Preserving Edward Hopper's View in Cape Cod

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Commentator Alice Furlaud remarks on a land dispute on Cape Cod between a developer and neighbors who want to preserve a landscape made famous by artist Edward Hopper.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts is embroiled on a controversy over plans to build a big house in the middle of a scenic landscape overlooking Cape Cod Bay in South Truro. The place is sacred to many art lovers because the painter Edward Hopper spent his summers in the area from 1930 on. Neighbors have appealed to all the Massachusetts powers-that-be to stop construction of the so-called trophy house.

Commentator Alice Furlaud has spent part of every year in Truro since 1933.

ALICE FURLAUD: The landscape in question is the one Edward Hopper saw from his studio window, and a painting of it was one of the treasures on exhibit all summer at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. It depicts the simple white house Hopper built in 1934 on a treeless moor, covered with brush, its gently rolling hills extending all the way out to Cape Cod Bay.

Mr. Donald Klein has spent millions to buy more than nine acres of this moor, and he plans to build a 6,500-square-foot house next door to the Hopper house. The Klein home will have a five-car garage and a swimming pool. That plan has got many Cape Codders up in arms. Three hundred of us signed a petition to the select men who govern Truro. They took up the issue on Tuesday night.

Late in the afternoon before the select men's hearing, I trespassed on the Hopper land with a friend. The state environment people have not weighed in except to warn Mr. Klein about an endangered ground cover on his property called the broom crowberry. But there are officially endangered animals there, too, like the spade-footed toad, which sounds especially charming. So my friend and I climbed over the wooden gate that closed off the long dirt driveway and walked up the hill.

I'm treading around on what I think they're calling the broom crowberry, which is endangered plant. But it was - what we sprung around on all my childhood here. Of course, I'd wouldn't really expect to see any of the endangered creatures, but there's somewhere around here because it's their habitat. The Eastern Spade Footed Toad, hmm, I don't see a single thing that looks like a toad. And there's the Eastern Box Turtles. That I couldn't possibly miss. It's definitely not here. And then there's the Northern Harrier Hawk. And - it's a beautiful, beautiful blue sky. And there's not a hawk inside, but I'm all for them. So on to the Selectmen's meeting.

There were such a crowd in the town hall that the New York Times reporter and I had to perched on a very narrow window ledge for two uncomfortable hours. Some of the fair(ph) were feeling a plague on all your trophy houses. Truro residences remember that their government didn't stop all the other mammoth mansions that dominate the best hills and cliffs in town. What can you expect, The neighbor of mine grumbled, when a real estate agent is chairman of Truro planning board?

At the meeting, Mr. Anton Schiffenhaus(ph), whose family inherited the Hopper house from Edward Hopper's widow Josephine gave a moving defense of the landscape. Mr. Klein said he will place some of his waterfront acres into what he calls, a conservation restriction.

The five Truro selectman voted 4-1 to pass the buck and refer the manner to the Cape Cod Commission, which is expected to rule of this month.

A friend of mine takes the long view. Trophy houses are nothing new, she says. How did the citizens of that little coastal village of Newport, Rhode Island, feel in the late 1800s, when rich New Yorkers blocked the best views with gigantic piles, like the breakers. Another friend said, it was too bad that the Hopper landscape hadn't been named a state in historic site. That's how New York protect the house and grounds of a Hudson River payer Frederick Church(ph). My friend had just meant to see his 19th century trophy house, a huge Persian-style palace with minaret and all the trimmings, nobody gets to build another palace next door to churches.

So here, the battle continues between those who have their houses and their views, and those who want them. Meanwhile, my sympathy is for those spade footed toads, as well as the squirrels, and rabbits, and chipmunks who will lose their homes if Mr. Kline builds his.

Please Cape Cod Commission, stare the still unravished peace of Truro.

For NPR News, I'm Alice Furlaud in an undisclosed location on Cape Cod.

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