EXCERPT FROM THE

SUMMIT HOUSE TASK FORCE REPORT

JANUARY 8, 1977

 

 

IV. THE ALTERNATIVES

In their preliminary report of January 27th, 1976, the Mt. Holyoke Summit House Task Force identified six general alternatives:

a. Demolish the present structure

b. Demolish but replace with an identical building

c. Demolish but replace with observation tower

d. Leave structure, doing routine maintenance

e. Erect a masonry summit house

f. Restore the present structure

Each of these now merits further discussion:

a. Demolition: This does appear to be a drastic move in view of strong local opposition and of the tourist appeal still enjoyed by the old building. Now that some urgent repairs have been made, and the building is freshly painted, there seems little reason to demolish it.

b. Replacement With Replica: This alternative has no obvious merits.

c. Replacement With Observation Tower: We concur with the Task Force that a tower would not constitute much improvement over the present porch. Even if the Summit House were gone, the view is quite dramatic

enough from ground level.

d. Minimal Maintenance: This is a possible approach, if only to buy time, and appears in fact to have been

already adopted. The ever-present dangers, however, will be vandalism and future neglect due to public or

government apathy. It is the strong opinion of these consultants that unless a living use for it is found, the Summit House is sooner or later, like all white elephants, doomed to extinction.

e. Masonry Summit House; This was the Perry Shaw Hepburn and Dean approach of 1958, and is now a very dated one. It was, however, marginally acceptable to the Task Force. Nevertheless, its drawbacks are serious. The kind of grandiose scheme originally envisaged would now cost 2.5 to 3 million dollars, and the $800,000 or so that Governor Dukakis may or may not make available in the next fiscal year would buy only a very spartan facility in terms of masonry construction. We personally doubt that an expense of a very large magnitude is warranted on top of Mt. Holyoke unless the Commonwealth were willing to risk the wrath of local citizens by greatly increasing the accessibility and utilization of the mountain top. This, of coourse, would pose some threat also to the ecology of the mountain, but that is clearly beyond the scope of our expertise.

f. The Restoration of the Present Structure: The alternative overwhelmingly endorsed by the Task Force and by area residents, is not an easy problem. In and of itself, the physical work could certainly be undertaken, and we have estimated its general cost at about $216,000, or $25 per square foot. For this sum, the present Summit House could be creditably refurbished, insulated, painted, and otherwise restored to creditable condition. Our estimate differs from that of $300,000 quoted by Howard B. Bacon, P.E. in January 1975 chiefly in that we do not foresee a 25% premium due to location, and in that the "preparation of the building for renovation" has largely been done. These two items would reduce Mr. Bacon's estimate to $200,000.

To our $216,000, however, must be added some $33,000 in professional fees (15%, not the 25% quoted by Mr. Bacon), some $75,000 for kitchen equipment (if the Summit House is to have a future restaurant use, as will be explained later) and an indeterminate amount for sewage and water. This last amount, the cost of a year-round system which would satisfy current stringent regulations, was simply impossible to determine within the confines of this study. Due to location, a special study will have to be undertaken, and we cannot even take for granted at this point that health board requirements can be met at all. We have assumed a $50,000 allowance for this phase of the work.

The aggregate total of $374,000 should further be increased to take into account a parking facility at the halfway house, and ancillary work on the structures located there, again outside the scope of this study, so that an expenditure of $500,000 would not be unreasonable.

Assuming that $500,000 can be found, or even the $800,000 now being discussed for fiscal 1978, the problem remains acute, for all the money in the world will be of little avail without a rational use plan. Hence, during our study we proceeded under the following assumptions;

1. That a living use must be found for the building, both to prevent vandalism, and in the hope of making it eventually self-sufficient.

2. That this use must be a hard-nosed practical one, and not an idealistic dream.

3. That the Commonwealth would be amenable to one-time capital expenditure in the expectation of solving the problem once and for all, at least for the foreseeable future.

4. Conversely, that the Commonwealth would look askance upon an open-ended scheme which includes continuing and mounting subsidies.

5. That this new use should be .one approved by local the historical society, worthy of their cooperation, and enjoying public support.

Having made these assumptions, we proceeded to hold a day of public hearings in Hadley, to canvass public opinion, and to evaluate reuse opportunities. These are to be discussed in the next section of this report.

V. REUSE OPPORTUNITIES

After much discussion with Mr. Mac Gress, Chairman; Mrs. Margaret Dwyer, Secretary; Miss Gwen Clancy; Miss Nancy Kelly and other members of the Mt. Holyoke Summit House Task Force, as well as with the public at large, the following potential reuse opportunities were identified

a. A museum.

b. An observation platform.

c. A large restaurant with gondola service across the river from 1-91.

d. An inn, perhaps a Treadway.

e. A multidisciplinary education center.

f. A refuge for the Appalachian Mountain Club.

g. A summit house to provide fast food and rest rooms for large numbers of visitors.

h. A dinner theatre.

i. A small hostelry with a Victorian flavor.

