The Buffalo Colony, Woodbourne, NY

New 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 recreation halls.  

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 firm.

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 exist harmoniously?”

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 activity.

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.”