• off duty with
    OFF DUTY WITH CAMP WANDAWEGA
    Tereasa & David's prohibition-era speakeasy, turned Latvian summer camp, turned vintage Americana playground.
    April 23, 2015  |  BY TARIQ DIXON
    From the Mob, to a Madame, to the Catholic Church, to a creative couple from Chicago - that's Camp Wandawega's history in a nutshell. Located just 90 miles outside of Chicago, the small lake resort was originally founded in the 1920s for city-dwellers seeking some illicit revelry. But when prohibition ended in the 1940s, demand for debauchery didn't die along with. For a few decades longer, the space continued in its merriment as a brothel informally called 'Orphan Annie,' nicknamed for its Madame.

    But there was an unexpected change of hands when the Catholic Church purchased the property in 1961, converting it to a Latvian summer camp. The wholesome, family-friendly retreat is how its current owner David first became acquainted with the property. "Wandawega was my childhood camp. I've been coming here since the 60s, so I have a long history with the place," says David Hernandez , who now owns Wandawega with his wife Tereasa.

    To make a long story short, David purchased the property after the Vatican summoned its Fathers back to Latvia, post dissolution of the Soviet Union. Together, the couple has transformed the storied but sleepy lake resort into a nostalgic wonderland. Master thrifters and born designers, the couple artfully staged every square inch of the camp's 25 acres - largely using objects scavenged from the camp itself.

    The camp's incomparable yesteryear vibe makes it the perfect environment for creative-types seeking respite or inspiration. While Tereasa and David only host sparingly, guests have included everyone from Kinfolk to Warby Parker - and recently, none other than your boys from TRNK!

    After a busy week in Chicago, we passed through Wandawega en route to Minneapolis - the perfect place to regroup before the long drive ahead. After touring the grounds with the two owners, Nick and I went our separate ways to explore, snapping countless photos along the way. From vintage sporting equipment to airstream trailers to an adult treehouse, we were truly amazed by the thoughtful consideration of every last detail.

    Once our work was complete, we grabbed a couple of New Glarus beers, stretched out on the hammocks, took a dip in the lake, and rowed beneath one of the most spectacular sunsets we had ever witnessed.

  • WHOSE IDEA WAS IT TO BUY THE CAMP?

    Wandawega was my childhood camp. I've been coming here since the 60s, so I have a long history with the place. When the Catholic church put it up for sale, I really didn't think twice. Tereasa, on the other hand, wasn't really sold on the idea at first - she thought I was nuts! The place was so far gone, and she had no connection to it. It took her a while to come around, but once she warmed up to it, she's the best thing that ever happened to this place! She's constantly fixing things up, one idea at a time.

  • DID YOU INTEND FOR IT TO BE A PERSONAL RETREAT?

    We knew it was an interesting property, and I had an emotional connection to it, but we didn't have a specific purpose in mind. We've been calling it a "private, friends-and-family retreat," but once we started getting press, people began asking to stay or get married here. So now we describe ourselves as "reluctant innkeepers." Haha! At first, it was a constant party, so it quickly became a money pit - but now that we do limited events and rentals, we can host other events that are revenue-losers, so it works out.

  • HAVE OUTSIDE GUESTS CHANGED THE DYNAMIC OF THE CAMP AT ALL?

    When we started making the foray into rentals, we were afraid. We thought that the minute we took money from people, they would have amazingly high expectations, so the experience would change. But it's been interesting - people realize that this is like a private home, so most of our guests feel lucky to be here, in a way. They'll often thank us for letting them stay here because we're not a venue. We've also started having guests read our "Manifesto of Low Expectations." You have to be really low maintenance, and know that it's gonna be a like a dirty, old summer camp, haha!

  • HOW MUCH RENOVATION HAVE YOU HAD TO DO?

    You know, the stuff that looks original is original. We had to do some restoration, like old broken windows and stuff, but not too much. Well, except that every single roof was leaking, so we had to do all new roofs. After we stopped the leaking, we've gone building-by-building, room-by-room to fix things up.

    A lot of the furnishings are original too. Most of the beds, the plates, the dressers - they were all here when we bought it.

  • Wandawega was my childhood camp. I've been coming here since the 60s, so I have a long history with the place.

  • REALLY?!? I ASSUMED YOU GUYS OUTFITTED THE PLACE FROM SCRATCH.

    We did add some things, but there was already so much here. A lot of the families, including my mom's, came from Latvia during WWII and left with nothing - literally. There was a definite refugee mentality amongst members of the camp who lost everything in the war, so now they don't throw anything away. There were old air conditioners, couches, toasters - basically, if they didn't need it for their Chicago homes anymore, it ended up at Wandawega. We had a lot of weeding to do, so we got two fifty foot semi-trailers out here - one for donations, and the other for the dump.

  • DO YOU REMEMBER ANY SPECIFIC ITEMS FROM WHEN YOU WERE A CHILD?

    It's really funny you ask. Friends from my childhood, who haven't been here in ten to twenty years, will see something and say, "Oh my God, I remember that chair!" Or - "I remember that taxidermied deer. That always used to freak me out!" But it will be something I know we put there, no doubt about it. I know exactly what thrift store it came from. It happens all the time, but I usually don't have the heart to tell 'em, haha! It speaks to the fact that we intentionally add things in a way that's respectful to the history. You shouldn't be able to tell what's been replaced versus what was here originally.

  • We knew it was an interesting property, and I had an emotional connection to it, but there was no specific purpose in mind.

  • There was a definite refugee mentality amongst members of the camp who lost everything in war, so now they don't throw anything away.

  • People realize that this is like a private home, so most of our guests feel lucky to be here, in a way...

  • We intentionally add things in a way that's respectful to the history. You shouldn't be able to tell what's been replaced versus what was here originally.

  • You have to be really low maintenance, and know that it's gonna be like a dirty, old, summer camp, haha!

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