The next two weeks were spent in evaluating these proposals to see which, if any, were "hard" enough to run cost analysis. The following thoughts and conclusions resulted:

a. Museum: Use as a museum seemed quite problematic. The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, which operates thirty-five house museums, is well aware that such operations are in need of substantial endowments or constant subsidies. Moreover, the principal problem at the Summit House, that of security, would be greatly magnified by such usage, and it would become imperative to have caretakers on the premises at all times. Alarm systems, on account of the time necessary to reach the site, would be ineffective against either theft or fire. In our opinion, allowing for a 6% return on invested moneys, a Summit House Museum would need an endowment of about a half million dollars to ensure its survival.

Barring a major fund drive on the part of local historical societies, I think that this use deserves no further consideration. Since the museum use would be seasonal, we believe that the finding of suitable caretakers to spend long, quiet winters up on the Summit would not be easy.

b. Observation Platform; The deck of the building is now an observation platform, and will continue to be thus used, with little or no effect on the rest of the fabric. If the deck were removed, the old observatory could once more be refurbished to be the observation platform instead. We do not see how either use could offset maintenance expenses which, by the very nature of this use, would be considerable. The present Summit House was never built to accommodate the thousands of tourists which the automobile has unleashed upon it. Of its opening day, back in 1851, we read, "had very good luck indeed, had about 25

hands present".

c. Large Restaurant With Gondolas; This was a very imaginative proposal by a local citizen, Mr. Duncan Bremmer. He suggested that the gondolas start adjacent to the parking lot of the Hilton Colonial Motor Inn, across the river, cross the river on high pylons, and proceed up Mt. Holyoke. We felt that the astronomical costs of such a breathtaking people mover, if they can be justified at all, could only be justified if:

1. it were enthusiastically received by the local Inn, which grasped the opportunity of relocating it's main dining facility on the Summit, and

2. if the great capacity of the gondolas also served to greatly increase visitors to the mountain, i.e., if the policy of the Commonwealth pointed to much greater utilization density for Skinner State Park.

Neither of these conditions proved applicable. Hilton manager, Mr. Orpanos seemed preoccupied enough with his poor current restaurant receipts to see any merit in such imaginative plans. Unable to fill his own dining rooms he has no desire for another a cable-car ride away. As for the cable car being a general people-mover for the Park, it seemed obvious that local residents would oppose such intensive use. This alternative was reluctantly abandoned.

d. Treadway Inn: Having been a Treadway Inn, it seemed reasonable to assume that the Summit House could be one again. Mr. MacDonald Sullivan, Vice-President of the Investors Hotel Service Corporation, which franchises Treadway Inns, was kind enough to spend a day at the Summit House, and disabused us of that idea. Things have changed since the days of L. G. Treadway, he explained. A minimal Inn now must have at least 100 units to be feasible, and he felt that such a facility would be neither in scale with the summit of Mt. Holyoke, nor satisfactorily rentable in such a location. He further opined that no chain would be interested in the Summit House, and some further conversations substantiated his opinion.

e. Education Center: Taking into account the proximity of Mt. Holyoke College, Amherst, Smith College,

Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts, it seemed logical to explore use of the Summit House as a multidisciplinary education center for the study of botany, astronomy, ecology and what-have-you. A Mr. Thomas D'Avanzo submitted an elaborate two-page proposal to this effect at the public hearing, suggesting that primary and secondary school pupils be accommodated as well.

We contacted the Five College Coordinator, Mr. E. Jefferson Murphy, who warned us that the college's joint astronomy department had just relocated to a new facility on the Quabbin Reservoir. He did, however, promise to raise the matter formally at the December meeting of the five college presidents. After this meeting, we again contacted Mr. Murphy who said that the question of the Summit House had been aired at length. He said that no president was willing to spend a penny of maintenance money even if the State made the capital outlays; that none of the presidents' felt that their students had any use for the building/- that the top of Mt. Holyoke was already accessible enough for study; and thhat while all agreed that the Summit House was an important historic landmark, the presidents felt that the burden of its preservation should fall upon others. No further study of this option was undertaken.

f. AMC Refuge; An equally negative view was held by the canvassed members of the Appalachian Mountain Club, particularly Mr. Fran Belcher, Special Projects Director. He explained that Mt. Holyoke was simply not high enough to warrant a mountain house; that the AMC is relinquishing the construction of such structures in view of mounting preference for back-packing and tent-platforms; that AMC members do not like to be where beer-drinkers can arrive by road; and that he thought the sewage and water problems might prove horrendous.

On the other hand, Mr. Belcher showed great sympathy for the structure, and explained that it would certainly be patronized by AMC members if it were a small, homey hotel. "Our people do not always sleep under tents", he said.

g. Summit House: Mr. Belcher also stated that he thought the use of the Summit House as a mass facility unfeasible. "It's too attractive for the masses, and too difficult to maintain", he said, "people will stay too long and be too hard on it". The masonry summit house on Mt. Washington has a quarter of a million visitors each year. Its snack bar, which grosses $126,859 last year, the gross. Yet, so great is the crush, and so small is the per capita expenditure, that maintenance out-strips profits by a considerable margin. A five-man state crew is necessary for maintenance, and water costs run to $12,000 annually. Not only is the facility unprofitable, but is now in need of total reconstruction for a cost well in excess of $1 million.

