SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 19, 2012

Board delays demolition of historic house

Beverly: New owner hoped to remove later additions

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — As a co-founder of iRobot Corp., Helen Greiner has helped make robots that have explored the pyramids of Egypt, swept the ocean floor for explosives and searched the caves of Afghanistan.

Now if she could only fix up her new home in Beverly.

A city board voted last week to delay Greiner’s plan to demolish part of a historic oceanfront house that she bought in July for $3.75 million.

The Historic District Commission ruled that the building is historically significant and “preferably preserved” and voted 3-1 to impose a one-year demolition delay.

Greiner will be free to proceed with the demolition when one year expires, but commission members hope the delay will persuade her to change her plans.

“I think there’s a way to be more sensitive in preserving the historic character of the house,” commission member James Younger said at the meeting at City Hall.

The house in question is known as the Gen. Charles G. Loring House, named after its first owner, a Civil War general who became the first director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Built in 1881, the house was designed by Boston architect William Ralph Emerson and is considered one of the country’s best examples of Shingle-style architecture. The Massachusetts Historical Commission has said the house meets the criteria for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

With its arched porches, stone base and curved tower, the home is perched on a rocky outcropping overlooking the ocean at 441 Hale St. in Prides Crossing. It was taken care of for 40 years by Samuel Codman, a bachelor who lived there and gave tours of the home until his death, at age 100, in 2008.

Descendants of Charles Loring who live nearby on Hale Street repurchased the property for $4 million in 2008. Jonathan Loring told the Historic District Commission that the family gave a group called The Friends of the General Charles G. Loring House an option to buy it, but the group could not come up with the money.

“We all would have loved to have it saved exactly as it is,” said Peter Loring, another family member who spoke at the hearing. “No one was able to execute on that hope.”

The Lorings sold the house to Greiner, who left iRobot in 2008 and started a new company, CyPhy Works, in Danvers. Greiner is a native of England and an MIT graduate who gained fame with iRobot, best known for its robotic vacuum cleaner called Roomba. The company also developed robots for the U.S. Defense Department to search areas too dangerous for soldiers.

Greiner’s plan for the Loring House is to demolish all of the wings and additions that were added in 1906. In a letter to the Historic District Commission, her architect, John Margolis, said knocking down the additions would make the house more manageable to occupy and maintain. He said the additions interfere with the natural light, coastal breezes, views and privacy from neighbors.

The commission received eight letters from people and organizations urging that the house be preserved. Daniel Lohnes, president of the Beverly Historical Society, said the Loring House is more important to the city than the 17th-century Balch House.

In his letter to the commission, William Cross, a Manchester-by-the-Sea resident who has written about North Shore architecture, called the Loring House a “masterpiece of 19th-century domestic architecture” and called Greiner’s proposal “a tragically ham-handed assault on a delicate and uniquely beautiful structure and to its setting.”

But Greiner also received support at the meeting from several neighbors, including three members of the Loring family. They said the house, which has been mostly uninhabited since Codman’s death four years ago, is in a state of disrepair and even has coyotes living in the basement.

The neighbors said they welcome Greiner’s plan to fix the house.

“A 12-month delay seems to be delaying the inevitable,” said Tony Bolland, who lives next door. “This house needs to be fixed up.”

Greiner told the commission that if somebody else bought the house, they would probably demolish the entire building and start over. She said the additions she wants to remove take away from the original 1881 structure.

Commission Chairman Bill Finch told Greiner she is not prohibited from making repairs to the house during the demolition delay. He said the commission could lift the delay at any point if she comes back to the board with acceptable changes.

“I do love this house, and I do want to live there,” Greiner said. “I hope we can get going on it.”

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.