IPSWICH — The historic value of a former firehouse in Lord Square is being raised as a possible obstacle to a plan to demolish the building to make way for a larger Dunkin’ Donuts with a drive-thru.
The proposal, still in the preliminary stage, calls for knocking down the current Dunkin’ Donuts building and two adjacent properties, including the vacant yellow building at 4 Lord Square, which served as one of the town’s early firehouses. It was built in 1865 and used most recently as a retail and apartment building.
“I don’t think most people are aware it was a firehouse,” said Gordon Harris, chairman of the town’s Historical Commission. He said the commission hasn’t officially reviewed any plans but would likely support a one-year demolition delay as allowed under the town’s bylaws, which applies to any building in town over 75 years old.
Such a delay would allow the developers and others time to explore options to preserve or move the building, Harris said.
Lord Square is a tricky intersection of Central, Linebrook, High, Short and Liberty streets.
Harris said the square, named after the prominent Lord family, was the most important intersection in town back in the 1880s. Asa Lord owned a market, which was near where Prime gas station is now. The store was moved to make way for a service station to be built and improve the intersection, Harris said.
“A lot of the streetscape has been lost, but that doesn’t mean we should continue to take the last remnants of the square,” he said. “Do they think having a bigger Dunkin’ Donuts is worth taking away a part of our town’s history?”
A boxy addition was added to the firehouse at some point, making it unrecognizable as a fire station to many. The volunteer fire station had a bell tower in the front and a tall hose-drying tower in the rear, according to the Historical Commission. It was known for housing Neptune, a horse-drawn pumper that the town bought from Newburyport in 1889.
The firehouse likely closed when the Central Fire Station opened in 1908, Harris said.
Harris contends the building should be restored and could be a tribute to the volunteer departments in town. The other two companies were on Warren Street and in the Candlewood neighborhood, according to the commission.
“If you look at some of the other older buildings in town that were neglected, people ask if they are worth saving,” Harris said. “But when they are restored, people love them.”
One example is the old Marcorelle Brothers store on Short Street, he said, which currently houses several businesses, including a florist and a natural foods store.
Pat Tyler, the town’s historian, spoke against any expansion of the Dunkin’ Donuts and said the town needs to consider the impact of knocking down its historic buildings.
“It should not be torn down, and the project should be abandoned,” she said. “The Dunkin’ Donuts should move somewhere else. It is an absolute abomination.”
She said there are many traffic concerns with the Dunkin’ Donuts now and with the proposal.
“They are not putting anything up with significance or importance,” she said.
A drive-thru would require a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals because it is not allowed on that property, according to Planning Director Glenn Gibbs. The entire project would require Planning Board approval.
Dinart and Roy Serpa, the brothers who own the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise and the properties, said their plans are preliminary and nothing has been filed with the Planning Board. Several members of the Planning Board met with the Serpas last week, however, to discuss the proposal.
The old firehouse was bought by Chalde Realty in 2010 for $220,000, according to town property records.
Roy Serpa did not return phone calls seeking comment.
As part of the proposal, the brothers want to build two new commercial buildings on the three lots, with the Dunkin’ Donuts being relocated to land near a current laundromat. Plans show the proposed drive-thru wrapping around the back of the property and exiting near Linebrook Road. A left-turn-only lane onto the property from the square and several other roadway improvements are being proposed as part of the plan.
Harris said many people in town are talking about the proposal and hoping to preserve Ipswich history.
“I was surprised that so many people feel strongly that they don’t want to see another part of history lost,” he said.
Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.