Family-run housekeeping cottage tradition lives on

“THERE’S ZERO CHANGE HERE” — Joe Gallinari, president of Brookline Cottage Association, addresses the Bridgton Board of Appeals Jan. 24 on his variance request, with the board’s attorney, David Kallin, looking on. His grandparents began renting the housekeeping cottages in the early 1940s. “We have not changed their business model one iota,” Gallinari said.

“THERE’S ZERO CHANGE HERE” — Joe Gallinari, president of Brookline Cottage Association, addresses the Bridgton Board of Appeals Jan. 24 on his variance request, with the board’s attorney, David Kallin, looking on. His grandparents began renting the housekeeping cottages in the early 1940s. “We have not changed their business model one iota,” Gallinari said.

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

To the sunset side of the lake they come, year after year. These working class folks count down the days until they can turn the clock back on time. Until the sight of those gorgeous fireball-red sunsets over Highland Lake can take their breath away at the end of a long summer day. Until they can spend a week or two relaxing once again in their tidy white housekeeping cottages nestled in a pine grove, after spending the day catching sunfish on the boat dock or catching rays on the sand with a good book in hand.

Some of the renters at Brookline Cottages on Highland Road in Bridgton have returned for 50 years or more, dating back to the years after Sam and Olga Gallinari had the first cottages built in the early 1940s. The renters came as children, and then they brought their children; they forged fast friendships with fellow renters over the years. Each year they take comfort in the lack of change at Brookline, more precious with the march of time.

And because of Sam Gallinari’s forward-planning business model and the commitment of his four grandchildren who all live and work in Bridgton, Brookline’s returning renters are happy campers. For 73 years running, the family-owned continuity of Brookline Cottages is unique in the Lake Region today, when most of the other housekeeping cottage businesses — like Stone’s, Kramer’s, Taylortown and Adams Cottages, are no more, with each cottage sold off to private owners. Brookline’s eight cottage units (most are cottages, but there is one mobile home and two year-round homes) are all owned by Gallinari’s grandchildren, and all are rented under the by-laws, rules and regulations of the Brookline Cottage Homeowners Association.

Time moves on

“Time moves on, these things slowly break up, and our time will come,” said Joe Gallinari, 47, association president. Even though he and his brothers Tony and Paul Mark Gallinari, and sister Debra Dutton all have busy lives and careers (Joe is owner of J.P. Gallinari Electric, his brothers are in construction and his sister is Registrar at Bridgton Academy), the siblings are still actively running the cottages as an renters’ association. Olga managed all the cottage bookings for many years (and raked the beach each morning, among countless other tasks), until Debra and Joe’s wife Arlene took over and created a master schedule. Much communication back and forth among the siblings allows them to juggle renters’ preferences on what weeks will work best with which cottage.

“I think how we were raised helps,” Gallinari said, citing a strong family work ethic tracing back to his great-grandfather, Tony Gallinari. It was the elder Tony who, in 1938, told his son Sam about all the trees on the land just past the Dugway Road that were blown down by the Great New England Hurricane that year.

Back then, wood, not shorefront, meant money, and Sam, who then owned a bar on Main Street, had heard from customers that people were having trouble finding a place to stay that was close to downtown. So Sam took his father’s advice, and in 1939 he bought the property, once a camp for underprivileged children of Brookline, Mass. He replaced the summer camp’s tent platforms with cottages, each one unique, with screened-in porches and fireplaces, and bought adjacent property over time to spread out. The camp’s main lodge, on the water, became Sam and Olga’s home after it was winterized in 1963, and is now owned by Joe’s father, Paul A. Gallinari. The cottages are arranged around a circular driveway on Gallinari Way, with a play area in the middle and two other common areas, one a sandy swimming beach and the other a boat launch space with a dock for fishing and boating.

Other than upbringing, the other reason the grandchildren want to continue renting housekeeping cottages is that “We all had fond memories of growing up there,” said Joe. He remembers many summers picking up pinecones, changing propane tanks and bailing out the Alumacraft fishing boats that replaced his grandparents’ old wooden fishing boats in 1963. He also remembers the thrill of swimming out to the mammoth rock located 75 feet offshore, where he could stand up upon arrival and “Look like you’re walking on water.”

Protecting the legacy

Keeping Brookline’s business model intact hasn’t always been easy, and has required Gallinari to step up publicly (or dig in legally) to preserve the business as it exists. Around three years ago, several of Joe’s cousins decided to sell five cottages in the association, which left some renters nervous and others in an uproar. “That was an all-summer thing for me legally,” he said, with some scheduling nightmares, but ultimately was resolved in negotiations so that the association remained intact with eight remaining cottages. The cousins didn’t have the emotional ties to Brookline that the Gallinari siblings have, he said, so selling the cottages made more sense.

