CHATHAM — First, it was the sharks. Now, some say, a neon nuisance is threatening the subtle beauty of this quaint seaside town.
When a historic house in Chatham’s Old Village was transformed this month from traditional Yankee white to a fluorescent palette of green, lime, and citrus yellow, some longtime residents blanched at the sight. But weeks later, others have begun quietly cheering the curious color scheme for its ability to turn heads, and open wallets, in Chatham.
“It’s been great for business,’’ said Suzanne J. Nethercote, an artist who sells her work out of the Old Village Co-Op Art Gallery, which operates out of the first floor of the historic home. “We’ve had many people come in here because they’re interested in why it was painted this way and leave with a painting.’’
Although the couple who own the house deny it, many Chatham residents see the new look as the latest salvo in a contentious drama that has played out over the last three years between the building’s owners and the town.
“Beauty, like motive, is in the eye of the beholder,’’ Bill Riley, the couples’ lawyer, said yesterday. “I think what’s really at work is we conform because we want approval of our neighbors. And if your neighbors reject you, the pressure to conform is really relieved, and you’re free to make a decision that pleases only you.’’
The house is set among white and weather-grayed shingles the Cape is known for. Hilary and Tina Foulkes, who live in Germany, bought the property in 2005 with hopes of renovating it for use as a summer getaway. Their requests, which included moving the house 6 feet back from Main Street, a widow’s walk on the roof, and an addition to the south-side of the building, were denied several times by committees and councils at every step.
“I remember one hearing it was a complete circus,’’ Riley said. “We went into the hearing, and the room was packed, every seat was taken. It seemed the world was going to end if we didn’t leave the building exactly as it was.’’
The house, a Greek-revival building that towers over its neighbors, is a beloved symbol of the town, said local resident Carol Pacun, who said the paint job is “bizarre at best.’’
“I remember there was a lot of concern over whether the historic aspect of the house would be harmed,’’ she said. “It was very distressing.’’
Maintaining the historic integrity of the village is very important to many longtime Chatham residents.
Pacun and her husband, Norm Pacun, were instrumental in helping to persuade the National Register of Historic Places to recognize Chatham in 2001 after a slew of demolitions made some residents fear the history of their town was vanishing.
And for a house in the Old Village, it is not easy being green.
“Some colors are more acceptable than others,’’ said Sally Anderson, who has lived here for 20 years. “My first thought was, ‘What were they thinking?’ I still can hardly believe the owners had enough nerve to paint it like that.’’
Hilary Foulkes said in an e-mail that the decision to paint the building was simple: The house was in desperate need of a paint job, and the colors chosen would accentuate the building’s uniqueness. There is no town ordinance that restricts color because color is considered a temporary change.
“Bland homogeneity is overrated,’’ he wrote yesterday. “The building has always stood out, why does it need to blend in now?’’
And stand out it does.
Countless summer travelers and beachgoers, like Marguerite Wolfe of New York, flocked to the bright building this week.
“It’s so happy, so summery!’’ said Wolfe, 64. “It’s not typical Cape Cod, but that’s OK. It shows there’s imagination here.’’
Although there is no stop sign on the corner where the house sits, traffic slowed to a near-stop as drivers craned their necks to take in the view. Passengers, leaning out car windows, gaped open-mouthed at the colors. Some took photos with their cellphones.
“In five years, this place is going to look like Provincetown,’’ joked visitor David Moser, 57, a Connecticut landscape architect. “This is just the beginning.’’
Much like the great white shark sightings near Chatham that have drawn crowds all summer, the house has quickly become the talk of the town. Some vacationers walking into the art gallery said they had seen the house on the news and wanted to see it for themselves.
“Whether they’re coming to see if they can see the sharks, or coming to see if they can see the green house, Chatham has been busy this season,’’ said Donald Aikman, vice chairman of Chatham’s Historical Commission.
Aikman said the commission has no plans to issue any formal opinion on the color change.
“It’s only paint. It can be painted over,’’ he said. “I would certainly like to have had it kept white, but I think it’s kind of eclectic and interesting.’’
Marissa Lang Boston Globe August 19, 2010