February 22, 2008

Changes planned at Wawbeek property


HARRIETSTOWN — A slice of property at the former Wawbeek Resort is set to receive a modern rendition of a great camp.

That could require demolition of some of the historic structures on the property.

Dick and Diane Sittig of Malibu, Calif., bought the resort, which is seated on a 40-acre rocky perch above Upper Saranac Lake, from Norm and Nancy Howard last year, closing the historic site to public access.

In a phone interview earlier this week, Mr. Sittig said they are going to build a new vacation home on the property.


Mr. Sittig said they would be taking some buildings down but did not specify which or how many of the 19 structures on the site would be renovated or demolished.

“We’re not that far along in the plans,” he said. “When we submit our plans, that will be clear.”

Some of the structures are in need of “very serious” maintenance, Mr. Sittig said.

“We wanted to design a camp that would fit in the Adirondacks, a modern interpretation of a great camp made of stone and shingles and timbers.”

Site plans filed with the Adirondack Park Agency show a new house sitting where the Wawbeek restaurant currently stands, but Mr. Sitting couldn’t be reached Friday to discuss that.

It is not clear from the architectural renderings what, if anything, of the structures on the property designed by well-known architect William Lincoln Coulter would remain.

The Sittigs have not applied to the Town of Harrietstown for demolition permits.

They have applied for a special permit to build a boathouse, said Angela Lucey, administrative assistant in the Harrietstown Town Planning Office.

“The boat house will be heard by the Review Board next month, on March 25. Any boathouse needs a special permit in the town of Harrietstown,” she said.

“Nothing else has been applied for.”


Among its buildings, the former Wawbeek Resort has two historic Great Camps, by formal architectural definition, built for a New York City banker by Coulter in 1899.

Coulter was born in Norwich, Conn., in the late 19th century and achieved acclaim as an architect for his Tudor and rustic style.

He came to Saranac Lake in 1896 to cure from tuberculosis and work for Dr. Edward L. Trudeau.

Both the former Mountain Lodge and Wawbeek Restaurant are Coulter’s work, but neither is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

After being uninhabited for some time, the Wawbeek became Camp DeBaun, a summer camp for boys, and a row of rustic cabins was built in the 1950s to accommodate that use.

A neighboring hotel originally had the name Wawbeek, variously a lodge and resort that been torn down and rebuilt several times in the last century. It burned down shortly after the 1980 Olympics, and the Great Camp property assumed the name and legacy.


The Howards added a Lake House Lodge in their 13-year tenure with the place.

Neither preservation groups nor the state bought the resort when it was for sale, and it passed into private ownership for $6.25 million.

It’s a fine line to walk, Sittig acknowledged, as the property moves away from public to private use.

“I’m trying to strike a balance about being a good neighbor and wanting to maintain my privacy,” he said.


Drawings of the proposed new great camp filed with the Adirondack Park Agency show a two-story main house wrapped in overhanging gabled roofs, trimmed with exterior brackets.

Rustic elements include arched exterior framework over the front door and gables, with rows of small, square windows.

The new great camp is being designed by Shope Reno Wharton Architecture of Greenwich, Conn., one of the top 100 architectural firms in the United States, according to Mr. Sittig.

At 39.8 feet in height, the new construction may not fall under APA jurisdiction, said APA spokesman Keith McKeever.

“Early plans showed the boathouse on the north side exceeded 8 feet,” McKeever said, “but they’ve submitted revised plans. We’re reviewing their recent submissions right now. If what they have submitted falls within APA guidelines, we won’t have jurisdiction.”

Architectural illustrations filed at APA Feb. 19 indicate the working title of the proposed new great camp is “Big Rock,” the English translation of the traditional Algonquin word for the place Wawbeek.

The property on Upper Saranac is classified Moderate Intensity Use land, requiring 1.3 acres per principal building, McKeever said.

“The size of the parcel of land lends itself well to this use,” Mr. Sittig said.


The two Coulter-designed buildings were part of an Adirondack Architectural Heritage tour in summers, provided by Saranac Lake Historian Mary Hotaling.

The tours are no longer available.

Steve Engelhart, executive director of AARCH, said he hopes the Sittigs incorporate the historic nature of the site into their thinking as they proceed with redevelopment.

The transition from what was once a public place to private use is difficult on all sides of redevelopment, Engelhart said.

“The Wawbeek is different because it was opened to the public for many decades, and there remains a lot of public affection and emotion tied up in the place. You can’t just sort of sever that; it exists.

“What we want to urge them to do is look at options. We want them to make a good, informed decision, one that involves retaining these two key historically significant buildings.”

Mr. Sittig said the removal of upward of 120 people daily and twice as many flushes of a toilet in summer will lighten impact on the land.

“And 100 or 200 years from now, I hope people will look at our buildings and talk about them in the same way.”

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