When the Vineyard Haven Band plays in Ocean Park, the musicians hope no one arrives late and that nature does not call during the performance - because once the trapdoor goes down in the bandstand, there is no way in or out.
This is one of the challenges that Vineyard Haven Band members have dutifully learned to deal with after more than a century of performances on the bandstand that has become the symbol of Oak Bluffs - it was incorporated as the official town seal in 1980.
Though many people have admired the bandstand and photographed and painted it, few besides the Vineyard Haven Band have spent much time on the old wooden structure that was built for President Ulysses S. Grant's visit in 1874. That is why the band members know better than anyone - beyond the quirks of playing there - how decayed and unsafe it has become.
"The Vineyard Haven Band was at the point of refusing to perform up here," band member Peter Dunkl said.
The musicians began worrying that the floor - which has weak spots - could give out once the nearly 40 band members and instruments assembled in folding chairs. Most significantly, it leaks like a sieve and five of the 12 posts that hold up the roof are rotting, making the bandstand structurally unsound.
That is why Peter and his brother Frank Dunkl, who is also in the band, have made arrangements with the town to restore the historic landmark, which is the aesthetic focus of the seven-acre landscaped park with a panoramic view of Nantucket Sound. Fellow restoration expert A. Kirk Briggs will work with the Dunkls.
Today, a person standing in the bandstand can scoop out rotten wood from the posts with a finger and see rust spots freckled through the white paint, indicating nails and bolts below that have corroded from the salt air. Rainwater pools on the floor, which flexes slightly as the person walks.
The men are concerned not only with the structural integrity of the bandstand, but its historical integrity as well. Experienced craftsmen, the Dunkls restored the Flying Horses Carousel in 1984 and Giordano's Restaurant in 1987, in addition to projects in the Camp Ground.
"It takes boat carpentry - seriously," Frank said. "You have to be experienced in the use of hand tools." The restoration will not involve modern paints or synthetic materials, Frank said. Most importantly, it will not change the bandstand from its original appearance - except for the exterior staircase, which was removed long ago to discourage vandalism.
"Anything that leaves a mark on it is not proper antique restoration," Frank said. "Whatever you do, you should be able to undo without anyone being able to see it."
Restoring the project in one fell swoop would require substantial funding and destroy the aesthetic of the park. Instead, the Dunkls proposed doing the project piecemeal over several years. Rather than removing whole posts, the craftsmen will replace the rotten parts with new wood, reducing noise and general disruption.
"Three-fourths of it is engineering off-site," Frank said. "Most of what we have to do is make various jigs and fixtures."
The men expect to begin work late next week, first tackling the worst parts of the posts that hold up the roof. For the time being, the project will use town funds, but in the near future money will come from a fund-raiser spearheaded by the Dunkls.
Peter and Frank's primary business is Chilmark Spring Water. To raise money for the restoration, they are donating 16-ounce bottles of specially labeled water to be sold in Oak Bluffs businesses - an arrangement the Oak Bluffs Association is helping to organize. The Dunkls say they will continue to donate the water as long as it seems to be an effective fundraiser and they can afford it. The men will also work at a reduced hourly rate.
"It'll cost the town peanuts compared to what it would cost a contractor to come," Frank said, estimating that a contractor would charge hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace the bandstand instead of restore it. The craftsmen do not know how much their project will cost yet, but they will work flexibly in order of priority as funds and time are available. They will also work closely with the Oak Bluffs building inspector.
"Hopefully when the neighbors start seeing some meaningful progress, that will make a difference in funding," Frank said.
Cosmetic details like paint, shingling and a replacement for the unseemly steel door will come after repairs to the posts, floor and electric wiring, which is necessary to rig lighting. Band performances this past weekend were moved to the Tabernacle because the bandstand had no lights to illuminate the musicians' sheet music.
"It's custom work - you don't know what you're getting into," Frank said. "A lot of decisions have to be made as you get there."
The Dunkls have wanted to restore the bandstand for several years - ever since the town approached them with the idea - but they did not have the time. The nonprofit organization Friends of Oak Bluffs has worked on the beautification of the park for a decade - including walkways, gardens, landscaping, lanterns and the bricks around the bandstand, which are inscripted with dedications and memorials - but the bandstand itself sustained few changes.
The Dunkls may still have a lot on their plate, but they are enthusiastic.
"You just try to squeeze things in," Frank said. "You know the old adage: If you want to get something done, ask the guy that's busy."