Interesting article by Jerry Davich in the Post Trib:
Welcome to Dune Acres! Now please turn around - Jerry Davich: Observations from the edge
Welcome to Dune Acres, now please turn around
By Jerry Davich on March 7, 2011 5:54 PM
The following column was printed in 2006 - one of my first for the Post Tribune - but I routinely get asked to republish it, so here it is. Don't be too hard on the guards, though. They're just doing their jobs.
Welcome to Dune Acres! Now please turn around: Upscale, pseudo-gated lakefront town does its best to keep out or intimidate unwanted visitors.
The female security guard exited the little guardhouse, walked up to my car and leaned down.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
For a sight-seeing drive through town, I told her.
"Not through here. This is Dune Acres."
Oh, I said. Well how about if I just visit the beach?
"Not here. This is a private beach."
Oh. Well how about if I just take a little cruise through the streets and be on my way?
"Well, I guess so," she said, hesitantly. "But don't stop to park anywhere and don't turn around in anyone's driveway."
OK, thanks. You have a nice day, too.
After I drove past the guardhouse, she picked up a phone and placed a call to Big Brother. Within minutes, a green minivan began trailing me.
Welcome to Dune Acres, the tiny lakefront town located just north of U.S. 12, just east of the steel mills, and just about as private as a public town can get.
The town has only one entrance, on Mineral Springs Road. Town officials like it this way. It keeps out the riff-raff - me, you and anyone who has the audacity to visit.
Although the town's roads are public, paid with taxpayers' dollars, and part of the town's beach is public --contrary to what security guards tell visitors -- and the town is, well, a town, not a gated community, it's been treated as such for decades.
"It's absolutely illegal Jerry," hissed Helen Boothe, a town resident since 1962.
"This sort of bullying has been going on here for many, many years. Town officials actually think they own the lakeshore and the beach. They don't."
Dune Acres became incorporated as a town in 1923 with a population of 16 people living in five homes. Today it has about 160 homes, some owned by full-time residents, others used primarily on weekends.
"It began as a bedroom community for University of Chicago professors,"
Boothe told me.
Somewhere along the way, a 24-hour police presence, intimidation tactics, and stalking minivans moved in.
A security camera at the guardhouse captures closed circuit video footage of all vehicles entering and exiting the town. At the tail end of a lengthy list of town ordinances, a disclaimer states, "The spirit of this Ordinance, written some time ago, was by no means intended to make Dune Acres a police state."
Yet as I drove through town earlier this week, a green minivan followed me all the way to the beach.
I got out of my car to see what was up.
"Howdy, you don't mind if I drive around, do you?" I asked the minivan's driver.
"You've been doing that, haven't you?" he replied with a smirk.
"Can I park at this beach?" I asked.
"Not unless you have a parking sticker," he said.
"What if someone drove into town and dropped me off at the beach?" I asked.
"Well, that would be OK I guess," he replied.
The older man's name is Irv Call, the town's Road Commissioner. His wife, Cecelia Call, is the town's police commissioner. Insert your own joke here about the town being a bedroom community.
I drove away from the beach and Call followed. I turned left, he turned left.
I turned right, he turned right.
Don't think of this as a neighborhood watch as much as a neighborhood stare-down until they watch you leave.
I turned into the town hall parking lot and so did he, talking on a cell phone.
Not seeing any deer, I pulled up next to him to shoot the bull.
"Do you follow everybody who drives through your town?" I asked Call.
"Not everybody. But it deters people who go down to the beach and raise Cain down there. Or the people who get lost and end up in someone's driveway or yard. It really makes the homeowners nervous."
Call said his wife oversees the private security firm policing the town and guardhouse.
"Do you get a lot of crime here?" I asked.
"Not much, more vandalism than anything else."
Are you allowed to follow whoever you want?
"If we get a call we go right out and find out who they are and where they went," Call said.
You're allowed to do that?
Call laughed: "I guess so."
Doesn't this seem like intimidation to you?
"Historically, they've done worse things than that to intimidate people," he said, laughing again. "But lately they moderated their position. That was before I came here."
"This doesn't seem too welcoming, does it?" I asked.
"No, but on the other hand, you didn't come in here to be welcomed," he told me.
But, I asked, following someone around your town is kind of creepy, don't you think?
