The Great Depression wasn’t depressing for everyone. The rich had a great time — jitterbugging, slurping absinthe, and taking what was then a new type of vacation, the road trip. The nation’s first motels and roadside tourist traps sprouted during this era, and among the earliest was Den Danske Lansby, a.k.a. The Danish Village, built in 1929 on Route 1 in Scarborough.
The brainchild of local aristocrat Henry P. Rines, proprietor of the Eastland Hotel in downtown Portland, and Boston architect Peter Holdensen, who’d designed the popular Danish Tearoom inside the Eastland, The Danish Village took Old World kitsch into all four dimensions. Modeled after a real Danish village, Den Danske Lansby had 100 cottages clustered next to a Town Hall–themed restaurant and a village square with a fountain and flower beds. As Frank Hodgdon wrote in a piece posted online by the Scarborough Historical Society, the “cottages of stucco … no two of which were alike … roofed in artificial red tile, were a wonderland of balconies, cupolas, weather vanes, and fanciful birdhouses.” All the employees wore medieval costumes and, no doubt, played up the humble serf act while serving the motel’s moneyed guests. How charming.
As chronicled by Hodgdon, the need to ration gas and restrict the use of tire-grade rubber during World War II compelled even the wealthy to cut down on non-essential motoring, leading to the motel’s closure. The government leased the cottages to house workers building ships in South Portland during the war. In 1947, a fire badly damaged the Town Hall building. In 1967, the Milestone Foundation bought the property to provide shelter for recovering alcoholics, but another fire broke out in ’68 and burned over 20 cottages. “By 1970, all the cottages had been either destroyed or demolished,” Hodgdon reported.
While the town of Scarborough has since suburbanized around it, this site has remained a ruin of toppled bricks and prickly saplings. The only structures remaining on the parcel — located between Big 20 Bowling Center and The Holy Donut — were a brick archway and the base of the fountain. In 2015, local history buffs convinced the town to relocate and restore the arch to serve as the entryway to Memorial Park.
Hancock Lumber Company supposedly had plans to operate a yard on the site at one point, and the Belgian corporation that owned Hannaford supermarkets owned the land until 2014, when the property was purchased by Hospice of Southern Maine, which operates the Gosnell Memorial Hospice House in Scarborough. The non-profit’s CEO, Daryl Cady, told me her board and leadership team are still planning to develop the property into office space for the organization and a resource center providing bereavement support and educational programs. There’s no firm timeline at present for construction to begin.
— Chris Busby