruning, by Carol L. Douglas. This house was also razed to make room for a bigger model, this time in Rockport.
But swank structures are never particularly paintable. Old or new, they sit astride the landscape, dominating it. In contrast, the homes and businesses of modest men fold themselves into their settings, becoming one with them. I doubt I’ll be painting that part of the harbor any time soon.
Forty million visitors were on track to visit Maine this summer. They aren’t coming here to see luxurious new houses on the coast (although they may be staying in them). How do we negotiate the line between private property rights and the need to preserve the Maine that tourists love?