Call said that's what the female security guard told him; that visitors came in and she didn't know where they were going. "It's kind of creepy," Call said.
"Oh, so we're the creepy ones?" I asked Call.
"Yeah, you're the creepy ones," he said, laughing.
At that point I checked my tape recorder to make sure it was still running and I exited the town.
In hindsight I was lucky to even get inside town limits.
A handful of other Post-Tribune staffers - appearing as visitors, not reporters -- recently approached the guardhouse with mixed results.
One female reporter and her friend arrived wearing beachgoer attire and blaring Eminem music. The older male guard asked where they're headed.
To visit a friend in town, she replied. He asked the friend's name. She made one up. He asked the friend's address. She didn't know. He asked the friend's phone number. She pretended to call and told the guard there's no answer. She ended up driving away.
Another female reporter, dressed professionally, arrived on a Sunday afternoon. An older male guard asked where she was going. She said for a drive through town.
He said the town is private, and she would have to turn around. When she questioned this, he kept repeating she would have to turn around.
She asked his name. He wouldn't give it. She asked if he was a police officer. He said he works for the town. He again ordered her to turn around and she did.
A male reporter didn't see a guard so he drove past the guardhouse. But on his way out a guard stopped his car asking why he entered the town.
"My parents are looking for retirement property and I heard this was a nice, quiet place to live, so I wanted to check it out for them," the reporter said.
The guard asked why the reporter's parents didn't visit instead.
"Who cares if it is my family or me checking it out?" the reporter asked.
"This is a public place, correct?"
The guard was not pleased, saying, "You have to check in before you are allowed to enter."
Irv Call said town residents have special identification stickers for their vehicles. Boothe said she refused to display it for years out of public disobedience.
Personally, I learned long ago the best way to sneak past Barney Fife and the Guardhouse Gang is to appear that you belong in town.
As you approach the big red stop sign at the guardhouse, near the large American flag, don't stop. Instead, barely slow down, look very busy, pretend to talk on your cell phone, give an obligatory wave like a harried homeowner, and cruise by.
On my way out of town that day, the female guard was asked is she could afford to live in town.
"Are you kidding?" she replied.
In the rearview mirror, a welcome sign states, "Town of Dune Acres, No Thru Streets, No Beach Access"
In other words, "Stay Out. This Means You!"
After I returned home, I visited the town's Web site, half-expecting its cyber-police to ask my intentions before entering. Somehow I snuck through.
"Welcome to the Town of Dune Acres..." the site chimed, "... a unique community."
Unique. Yeah, that's one word to describe it.
After cruising through the site without a town official shadowing me -- I think - I made a wrong turn onto its online Guest Book, where I left this posting:
"Greetings Dune Acres! We had the pleasure of visiting your wonderful town today and we were even chaperoned by a town official, Road Commissioner Irv Call, who followed us like a stalker through your public streets, and then to the public beach, and again through your public streets, until he made sure we left the town limits without causing any crimes, mischief or vandalism. And he also made sure we didn't illegally park on any streets or turn around in anyone's driveway. Your road commissioner then referred to us as "creepy" for invading your town. We felt so special and - of course -welcomed. Thanks for the hospitality."
'It's always been illegal'
The term "private town" is an oxymoron, local officials agree.
"Dune Acres is a public town with public roads," said Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes.
"It would be like Mayor Daley putting up a guardhouse on I-94 and not allowing unwanted visitors into Chicago," she said.
Yet the "Fortress of Dune Acres," she noted, has been doing this for a long time.
"And it's always been illegal," said Tallian, who has constituents in that town.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Superintendent Dale Engquist said if the town is, indeed, screening out-of-town visitors, "technically it's not legal."
Engquist also confirmed that much of the town's beachfront is public, not private. Accessing it is another story, he said.
Andrea Johnson, deputy director of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, said she is unaware of the town's decades-old welcome wagon practice.
Dune Acres is one of 480 due-paying members of the downstate lobbying organization.
When asked if her organization frowns on one of its members illegally restricting access to its public roads, Johnson said she doesn't have enough facts to make that determination.
"We're not a policing organization," she told me.
She also has not heard of any other Indiana city or town doing such a thing, she said.
Tallian, a Portage-based attorney, said Dune Acres officials have no legal ground to defend the practice.
"If pressed," she said, "they will back off."