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May 1, 2013

Fate of historic Beverly house undecided

Commission votes to delay full demolition, hopes for compromise

BEVERLY — It’s an old house, invisible from the road, with a leaking roof, rusting beams and the occasional coyote in the basement.

It’s also, according to experts, as architecturally significant in its own way as such famous houses as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Phillip Johnson’s Glass House.

And unless something changes in the next 12 months, it’s going to be demolished.

The fate of the Gen. Charles G. Loring House, on a rocky outcropping at 441 Hale St. overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Prides Crossing, is once again the subject of heated debate over the balance between historic preservation and the rights of a private property owner.

The house’s owner, iRobot co-founder Helen Greiner, originally planned to knock down only a portion of the house. But she became frustrated when the Beverly Historic District Commission imposed a one-year demolition delay last November, with the hope that she would come up with a plan that preserved more of the building’s historic characteristics.

Instead, Greiner filed a new application to demolish the entire building, setting up a second hearing Monday night at City Hall.

Greiner said she wants to proceed with her original plan, but the delay imposed by the commission has driven up the costs of the multimillion-dollar renovations and forced her to consider a complete demolition.

“I think you’re trying to get me to knock it down, and that’s atrocious,” she told the board.

Built in 1881, the house was designed by Boston architect William Ralph Emerson, a cousin of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and is considered one of the country’s best remaining examples of Shingle-style architecture. Its first owner was Charles Loring, a Civil War general who became the first director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

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