York Magazine/ August 17, 1981
Rural revival: clapboard farmhouses
(top) and pine bungalows typify the country co-ops.
It’s the setting for a Grade-B movie from the forties: The lady in a
halter top and pedal pushers is serving iced tea on the screened porch
of her bungalow. Through the narrow door, one can see flowered linoleum,
metal cots, a fold-out ironing board piled high with white shirts.
Ah, yes, the Catskills bungalow colony. Gone the way of the 10-cent token
and the doctor who made house calls. The victim of large hotels, fancy
resorts, and the disintegration of family living.
Well, not quite. In 1981 the bungalow colony is making a comeback—this
time as a cooperative. Answering the needs of resourceful artists and
professionals who are afraid of neither work not community, bungalows
are once again offering young families pine forests, country air, and
space for anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000.
“It’s a mild trend,” says upstate real-estate broker, I.J. Miner, who
lives in Middletown, New York, careful to measure his words. Last year,
Miner was approached by architect/developer Richard Hamner to whom he
had once sold a city loft. Hamner asked Miner to find him a country property.
When he went to Miner, Hamner was already a Catskills veteran. A number
of years ago, Hamner had bought a house in a pioneer bungalow cooperative
called Pine Bush, and he was now ready to strike out on his own.
|Cabin fever: Catskills colonies feature bungalows (top) and
Finding the right place wasn’t easy. “We spent two months searching for
the right bungalow colony for an artistic individual,” Miner explains.
Hamner’s main interest was trees, privacy, space, peace, and quiet. Eventually,
three such colonies were found: the first, a 95-acre, sixteen-unit site
near Jeffersonville, New York, which Hamner bought and is now developing
as Kauneonga Vacation Homes: the second, a 60-acre, twelve-unit site south
of Monticello, bought by real-estate broker Slim Hanja, of Court Realty
in Manhattan, and friends and dubbed Bungalow City International: and
the third, the Last Resort, a 40-acre spread with motel units and bungalows
near Monticello, bought by some partners of SITE, a nationally known architectural-design
Most recently, SoHo architect and loft specialist Shael Shapiro has purchased
a 104-acre colony perched on a mountain 1,500 feel above sea level. Like
Hamner, Shapiro was interested in the aesthetics of the country—in beautiful
land and surroundings. Rejecting colonies with 80 or more apartments crowded
on ten to twenty acres, he and his cousins picked a fifties apartment
colony that will be sold as 27 units. Renamed the Buffalo Colony, it came
complete with a small lake, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a recreation
hall, camp buildings, and sports facilities. Shapiro, who bought a loft
in SoHo thirteen years ago for $1,200, thinks that this is the wave of
the future. “It is an inexpensive way to have a summer place,” he says.
“When we saw it, it just made us laugh,” confesses Gerry Laybourne, acquisitions
director for Nickelodeon, an all-children’s cable channel, who bought
into Bungalow City International. Aside from wanting her kids to experience
the outdoors, Laybourne says that she had “this earth thing” rooted in
her. “My grandmother was from a farm in North Dakota. But given our financial
situation—in and out of money—we couldn’t find anything we could afford
until we joined five other couples with a total of ten kids.
Now the Laybournes have found a way to put their home-improvement energy
to work. Since occupying their double bungalow, they’ve taken the ceilings
out and removed the separating wall. “We plan to put in skylights soon
and, perhaps next year, a back screened porch.”
The economics of bungalow ownership make skylights and raising the roof
entirely possible. Individual bungalows, consisting two apartments with
two to four bedrooms, two kitchens, and two baths, price out at anywhere
from $10,000 to $20,000. Maintenance costs, depending on what is included
in the co-op’s prospectus, range from $700 to $1,800 yearly. This covers
keeping up the grounds, repairing the swimming pool, plus electricity,
taxes, and mortgage payments on communal property.
Of course, even these modest fees have escalated over the last ten years.
“When we purchased Pine Bush, nine or ten years ago, the total price was
$47,000,” bungalow entrepreneur Richard Hamner explains. “We were practically
all Westbeth people, and we put in anywhere between $1,000 and $1,500.
The original maintenance was $700. It’s now closer to $1,200.”
Since then several Pine Bush bungalows have undergone fairly extensive
renovations, including added rooms and second stories, and wood-burning
stoves and insulation to accommodate skiing buffs.
“Tranquilo,” says painter Peter Hanssen of his red Pine Bush bungalow.
“Pine Bush is very much like family. My closest friends are people up
there. Who would have thought that almost ten years later we could still
Not all of the bungalow co-opers are artists. The Lake Huntington Summer
community, near Monticello, begun several years ago by Brooklyn realtor
Neil Stein, has attracted pioneer Park Slope and Boerum Hill people, home-owners
who couldn’t afford another house on their own.
Broker Stein believes that timing is crucial. “Local residents preferred
selling to us rather than to the religious sects—the Hasidim, the yoga
groups, Hari Krishna, etc. —because we would boost tax revenues and get
involved in the community.”
The initial plan was to sell to people who were already renting at Lake
Huntington every summer, the majority of them teachers. But after hiring
a hall and proposing the idea of a co-op, not one of the old-timers bought.
“They were beyond the age where they wanted something new,” Stein explains.
Today, Lake Huntington’s 50 units, which sold for $5,000 to $13,000 with
a maintenance of $600 yearly, are sold out, and the community is one-third
young adults in their thirties with kids, the rest a real cross section.
Because newly developed bungalow colonies are sold mostly by word of
mouth among friends and acquaintances, it’s difficult to pinpoint availability.
Calls to Richard Hamner (966-6408), I.J. Miner (914-343-2116), Slim Hanja
(243-6776), and Shael Shapiro (431-5477) may turn up current co-oping
Aside from their low costs, bungalow co-ops offer a built-in network
or community—a plus for some people. “We’re all city veterans. We know
how to deal with people. We enjoy being with other people,” says Slim
Hanja, who describes his involvement with Bungalow City International
as less a business venture and more a “busman’s holiday.”
Says SITE’s Michelle Stone, “What do we do when we’re up there? Well,
there are the auctions every Saturday night, and, if you time it right,
you can get into Monticello Raceway free for the last three races.”