A More Sedate Catskills Outlives the Borscht Belt
By C. J. HUGHES
FOR a good part of the 20th century, summer in the Catskills was synonymous with "Dirty Dancing"-style resorts and modest closet-size bungalows. What were less celebrated were its steep, hemlock-draped peaks — notched and curved like teeth on a saw — and its impressive collection of large vacation homes from an even earlier era.
Many of these stately houses, dating from the 19th century, are in Tannersville, a village in Hunter Township in Greene County, and in its surroundings, which include the hamlet of Haines Falls and the tightly knit enclaves of Elka Park, Twilight Park and Onteora Park.
In the winter, Tannersville is known for its proximity to the Hunter Mountain ski area, which attracts a weekend crowd of party-minded young Manhattanites. But when the snow disappears and the mountains' green beauty breaks through, Tannersville is a haven of relaxation and simplicity. And its allure, local real estate professionals say, is attracting more second-home buyers and causing prices to rise.
Gerard Maione, who owns a vintage clothing store in SoHo and lives in TriBeCa, and his wife, Karen, a creative director for the business, bought a 3,000-square-foot farmhouse from a bank for $116,000 in 2002.
The house, built in 1898, has four bedrooms and three and a half baths and sits on 1.2 acres. If it were still in its original condition, he said, it might cost $150,000 today. But because he added new electrical, plumbing and heating systems, as well as windows, shingles and a roof, it might be worth as much as $800,000, he said.
"The first time I came up here, it was 1987, I was a sophomore in college, and I was visiting my roommate's parents," said Mr. Maione, now 38. "I was blown away by the natural beauty, and knew I wanted to live here someday."
The nature that Mr. Maione referred to is estimable.
Tannersville is in Catskill Park, whose 300,000 acres of protected public land — including 98 peaks of more than 3,000 feet — also includes waterfalls, streams, lakes, fire towers and even the ruins of abandoned hotels. The parkland is ideal for hiking, camping, mountain biking and fishing.
The Twilight Park and Elka Park areas include elegant private communities built at the turn of the 20th century when these mountains seemed like the edge of the frontier. They have pools, tennis courts and clubhouses for members. The private Onteora Club, in the Onteora Park area, has similar amenities and a nine-hole golf course.
Tannersville offers many striking views, like those from Route 16, known as Devil's Kitchen, a vertigo-inducing road that slices through the lush valley of Indian Head, much of which is off-limits to development.
That Indian Head view was what closed the deal for Ivan and Viera Bolcek— he is an architect, she a sales manager for an airline — who bought a 43-year-old 3,500-square-foot former restaurant (with an apartment for the owner) with five bedrooms and five baths, on 84 acres of land, including a tennis court, for $275,000 in 1986.
They also liked that, compared with the Hamptons, where they used to rent, the social scene is less intense. "People keep to themselves here," Ms. Bolcek said. She said that a typical Saturday night was spent at home, cooking and entertaining guests.
If you want to eat out locally, the options are fairly slim but expanding. Along Tannersville's three-block, one-stoplight commercial strip are Maggie's Krooked Cafe, known for blueberry muffins, or Pancho Villa's Mexican Restaurant, for strawberry margaritas.
Joining them in February was the Village Bistro, which occupies a former coffee shop next to Gooseberry Creek. The bistro building was renovated by the Hunter Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that buys buildings, fixes them up, rents them out and then sells them to the tenants.
The restaurants exude a casual vibe — they're the kinds of places "you can show up in a T-shirt with dirt under your fingernails," said Jeff Summer, a partner at a consulting firm in Manhattan.
Mr. Summer bought a towering shingle home with eight bedrooms, six bathrooms and eight fireplaces, on 17 acres, for $650,000 in 1998. He was attracted to Tannersville, he said, by the mountains, which reminded him of his native Washington State.
In summer 2007, downtown will see the opening of the 12,500-square-foot Orpheum Performing Arts Center, incorporating a former movie theater, said Peter Finn, the chairman and co-founder of the Catskill Mountain Foundation, a nonprofit group involved in reviving Tannersville and other Catskills areas.
Getting to Tannersville from Manhattan by car takes about two and half hours in light traffic, less than it takes on a Friday night to many parts of the Hamptons.
In the mid-20th century, when much of Tannersville fell out of favor as a summer community, some of its larger houses were abandoned or taken over by religious groups. Others have never been winterized.
Jane Curley, an art historian from TriBeCa who has lectured about the area's history, owns a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house on the grounds of the Onteora Club, which was originally an artists' colony. The floors of the house, built in 1893, sloped so badly, she said, that she had to put in a new foundation.
The Real Estate Market
About 60 percent of Tannersville's residents are part-timers. Some go year-round, some just for summer and some just for skiing. In addition to its older stately homes, the community also has a sizable stock of smaller-scale log cabins, A-frame chalets, modular homes and gingerbread cottages.
The houses, like many throughout this still economically depressed area, are frequently in need of repairs or upgrades — and it can be hard to find suitable contractors, residents said. But, brokers said, the houses can cost as little as a quarter of what a similar size home would run in a trendier vacation locale.
Prices average about $300,000, brokers said. At the low end, a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, about 50 years old and closer to the village, on an acre or less, is about $185,000; about $600,000 will get a house built in the last 10 years, with four or five bedrooms and as many baths, on three acres well outside the village.
Houses in the private portions of Twilight Park and Elka Park and at the Onteora Club rarely appear in the multiple listings, brokers say. Instead, sellers find buyers by word of mouth. Buying a house in the private sections of Twilight Park and Elka Park, where the land is owned by a community association and leased to homeowners, requires approval by a board, as does living on the Onteora Club grounds.
After a lull of a few years, the area is starting to see new construction, including a nine-home gated subdivision, Pleasant View Park, to be built off Route 23A. Ground is to be broken this spring, said Judith Brown of Gene Gordon Realty. A three-bedroom, three-bathroom house on a half acre with a pool is listed at $650,000, she said.
Win Morrison, who owns a real estate agency in nearby Kingston, said that in the last five years, home prices in Tannersville have climbed 50 percent — and 100 percent or more inside the private enclaves.
In March 2005, Mark Alonso, a Manhattan lawyer, paid $1.3 million for a 12,000-square-foot, four-story, nine-bedroom house in Onteora Park that once belonged to the actress Maude Adams, who was famous for playing Peter Pan.
Mr. Alonso, who used to weekend in a home he owns in Westhampton, said he didn't mind Tannersville's relative remoteness. "There are three Carvels on the road on the way back," he said, "and Woodbury Common" — a popular outlet shopping center — "if you are desperate for civilization."