Rob Cohen’s family began vacationing in Charlevoix when he was a child growing up in the Detroit area. While his two older sisters were away at camp, he and his younger brother, Rick, stayed with their parents, aunts, uncles and cousins in rooming houses on West Dixon during the early 1950s.
“From the time I was probably 4, we would go up and spend a couple of weeks,” shared Cohen, 65, of Bloomfield Hills. “A family could go in there and rent one or two or three rooms, whatever they needed, rather than being in a hotel.”
Cohen’s oldest sister, Judith Primak of Detroit, was the first of her siblings to become a Charlevoix homeowner when she and her husband bought a Earl Young home in Boulder Park in the 1960s.
And it was while their mother, Shirley Cohen, now a widow, was visiting her daughter’s family here that she first took notice of Boulder Manor kitty-corner across the street. She admired the striking boulders from which the home was built, as well as its beautiful setting across from Lake Michigan.
One morning during the 1970s, while Shirley was out walking, she impulsively knocked on Boulder Manor’s door.
“She introduced herself and said, ‘I have always loved your house and just wanted you to know that if you ever think about selling it, I would appreciate you letting me know,’” Cohen said. “The homeowner paused for a second and yelled upstairs to his wife, ‘Come on down, there’s somebody that wants to buy the house.’
“They start talking in front of my mother about how they don’t use it as much anymore, they’re getting older, and after five minutes of talking (privately), they said, ‘We would sell the house and this is what we would have to have.’ They made the deal in about five minutes, standing in the kitchen.”
Uncovering Another World
It was five minutes that unfolded into decades of family moments that are easy to picture during a tour of the property.
Started by Young in 1928 although not completed for almost a decade because of money issues, Boulder Manor now includes the main home and a three-car garage with newly-remodeled guest quarters.
While many spaces in Earl Young homes tend to be small, not so at this 2,467-square-foot, three-bedroom residence, where an expansive living room is punctuated with a fireplace framed by huge boulders and a ceiling featuring dramatic exposed beams. Windows on either side of the fireplace give way to sunset views of the lake across the street.
In fact, the entire home is built from the boulders that Young collected and saved for just the right occasion in each of his projects. “He put a lot of time and thought into selecting these and putting them together,” said listing agent Chris Edwards of Edwards Estates, noting the varied colors and textures Young chose.
What makes this house unique is the choice of boulders. The textures, the multi-colors, they’re so varied. Some of them look like they have ice cream dripping through them — you can see all the different striations.
— Chris Edwards
An exterior cave-like archway leading to a hidden front door (a signature Earl Young element) boasts dramatic elongated boulders: One is rooted six feet into the ground, said Edwards. From here, you can also hear the waves on Lake Michigan.
Though Young wasn’t a cook and hadn’t put much stock into devoting a lot of space to kitchens, Shirley Cohen expanded Boulder Manor’s original kitchen through remodeling. Two bathrooms were also updated. But that’s about it.
“Nearly everything in this house is original,” Edwards said.
Of course, there are Young touches throughout — a “hobbit” window here and an inset in stone to place a piece of art there. The banister seems pulled from a fairy tale cottage. Doorways are arched. The home still boasts its original cedar shake roof.
And the piece de resistance — the feature that always elicits an “awww”— is a playhouse just a few steps from the back door. Young built it to give his own children somewhere to play while he was building Boulder Manor. It has a working fireplace and electricity.
“My mother outfitted it when she bought it,” Judith Primak said. “She bought a wonderful wood refrigerator, sinks, dishes, pots and pans, faux fruit, miniature containers of food stuff … there’s a rocking chair and table and chairs. It’s fabulous.”
Sharing a Legacy
It was against this backdrop that several generations of Shirley Cohen’s family spent summer after summer after summer in Charlevoix.
“My mother had four kids, 12 grandchildren and umpteen great grandchildren,” Primak said. “She loved it, and she was Nana to everybody…Everyone just adored her.”
This included Max Wayburn, whom Shirley married a few years after buying Boulder Manor and enjoyed many happy times with here until his death 35 years later.
“He was not familiar with Charlevoix (before the marriage),” Cohen said. “He loved being there.”
Along the way, Shirley’s other children bought homes in Charlevoix. The second oldest, Elaine, who also resides in Metro Detroit, purchased a lot in Boulder Park where she had her own place built. Rob and Rick each also acquired their own retreats.
Yet Boulder Manor remained the heart of the family’s Charlevoix gatherings.
“That was the central meeting spot for all the kids and the grandkids,” Cohen said. “We were there all the time. We would have barbecues and card games…Christmas holidays. We would gather around the fireplace and have dinners.
“It’s just where the family would get together.”
Primak remembers when her son, now 47, was a child who loved nothing more than to get up in the morning and run around the bend to see his grandmother at Boulder Manor.
“He’d go into her kitchen, she’d give him a bowl, and he’d go out to the raspberry patch,” she said, reflecting on the fun his own now 12-year-old son had there, too. “She would have all the junk cereals I wouldn’t have in my house.”
Shirley Cohen Wayburn died in 2006 at the age of 87. While her children kept Boulder Manor, they took to renting it out summers because without their mother there, it wasn’t the same.
Now there’s a “For Sale” sign in the yard.
“It was a very difficult decision,” Cohen said of putting the iconic property they’ve been rooted to for generations on the market. “It’s been such an important part of our family history.
“But we all decided it was time to let some other family make their history in Charlevoix and enjoy the home.”
Freelance writer Kathy Buzzelli lives in Traverse City.