Originally, John Dudek had planned to open up a café in Pittsfield, Mass. He and one of his business partners, Brad Parson, even had a place picked out when Dudek began to have second thoughts about his venture’s viability. “I was concerned about the customer base, because Pittsfield, like a lot of other midsize American cities, went through a shock in the 1970s as mini-malls opened up and downtowns suffered,” he says.
At Christmas dinner in 2008, though, Dudek’s brother Peter — also one of Dudek’s business partners — brought up the possibility of a very different venture: starting a business at the top of Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts and a part of an 11,000-acre nature reserve that includes a section of the Appalachian Trail. But the idea wasn’t to start from scratch or to put up a little lemonade stand atop the mountain. Instead, there was an opportunity to take over the operation of Bascom Lodge, which was built in the 1930s by the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps. The idea made sense to Dudek. “The lodge had a history of a stable market,” he says. “The state had been monitoring the number of people who came to the lodge, and it was a substantial customer base. So I converted my business plan into one for a lodge.”
Dudek and his business partners were able to take advantage of a unique aspect of the Massachusetts historic-curatorship program that allows some properties to be used for commercial ventures. For Forsythe, who took over the fieldstone mansion of Bradley Palmer, it meant returning Willowdale Estate to one of its original uses. “It was where he would entertain,” says Forsythe, who rents out the estate for upscale weddings and events. “It was designed for parties.” During Palmer’s lifetime, he hosted? President William Taft, General George Patton and Prince Edward VIII at his home.
Commercial ventures have to prove their financial viability in the same way an individual has to show the wherewithal to complete the renovation of a home. For Dudek and his partners, that meant convincing the state that their plans for a café and a lodge would be self-sustaining. “We had to show that it would underwrite the cost of restoration,” he says. And his projections, if anything, were conservative. Before and after opening in the summer of 2009, ?Bascom Lodge has undergone an extensive and historically correct renovation, including replacing lighting, repainting the entire lodge and laying down a new hardwood floor in the lobby. While putting in arts-and-crafts style furniture to give the lodge the right look and feel for its time was welcomed, a few original touches had to be jettisoned. “The building is going to be 75 years old next year, and it was built at a time when materials were used that are no longer allowed, like stucco ceilings stuffed with asbestos,” Dudek says.
Despite all of the work, Dudek says the restoration will be completed by the end of 2013, well ahead of the 10-year timeline the state originally approved. Today, Bascom Lodge has a robust dining and special-events business, and the number of lodgers seeking it out is increasing. At least some of the visitors are people who travel the country to see original CCC-era buildings. “They have said they are personally grateful someone is looking after the building and preserving it,” Dudek says. “It had gone downhill for a few years.”
But what’s preserved is not just a building. The original reason to construct Bascom Lodge both in the arts-and-crafts style and in the wilds of the Mount Greylock State Reservation is as relevant today as ever. “I have always loved this period of architectural design,” Dudek says. “Arts-and-crafts, like Gothic Revival, understood urbanization and industrialization has a debilitating effect on people and how they live their lives. They understood contact to nature was important to creating stability to people’s lives. It’s what the reservation is all about, and the lodge is the crown.”
Frequent American Way contributor CHRIS WARREN grew up in New Hampshire, a place where historic preservation is a priority but still a challenge. He dreams of the day he can live in a colonial-era home.