BEVERLY — The building at 45 Broadway is a vacant former rooming house where a man was beaten to death in 2010. It's also a stately Victorian home that was once a jewel on one of the city's most prominent boulevards.
However the building is viewed, it will remain standing for at least another year.
The Beverly Historic District Commission voted 4-0 Wednesday night at City Hall to impose a one-year delay on the owner's plan to demolish the building.
The commission has the power to delay demolition of a building that it considers historically significant and "preferably preserved," with the intent of encouraging the owner to find a way to save it. But the owner is free to go ahead with demolition when the one-year moratorium expires.
Owner Donald Kowalski said he is not sure what he will do with the building a year from now.
"We'll have to see what happens over the next year," he said. "I have an open mind."
Kowalski applied for a permit to demolish the building because he said he cannot find an agency willing to operate it as a rooming house, the purpose it has served for most of the last 100 years, and because offers to buy the building have been well under its assessed value of $800,000.
The building has been vacant since March 2010, when the state subsidy to staff the rooming house expired, Kowalski said. Three months later, Bradley Killam, a 56-year-old Beverly man, was beaten to death inside the empty building. Two men were charged with first-degree murder and are scheduled to stand trial later this year.
In a letter to the Historic District Commission, Kowalski said the building has become a "huge liability" for him with the costs of property taxes, heating to prevent frozen pipes and electricity for security lighting. He said his insurance company will not renew its policy for a vacant building.
Kowalski said he has contacted several veterans, mental health and housing agencies in an attempt to find occupants for the building and has even offered to spend $200,000 on renovations.
If the building were knocked down, Kowalski would maintain the site as landscaped property until the economy improves enough to attract a commercial business, he said. In the meantime, he would use the extra space for parking for the 18 employees at his dentist office next door.
The building, near the corner of Rantoul Street and within walking distance of the train station, is known as the William Endicott House after its original owner, a direct descendent of John Endicott, the first governor of Massachusetts.
The three-story Victorian was built in 1859 and is a "fine and early example" of Second Empire architecture, a movement characterized by high mansard roofs, according to the Beverly Historical Society, which wrote a letter to the commission in favor of the demolition delay.
"The Society is deeply concerned that the loss of such a prominent building as the house at 45 Broadway would say something negative about Beverly itself," wrote Beverly Historical Society secretary Richard Southgate. "We believe that Beverly should strive to protect its treasures and that the house at 45 Broadway is one of them."
The building's front porch and cupola have been removed, but the rest of the exterior, including the cast-iron fence, remains, Historic District Commission Chairman Bill Finch said.
Finch said most cast-iron fences from the era were melted down for use during World War II. The only other of its kind in the city is at the Beverly Historical Society's Cabot House, he said
The building is one of the many "high-quality" Victorians on Broadway that have been generally well-maintained, Finch said.
Ben Nutter, an architect and a trustee for the Beverly Historical Society, wrote to the commission that demolishing the building might "encourage the demise of adjacent homes."
Nutter said state building codes encourage the renovation of older buildings by relaxing requirements, making them less expensive to fix up.
Finch said people who spoke in favor of preserving the building were "sympathetic" to Kowalski's plight.
"But the tenor was, 'This is an important building. You should not turn it into a parking lot,'" Finch said.
Kowalski said the Historic District Commission members are "nice people," but he needs to do something with the property.
"I think the city should pay the taxes and the insurance and the heat for the next year (during the demolition delay)," he said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by email at email@example.com.