Cape Comeback

A couple returns to Cape Elizabeth—not far from their childhood homes—to start their own family in a beloved beach neighborhood.

The Atlantic puffin found on Maine’s rocky islands returns to its birthplace to reproduce. The phenomenon is called natal homing and scientists believe that the benefits may have to do with a location’s safety and suitability as a breeding ground. Loosely translated for us humans: when you grow up in a place that nurtures you, you want to give your children the same experience.

For Peter and Kate Blake, the return to their childhood hometown was part instinctual pull, part intentional decision to be close to their families and the ocean they grew up with. Kate, who is from Scarborough, was a high-school track star, winning 24 state championships and setting six Class B state records in indoor and outdoor track. After being named Athlete of the Year by the local newspaper, she graduated and went away to college in Massachusetts. Peter was born in Cape Elizabeth and went to college in upstate New York. Having grown up in neighboring towns, the two had known each other in high school, but it wasn’t until they reconnected one summer on Nantucket that they hit it off. Peter was building houses there and Kate was living in Boston at the time. After dating for two years long- distance, they began house hunting in the Oakhurst neighborhood of Cape Elizabeth, just a few doors down from where Peter grew up and a few minutes away from where Kate did.

“We knew we wanted to be in Oakhurst because it’s so family-oriented,” says Peter, a real estate broker with RE/MAX by the Bay. “It’s the kind of place where people buy their first home when they’re young and then when they need more space, they move across the street,” says Kate, whohas worked most recently in publishing and is now focusing on taking care of her daughter. Case in point: Peter’s parents currently live in their third home in the neighborhood.

Made up of modest homes with well- landscaped yards and old trees, the neighborhood is part of the Cape Cottage Beach Association, formed in 1937. Today, the streets are filled with kids on bikes, the smell of backyard barbeques, and neighbors waving to one another from screened porches or on their nightly walks. On a summer evening at dinnertime, you might find a group gathered on the association’s private beach, eating pizza they had delivered to their spot on the sand. If that’s not idyllic enough, the association holds a number of events, including an ice cream social at the end of the school year, beach cleanups, and a lobster bake at the end of the summer. “It really has that old-school classic American neighborhood feel,” says Kate. Unlike in some neighborhoods where people keep to themselves or don’t know who lives next door, here, neighbors are like family. (In addition to those who, like the Blakes, are literally family.)

With Peter’s knowledge of the real estate market and his love for this neighborhood, he and Kate were well equipped to begin looking for a house here. The trouble was finding one available. At one point when they were first dating, they spotted a small dormered Cape on a quiet corner lot and fantasized about living there. “We would walk by this place and comment on how cute it was,” says Kate. “We loved the landscaping, the backyard, the Cape Cod–style design.” The house was perfect, except for one major drawback: it wasn’t on the market. In a neighborhood where people move in and often don’t leave, houses don’t stay on the market for long—if they get there at all. Often, a family member or friend will get wind of a sale and make an offer before a “For Sale” sign can even go up.

In true Oakhurst fashion, about a year after they started looking, the Blakes got word through Peter’s family that the couple living in their dream corner Cape was looking to

rent it out. Sensing an opportunity, they acted fast and made an offer. “We knew
we could only afford the smallest house in the neighborhood,” says Kate. Although it didn’t have a lot of space, the house, which was built in 1944, had great bones and was in good condition. “In the end, it was all about location,” says Peter. “We knew once we bought into the neighborhood, we could potentially be here forever.”

Peter and Kate have several friends who similarly boomeranged back to Maine after growing up here and leaving for college. Now, these friends who all grew up together have children who will grow up together. “It’s really special,” says Kate. “It’s this network of friends with a deep history.” With so many friends nearby, they all like to house-hop, preferring to entertain at home rather than going out.

At first, entertaining a close-knit group of friends and family in a modest Cape wasn’t a big deal, but as everyone started having children—including the Blakes’ own daughter, Charlotte—things got a little crowded. With Peter’s parents and his sister on the opposite end of the neighborhood and Kate’s mom and dad only a few minutes away, there were three sets of grandparents and a handful of cousins nearby. Family birthday parties at the Blakes were bursting at the seams, and everyday life had its challenges as well. “It became pretty clear that one bathroom was not going to cut it,” says Kate. “We couldn’t shower or use our only bathroom when Charlotte was sleeping because the old plumbing was so loud.”

The two had a decision to make: move into a bigger house, or stay put and build an addition. In the end, it wasn’t much of a decision at all. “We had grown really attached to the house,” says Kate. “I felt like if we didn’t add onto it, someone else would.” Wanting to be the ones to preserve the charm of the house, the Blakes embarked on an addition that just about doubled their square footage and includes a two-car garage, a master suite above a large family room, and an additional bath and half-bath. Now, they can entertain with ease and on any given Sunday, you’ll find kids playing in the toy-strewn den (formerly their living room), while the grown-ups gather around to watch a game or enjoy cocktails in the new living room. “Being able to walk to the ocean, to run alongside the waves, to smell the salty air in the morning, to hear the fishing trawlers— growing up here, those are the things we loved and wanted to come back to and give to our own kids,” says Peter, noting that they are within walking distance to the beach, Fort Williams Park, and Portland Head Light. Kate, still a runner, enjoys participating in road races and especially her runs along the ocean. (Charlotte, who is almost four now, just finished her second Beach to Beacon Kids Fun Run.) On weekends, Peter and Charlotte wake up early and head to Scratch Bakery or the Cookie Jar for breakfast treats. Since Peter’s demanding schedule takes him all over the greater Portland area for showings, when he’s off he doesn’t like to go anywhere. “On the weekends, I just want to stay close to home,” he says.

“My world is all right here.”