Craig McArt, himself a designer, met separately with Tony Hanslin and George Matarazzo about their recollections of the design effort that went into the Eastman Master Plan.
This summer we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Eastman Community Association’s founding in 1971. We shouldn’t, however, overlook the importance of what happened in the two years prior to that occasion: namely, design of a Master Plan for what was meant to be a trend-setting development.
After lying undisturbed for 43 years following a selective logging project that ended in 1925, a 2,733-acre wooded parcel surrounding Eastman Pond had come up for sale. Attorney and Dartmouth trustee Dudley Orr thought there might be a chance to preserve the beauty of this rare, undeveloped parcel as a second-home community that respected the environment and would serve as a model for future such developments in New Hampshire. To that end, drawing on his Dartmouth and business ties, he assembled a small group of investors, which formed a company called the Controlled Environment Corporation (CEC), to make the purchase for $540,000.
The CEC engaged an up-and-coming developer to produce a Master Plan for a four-season, vacation-home community that would preserve the natural attributes of the site as much as possible. That person was Emil Hanslin, who had been lauded for his environmentally sensitive planning of a second-home development called New Seabury on Cape Cod. When he finished at New Seabury, Hanslin started Hanslin Associates in Cheshire, CT for a project there, and hired George Matarazzo, a recent graduate of the Harvard School of Design, to handle the firm’s design and aesthetic aspects. The two hit it off immediately and had great rapport, according to Emil’s son, Tony, a Dartmouth grad and collaborator. When they landed the Eastman project, Emil engaged market research people he knew and George brought in people from Harvard Design. They pulled together a team of individuals with diverse expertise to work on the Master Plan – a team that at one time numbered as many as 35.
Before moving up to an office in Manchester, NH, a small group of five or six came up from the Connecticut studio several times to walk the site and get an initial lay of the land. This was done in January of 1969 when the pond was frozen and leaves were off the trees. They stayed at a lodge in New London, driving up to scout a specific area of the tract each day they were there.
Diverse means were employed by the larger team over the ensuing months to get a comprehensive overview of the possibilities. Using air surveillance, color photographs of the tract were taken at different times of the year. On-the-ground reconnoitering groups gathered information about the topography, soils, vegetation, and existing trails. Hills that could become toboggan runs or ski slopes were noted. The pond bottom and adjacent marsh were probed to determine whether the pond could be expanded and to what level. A new dam at the old millpond was contemplated to replace the two broken ones they found. Meanwhile, additional land was purchased to gain an entrance connection to the highway. This also provided space for a golf course, deemed essential to the plan.
Matarazzo supervised the construction of scaled terrain models along with the drafting of large, floor-to-ceiling maps and charts to explore concepts of land use. These were very effective in keeping the trustees abreast of the thinking as the plan began to take shape. The effects of different water levels on an expanded pond were determined on one of the maps. The golf course – nine holes, later to be 18 – was laid out on land purchased in addition to the original parcel. Centers for activities and services were projected for South Cove and West Cove. Sketches illustrating a visitors center, office, activities barn, restaurant, pool, tennis court, and marina with a peninsula were drawn up to help envision what South Cove could become. Illustrations for possible West Cove development pictured a covered road bridge, another restaurant, shops and even a post office, never to be.
For the final presentation of the plan to the CEC directors, George Matarazzo persuaded members of his team to join him in putting on a play where they acted as if they were living in Eastman 20 years in the future. George remembers saying, “Let us play a few holes so you understand what the golf course does.” He talked the holes through in his imagination giving the feeling of how the course was going to look. Toward the end of the performance, they pretended to be skiing along part of the lake at twilight and could see buildings at South Cove, where they went in and had a drink. “It took all day to do that little play,” he said. “They loved it, they laughed, but of course we had all the maps and drawings. They were huge – seven or eight feet tall and five or six feet wide – and there were sketches. Emil was right there, obviously.” The CEC Board embraced the Master Plan and hired Hanslin Associates to implement it.
Matarazzo (L) and Hanslin (C)
Present to Trustees
It’s fun to again contemplate the list of concepts that were generated for consideration at the time but never to be realized. They reveal the breadth of thinking then – all part of the design process. Maybe some day one or two could become a reality. Which would be your choices?