The comparatively frail frame house on Mt. Holyoke could scarcely be expected to withstand similar pressures. Clearly, utilization must be kept at a much lower level, and per capita expenditures must be raised considerably to raise efficiency.

h. Dinner Theatre: This was another imaginative outcome of the public hearing. Unfortunately, it combines the access problems of a large restaurant (option c) with the problem that theatrical performances provoke mass arrivals and mass exodus. If the Summit House is to serve meals, the theatrical aspect will merely complicate matters.

i. Hostlery; Mr. John Wotton French built the Summit House in 1851/1861 to be a small family hostlery, and it is to this use that Mr. Sullivan of the Treadway Inns, Mr. Belcher of the AMC, and many others pointed with guarded optimism.

To see how such a family operated small inn might work in today's market, I spoke to the operators of a charming example, the Jared Coffin House on Nantucket Island. This lovely mariner's mansion, of very similar size to the Summit House, was rescued from destruction by the Nantucket Historic Trust, an organization brought into being by the last will of the late William Beinecke. Sr. The mansion was restored, antiques were collected, quilts were quilted, and all manner of tasteful decor was paid for. A small addition brought total rooms up to 41, and 125 diners can be seated in the two dining areas (one a basement pub).

Once the inn was ready, it was leased to a suitably- experienced and capable man, Mr. Philip Reed, with an

option to buy after ten years. The years have profitably passed, and Mr. Reed is now the sole proprietor.

VI. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION

Our conclusion and recommendation, therefore, is that the Summit House be restored to its original use at State expense, and that a suitable lessee be found to operate it. We do not recommend additional rooms, but we do recommend a restaurant with 150 seats. Ideally, there would be a cocktail lounge at the halfway house, in a refurbished barn, next to an extensive parking lot. Guests would arrive, give their names, and settle down to a drink and appetizers. They would then be conveyed by carriage in summer and sleigh in winter up to the summit, thus controlling the rate of flow of guests into the dining room in an agreeable manner. Local individuals and historical societies would be asked to contribute memorabilia, artifacts, furniture and other Victoriana, and there is every reason to believe that their response would be generous, since the hostlery would be open year-round, and its contents would be safe. It would be a source of pride for the entire Lower Pioneer Valley. Local residents might even be persuaded to sponsor parts of the restoration (the room grand-daddy slept in?), marked with suitable plaques.

What are the financial implications of such an approach? At first glance not bright, if one is anxious to recapture the original investment of restoring the present building. Aiming for an annual return on this initial outlay of 9%, Mr. Foster projects an annual DEFICIT of $42,000-$45,000. If, however, one considers the cost of restoration as a one-time expenditure, a delayed-maintenance penalty if you will, the prospects become brighter. Mr. Foster estimates costs as follows:

Our conclusion and recommendation, therefore, is that the Summit House be restored to its original use at State expense, and that a suitable lessee be found to operate it. We do not recommend additional rooms, but we do recommend a restaurant with 150 seats. Ideally, there would be a

Lease income (estimated at 5% of gross) $25,785

Insurance Expenditure 4,000

Maintenance Expenditure 8,000

Depreciation on Equipment 3,750

Depreciation on Sewer & Water 2,000

GROSS PROFIT 8,035

The low lease income takes into account that the lessee must bear the cost not only of utilities, but also of the carriage/sleigh, at an estimated $26,000/year.

In Mr. Foster's analysis, further expenditures occur which bring the balance into deficit. First, an expenditure of $15,000/annum for maintenance of road to summit and of the parking lot. Since both are necessary and public, I suggest that this expenditure should NOT be set against restaurant income. Secondly, Mr. Foster lists and expenditure of $7,128 for the depreciation of the building over 30 years. While this is standard business practice, it has no relevance to a well-maintained historic property, which will tend to appreciate rather than depreciate. As we feel that $8,000/annum already quoted is sufficient for careful maintenance (as evidenced by our own properties records) we submit that this expenditure (which would not, even if counted, result in an unprofitable operation), too, may be discounted.

Financially, therefore, we submit that the Summit House could cease to be a burden to the state once an initial investment of between $300,000 and $500,000 was made prior to leasing.

In the course of this study, we have commenced to investigate public reaction to this proposal and were pleased to find little or no opposition and a great deal of enthusiastic support. We realize that some charges of elitism might be brought to bear if the idea were clumsily developed, but we are confident that proper support could be lined up to make it a success. In fact, the new hostlery would not be overly elegant, but would seek to recapture the family atmosphere and comfortable charm of Mr. French's establishment.

Should the State wish to adopt this recommendation, we would be happy to proceed with the preliminary design of the restoration and to simultaneously firm-up budgets and begin the search for a suitable lessee. We can, on the state's behalf, perform the functions of a private developer trying to bring this project forward at minimum expense until such a time that its total financial feasibility becomes sufficiently clear to warrant total implementation of the program. My qualifications to perform such work are available upon request.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Maximilian Ferro AIA, RIBA