Historic house faces partial tear-down

October 20, 2006
By

JOHN RUCH

HYDE SQ.—One of Jamaica Plain’s oldest houses is facing partial demolition as part of a housing development.

Developer Gary Martell originally intended to save the entire 1813-era farmhouse at 33 Bynner St., which is recommended for historic protection by the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC). But now he is seeking to demolish a two-story piece of the house containing an old kitchen. The BLC will review the issue at an Oct. 24 hearing. [See JP Agenda.]

“It’s early and may be original,” BLC Executive Director Ellen Lipsey said of that piece of the house in a Gazette interview.

Martell drew controversy earlier this year for cutting down old trees and demolishing a rock outcropping on the site, which helped spark a local effort to preserve trees. The outcropping had been cited as an important feature in the 1984 BLC survey that recommended 33 Bynner and nearby houses for historic protection. The house currently has no historic protection status.

Martell did not return a Gazette phone call for this article.

According to Lipsey, Martell is seeking to demolish a section of the house that sticks out from the left side, as viewed from the street. It’s known as the “ell,” though it doesn’t really make an L shape.

Martell previously demolished a kind of sunroom on the house that was a later addition, but otherwise intended to sell the house as it was, Lipsey said.

Before work began, Lipsey did a walk-through of the house at Martell’s request as a BLC staff consultation. “He wanted to know what the significance of the side ell was,” Lipsey said. “I told him it was definitely early, could be original.”

Martell’s BLC application now says the “ell” is in “disrepair and it’s cost-prohibitive to restore it,” Lipsey said.

Because of the building’s age, Martell had to automatically apply to the BLC for “demolition delay.” That means the BLC will decide at the hearing whether demolition should be delayed for 90 days so the developer can consider feasible ways to save the structure.

The BLC ultimately can’t prevent demolition through demolition delay. After the 90 days are up, the city’s Inspectional Services Department can consider issuing a demolition permit.

The developer is also supposed to hold or attend a community meeting about the proposed demolition and possible preservation before the BLC hearing. It is not clear whether Martell has scheduled one. The Gazette has received no notice of any such meeting.

According to the 1984 BLC survey, 33 Bynner was apparently built by Jonathan Smith, a “victualler” who brought produce to market in the city from what was then the Roxbury countryside. The survey recommended the house, along with 47, 51 and 55 Bynner, as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, and also as an Architectural Conservation district.

Lipsey told the Gazette earlier this year that 33 Bynner was in “very good condition” at the time of her walk-through. The BLC recently recommended a more recent JP farmhouse, the circa 1822-27 Jabez Lewis house in Arnold Arboretum, for official consideration for landmark status.

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