Monday, August 08, 2005

Location, Location, Location

Not surprisingly, they get the resort's name wrong: it's Rock Lodge Nudist Club. See their at

The naked truth: House a tough sell
Colonial sits amid nudist camp

BY STEFANIE COHEN - Star-Ledger Staff
Monday, August 08, 2005

Bill Van Keuren shouldn't have had any trouble selling his family's house.

It's a three-story colonial with a formal dining room, thick mahogany doors, leaded-glass windows and an enclosed porch. A spring-fed lake is just steps away, past two tennis courts and a hot tub. The house sits on 145 acres of pristine Sussex County woodlands in a naturist resort.

It is priced very attractively at $395,000.

Still, it has languished on the market for more than a year, even as its price has been reduced from $450,000.

How can such a home defy the roaring real estate market in New Jersey, where people are paying half a million dollars for homes only to knock them down and rebuild on the empty lots?

The problem lies in that phrase "naturist resort," which is a euphemism for a nudist camp, or what once might have been known as a nudist colony.

Put differently, anyone who wants Van Keuren's house at Rock Lodge Camp in Stockholm mustn't mind public nudity.

"It's definitely unique," said Heather Adam, the realtor who has listed the house since February, advertising it in naturist magazines and local real estate pamphlets.

Last winter, there were three open houses. A few folks showed, but were shocked to learn they were in the middle of a nudist camp. In the winter, of course, no one is around.

Adam said she hasn't held an open house this summer because "you have people up there with no clothes on."

Three couples, she said, have shown interest in the house: a European nudist couple, a couple from Montclair and one from Manhattan. No one has made an offer.

The sale is complicated by the fact that a potential buyer would have to lease the house first, then join the club, then buy the house outright -- assuming they liked living on the property and the 150-odd members of Rock Lodge liked them.

There's another catch: the land is on cooperative property owned by the club. Homeowners would buy a membership bond entitling them to a portion of the land's worth should it ever be sold.

Van Keuren's father built the house in 1955, and his son added on two new stories in 1976. The family filled the home with Victorian architectural details taken from their previous house in Newark: triple sash windows, thick silvered mirrors and stained-glass windows.

Agnes Van Keuren, Bill's 92-year-old mother, lives in the house alone, and Bill wants her to move in with him in Thompsonville, N.Y.

Agnes moved to Rock Lodge full time in 1977, after William died. William, described by his son as "a progressive person with liberal lifestyle ideas," helped found Rock Lodge Camp in the 1930s.

William and Agnes met at the camp, after Agnes had been lured there unsuspectingly by friends who neglected to tell her the resort was for nudists. Eventually she embraced the lifestyle, spending summers there with her husband and children. Even at 92, she still visits the lake once a year for a skinny dip.

According to Carolyn Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the American Association for Nude Recreation, selling a home at a nudist camp isn't generally difficult. A home just sold at her own club in Kissimmee, Fla. -- Cypress Cove -- last month, she said.

Despite the fact nude recreation is growing (the nude recreation association says there are 270 clubs and roughly 50,000 members in the United States and Canada, up from 170 clubs in 1992) there is still a bit of mystery surrounding the lifestyle.

Nudism took hold in this country in the 1930s, said Michael Gesner, president of the Tri State Sun Club in Warren County. Nudist colonies tended to be founded by German immigrants who exercised and swam in the nude, he said.

"They would just find a piece of private property somewhere rural," he said. The clubs were called "colonies" because they were secret and alternative. Now that nudism is more mainstream, naturists don't like to use the word colony. Camp, or resort, is preferred.

Nudists say there is nothing lascivious, or even that sexy, about the way the live. It's about being natural, accepting yourself and about shedding the status symbols that clothing can connote

"It strips you of your class," Van Keuren said. "You don't know if your next door neighbor is a doctor or picks up garbage for a living. You don't know if they are a lawyer or an actress on Broadway."

On a typical day at Rock Lodge, members roam the property in any state of undress. A man might be practicing his backhand on the tennis court in the buff. A woman could be walking around the lake in a T-shirt and nothing else. One might be gardening in a tank top and underwear, as if she rolled out of bed and wandered outside, garden shears in hand.

Everyone knows each other.

Aaron Treat, who is staying at Rock Lodge for the summer with his wife, Katerina Vanikova, said he finds the place calming. They live in Manhattan during the year.

"We like the fresh air and the family atmosphere," said Treat, 34, who was sitting in his cabin dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, looking like any other New Yorker on vacation.

The entire Rock Lodge property is secured by a locked wooden gate that keeps curiosity-seekers out and gives club members a feeling of security. No signs offer any clue that a nudist resort is within.

The gate may provide privacy to club members, but it's giving Adam a headache.

"If I could scoop the house up and move it to the other side of that fence, it would have sold already," she said.



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