The most serious threats to the Brookline way of life, however, arose after the adoption of Shoreland Zoning in Bridgton in the early 1970s. Gallinari said he joined a Mooring Committee when a proposal arose to restrict the use of boats on Highland Lake by requiring 25 feet of frontage for each mooring. The proposal failed, but for a time Gallinari said, “I was beside myself,” thinking of the negative prospect of not allowing each cottage renter to have their own boat. At that time, there were 12 cottages, and “12 little red buoys out there,” one for each camper.

“I didn’t have any ax to grind, but I’m looking out for Brookline. We’ve been on Highland Lake since 1939, and we want to continue to offer this, doing what we’ve always done.” He also advocated against another proposal, which also failed, that would have banned the use of jet skis on Highland Lake. Bad for business, he said of the powercraft ban — adding, “How many businesses can you name that have been around as long as Brookline?”

The latest challenge

As anyone with shorefront property in Maine knows, it takes persistence, research and effort to win the blessing of the Department of Environmental Protection to change a square inch of shoreline — as Gallanari found out 20 years ago when he went through the permitting process to repair the concrete walls of Brookline’s shoreline. His efforts filled two thick file folders. Holding up yet a third hefty file folder, Gallinari talked recently of the most recent — and most serious — challenge to way of life at Brookline, one that he was prepared to take to the Maine Supreme Court, if necessary.

It was a request for a variance from the Bridgton Board of Appeals, which was granted Jan. 24 with help from the board’s attorney, David Kallin of the Portland law firm of Drummond Woodsum. Kallin drew up findings of fact that affirmed, in essence, that a variance wasn’t needed to split off the common 42’x42’ boat launch from the main “cottage” owned by Joe’s father, Paul Gallinari. Paul has a potential buyer for the modernized, year-round home, and the lot it is located on includes the boat launch.

A new owner of the property would be a member of the association, just like the Gallinari siblings; but if the boat launch remained part of the property, that new owner would not want the liability of having renters accessing a boat launch on their lot, Gallinari explained.

“Nothing is ever a problem when it is family-owned,” Gallinari said. Looking ahead to a day when one or more of the grandchildren might want to sell their interest in Brookline, Sam and Olga drew up careful deed descriptions for each cottage that delineated two common areas; the playground and swimming beach. But they neglected the third common area, the boat launch. Back in the day, he said, the rule was unwritten yet clear: “They decided where the boats went, and we all lived by it.”

Fast forward to the appeal, which began in December and was tabled in order to receive the legal advice. Gallinari appreciates the extra time and care with which the board, as well as Code Enforcement Officer Robby Baker and Administrative Assistant Georgiann Fleck, considered his request. “I think the board did what they could for us, absolutely,” he said. “It would have been a very, very big deal had we not been allowed to continue.”

Under the approval, the boat area will be commonly owned by the nine members of the association, who will all have rights to it and, by extension, their renters. Gallinari is grateful the town granted the appeal, noting that denials are much more common, given the state’s strict requirements for proving “undue hardship” would otherwise occur. He said he was especially impressed that in attendance at the hearings was Anne Krieg, Bridgton’s director of planning, economic and community development. To him, Krieg’s presence indicated that Bridgton wants to facilitate the continuing success of local businesses if possible within state and local zoning laws.

Progress doesn’t require change, and in Brookline’s case is a negative, although the family accommodates renters’ modern requests, like Internet access. They invested good money on their website, www.galinarisbrooklinecottages.com, which includes an availability page that shows solid bookings for all but a few weeks for all cottages this summer.

Perhaps their testimonials page best states Gallinari’s case for Brookline’s need to remain as unchanged as it can. Longtime renter Russ Hahn of Rhode Island and Florida has returned to Brookside for 52 summers; 40 years ago, he built and planted a perennial garden beside the cottage he rents, “adding to it each year.” Chris’s parents started coming to Brookline when he was eight, and now he’s been coming for 20 years with his own family. He describes Brookline as a “wonderful, friendly, peaceful cluster of cottages,” where “Generations of families continue to come every year, where the kids can be kids, the adults can be lazy and the days are unhurried and amazingly relaxing.”

Chris ends by saying, “I can only hope that my boys Alex and Evan continue the tradition, and bring their families to this wonderful spot in Maine. Definitely, the best kept secret in Bridgton!!”

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