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Cape Cod Modernism Gets a Boost with Restoration of Paul Weidlinger's House

By David Sokol
August 20, 2014
Photo courtesy Cape Cod Modern House Trust
The Weidlinger House in 1953.

Restoration of renowned structural engineer Paul Weidlinger’s Wellfleet, Massachusetts, vacation residence has been completed. According to the Cape Cod Modern House Trust (CCMHT), which led the preservation project, the house is unique among its counterparts. “Compared to other Modernist houses on Cape Cod, which express local building vernacular and relate to nature closely, this building is uncompromisingly rationalistic,” says CCMHT founding director Peter McMahon. Weidlinger, who had an expertise in special structures and was closely linked to the pioneers of 20th-century Modernism, designed his own three-bedroom cottage, completed in 1953.

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One of those famous peers, Marcel Breuer, probably introduced Weidlinger to Cape Cod. In 1948, Breuer collaborated with the engineer on St. Francis de Sales Church in Muskegon, Michigan, as Breuer was designing homes in Wellfleet for himself and artist Gyorgy Kepes. Weidlinger purchased a nearby 2.9-acre parcel on Higgins Pond four years later. McMahon notes that the Weidlinger House mimics Breuer’s own house, in that it perches above the landscape, divides public from private interiors, and is also clad in midcentury Weldtex, a fir striated plywood. Weidlinger’s crisp rectilinear form includes a shaded veranda that connects to the hillside via a Corbusian ramp.
“The house is an interesting illustration of the structural thinking of one of the 20th century’s most important engineers,” says McMahon. Steel X braces support hybrid stud-wall and post-and-beam systems.

The house site was entirely incorporated into the Cape Cod National Seashore in 1979, and the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) used it to house seasonal staff until 1993. The federal agency lacked funds to maintain the building, and doors were boarded up. Deterioration accelerated, and a felled tree damaged the roof’s southwest corner and surrounding elements in 2009. CCMHT was established in 2007 in part to save neglected NPS-owned buildings within the Cape Cod National Seashore. In 2009 NPS leased Charles Zehnder’s Kugel/Gips House to CCMHT, which restored it the same year. The organization signed 10-year leases to restore the Jack Hall–designed Hatch House and the Weidlinger House in 2012. For the Weidlinger restoration, CCMHT reused eight sheets of Weldtex from a local restaurant, and a European manufacturer donated missing sliding glass doors.

Of approximately 100 houses that most notably embody Modernism on the Cape, McMahon estimates that half stand within the National Seashore; of seven that are NPS-owned, two are leased privately and another pair is irreparable. CCMHT’s restoration of the Kugel/Gips, Hatch, and Weidlinger properties accomplishes a significant goal for the nonprofit, and it will focus next on educational programming in the three houses.

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