Morning person or night owl? Butch or femme? Mountain person or beach lover? Of course, life is never totally black and white, but for many D.C.-area LGBT folks, the most popular second-home spots come down to where you like to spend either your downtime or your retirement years.
Lost River, W.Va., an unincorporated community in West Virginia’s Hardy County along Route 259, is about a two-hour drive from Washington and has become a sort of unofficial rural gay area in recent years. Gay life in Rehoboth Beach, Del., of course, is well established. When D.C. gays go to the beach, more often than not, it’s to Rehoboth. Traffic can be dicey, especially on Friday and Sunday evenings in the summer, but it’s about a two-and-a-half-hour/120-mile drive from Washington.
We asked locals why they chose one or the other.
Peter Rosenstein, Blade columnist and owner of PDR and Associates, has been in Washington since 1978 and bought a home in Rehoboth Beach in 1998. He spends about 15 percent of his time at the beach.
“Life in Rehoboth Beach is relaxed and fun — great restaurants, great people, shopping and, of course, the ocean and white sandy beach.”
He says visit friends and spend time looking at different neighborhoods before making a purchase. And find a good realtor.
“I’ve been going to Rehoboth since the early ’80,” he says. “The only mistake I made was waiting so long to buy my own place. I also find that D.C. people are friendlier and more relaxed when they’re in Rehoboth Beach.”
Paul Yandura and Donald Hitchcock have been together 18 years and now split their time between Washington and Wardensville, W.Va. They bought a home in Columbia Heights in 2001 and a cabin in Lost River in 2008. In 2013, they bought a store called Lost River Trading Post. A small house next to the store houses Lost River Real Estate.
“I consider myself and I think Donald considers himself more of a mountain person than a beach person,” Yandura says. “I grew up in Detroit and all our trips outside of downtown were to the lake, so I like lakes, mountains and rivers more than oceans and beaches.”
He calls Lost River “very laid back and very welcoming.” Gay people, he says, have “been here for years.” He stays there full time and “is loving it.” Hitchcock goes back and forth.
West Virginia cabins, he says, are overall much more affordable than houses at the beach. He puts a “very nice” cabin option at about $300,000; top-of-the-line might be in the $400,000 range while something comfortable with a view can still be had for less than $200,000.
“And you can still swap houses with someone who spent $900,000 on a beach house for your $300,000 mountain cabin without the expense and upkeep and without having to go in with others,” Yandura says. “It all depends what you want. Also, out here in West Virginia, you can enjoy your cabin all year round.”
He says Wardensville and Lost River Valley are “bustling” in the spring and summer with plenty of outdoor activities. The views in the fall are “spectacular” and even winter is nice.
“Nothing beats cozying up to a large stone fireplace and taking in the mountain vistas,” he says.
Trout Pond National Park, Lost River State Park, the George Washington National Forest Trails, restaurants and shops, bars and even an art co-op add to the appeal, he says.
A. Toni Young lived in Washington most of her life but now spends half her time in Lost River. She says she always thought of herself as a beach person until she found Lost River four years ago. She runs a non-profit and a housewares business.
“Although it is primarily gay white men — until a few months ago, I was the only black lesbian here, also known as ‘the black lady,’ — but a couple lesbian couples have moved in down the road and are interracial,” Young says. “You can find gay African-Americans, great dinner parties, movie nights in the summer, biking, hiking, Kentucky Derby parties — you name it, we have it here.”
Before you buy, she says figure out if you want to be near the water or someplace “more woodsy.” Also think about whether you’re willing to put time in on a fixer-upper or if you just want to move in. Also consider how much time you want to invest in upkeep.
“I never thought this kid from Southeast D.C. would find joy in the four hours I spend on a riding mower, but I do,” she says.
The folks in Lost River “are family,” she says.
“I had my pipes freeze and burst and a neighbor, his brother and some guy I didn’t know, showed up at my house, pulled down dry wall, stopped the leak and called the plumber and made sure I wasn’t overcharged,” she says.
Last month, Bob Kabel sold the Kalorama condo he’d owned for 16 years. He’s had a house in Rehoboth Beach for 14 years. Two years ago, he bought another in Lost River with a friend.
“I like both,” he says. “They’re strikingly different experiences. There is much more to do in Rehoboth than in Lost River, but they both provide a welcome getaway from D.C.”
He says gay life “permeates” Rehoboth and says it’s a “madhouse” in the summer.
“It’s actually more enjoyable and not so crazy during the off season,” Kabel says.
He enjoys hanging out with Yandura and Hitchcock at the Trading Post and says outdoor sports and hiking are great there, if you’re into that. Going out options are limited, but that’s not the draw.
“Lost River LGBT life centers around individual homes,” he says. “Nice weather brings people there. Winter, not so much.”
He agrees Lost River is “much more affordable.”
Kabel says make sure any mortgage broker you work with has everything covered. He’d previously bought a condo in Rehoboth and learned his broker had neglected to submit his loan application. He says the mortgage process for the Lost River house was “long and almost painful.”
“Changes to mortgage lending after the 2008 debacle have made getting a loan much more paper intensive and difficult,” Kabel says.
Vicki Johnson bought her circa 1830s log cabin less than a year ago and moved to Wardensville full time. She worked in law, politics and government for nearly 20 years and craved more time to write, more time with her child and “freedom from a desk job.”
“When I finally visited, I was completely hooked,” she says.
She now runs Lucky Johnson General Store.
“I spend my days surrounded by historical objects and antiques, drinking organic coffee and offering natural products for cabins, people and pets,” she says. “I also host live music events and author talks. It’s pretty dreamy.”
If you think you might be interested, she advises visiting with a local realtor and see what interests you.
“You might fall in love with a valley view of cows grazing, river frontage, a farmhouse, a historic cabin, private access to a national forest, an old barn to restore or something else,” she says. “You will definitely know it when you see it. I never thought I’d live in a 200-year-old cabin, but the view sealed the deal.”