Prospect & Refuge at Whitlock House

Nauset Bay aerial

aerial source: Google

Last week I worked with the other OCLP interns to record eleven Modern residences at the Cape Cod National Seashore (CACO). Julian gives an overview of what our site work included in his blog for this week. I’m going to speak more specifically about the Whitlock House situated on the shore of Nauset Bay in Eastham, Massachusetts. Herbert E. and Helen Whitlock’s house was constructed in 1961, the same year that CACO was created. They sold their property to the National Park Service in 1973 and leased the land and house until 2007.[1] As we found out during our time at CACO, the park is made up of a patchwork of small land acquisitions like that of the Whitlock property. In a meeting with Park Superintendent George E. Price, Deputy Superintendent Kathy Tevyaw, Chief of Interpretation and Cultural Resource Management Sue Moynihan, and Park Historian William Burke, our team learned that over 2,000 separate land transactions took place to create CACO.

While the Whitlock House is in many ways similar to the other Modern residences we surveyed, it is singular in its detailed landscape and planting design. Many of the properties were situated on their sites with minimal grading and no ornamental vegetation. In contrast the Whitlock property has both landform and vegetation that communicate a high level of landscape manipulation by the previous owners. The southwestern portion of the house frames views of Nauset Bay. Two graded benches extend along this side of the house, the higher bench leading from the driveway has views accentuated by a Cryptomeria, an Atlas Blue Cedar, and a Blue Spruce. The lower bench is directly west of the house and connects to a greenhouse and walk-in basement. The northeastern side of the structure is the front of the house and was densely planted with specimen trees and shrubs such as Saucer Magnolia, Purple Beech, American Holly, Lilac, and Azealia. The density of the ornamental planting would have given this part of the property a sense of enclosure when it was occupied. Since 2007, the property has become overgrown with Junipers, Eastern Cedars, Bittersweet, Virginia Creeper, and Poison Ivy among other plants. The views of Nauset Bay are now mostly obscured by this encroaching vegetation and it takes some imagination to understand what the intended viewsheds were.

Whitlock c 1999

Whitlock House while it was occupied; image source: CACO Park Archives

The design of the Whitlock House with open views to the west and secluded enclosure to the east is abiding by a design theory termed “Prospect-Refuge.” This theory states that humans feel most secure in environments where they have both a vantage point to see a great distance in front of them and the ability to retreat into a secluded location if under attack. This theory was first posited by the geographer Jay Appleton in 1975 and was first applied to architecture by Grant Hildebrand in the 1990s. [2] If Prospect-Refuge theory is correct, the Whitlock property must have been a very comfortable and relaxing landscape to inhabit, affording both expansive views of the bay and the shelter of an ornamental garden.

Until next week,


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[1] Carole L. Perrault, Whitlock House & Garage: Character Defining Features Exterior & Interior Photographic Survey (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 2013), 5.

[2] Grant Hildebrand, The Wright Space: Patterns and Meaning in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Houses (Seattle: University of Washington, 1991).

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