, Salem, MA

August 15, 2013

A handyman's dream

Salem looks to lease historic house to caretaker


---- — SALEM — Has the City of Salem got a deal for you.

For lease: historic house with five bedrooms, dining room with chandelier, marble fireplace, 13/4 bathrooms and 25 acres of landscaped grounds with towering beech and oak trees. Monthly rent: $500.

That, of course, is the news from The Glass is Half Full Department.

The reality is the city wants a caretaker for Mack Park, the home of Salem Little League’s softball program, Salem community gardens and the Park Department garage.

The old stone house, as real estate agents like to say, is “a fixer-upper.” A few windows are broken, the wooden gutters are deteriorating, downspouts are missing, and the doors and trim have not been painted since the Bush Administration — and they’re not saying which Bush.

“It definitely has potential,” said Karen Partanen, the director of Park, Recreation and Community Services.

The house was built in the 1850s as a summer residence for Dr. William Mack and was last used as an office by the Park and Recreation Department, which moved out in 2006, according to the city.

Anyone interested in the property will be able to see it for themselves tomorrow when the city holds an open house from noon to 1 p.m.

Mayor Kim Driscoll announced yesterday that the city is seeking a tenant for the hilltop park near the Peabody line. The property, once known as Ledge Hill Park, was bequeathed to the city in 1895 by Mack, “to be used for the benefit and enjoyment of its citizens.”

That was evident yesterday as people tended to vegetables and flowers in the community gardens and walked the grounds.

“I hope they do something with the house,” said Ted Collatos of Beverly, who was walking his 12-year-old dog, Sparky. “It’s a shame to see it go.”

Upon hearing the property may be leased, Collatos asked whether it would remain open to the public. The question was relayed to a city official.

“Oh, absolutely,” Partanen said. “It’s still going to be a park.”

The city has tried to rent the house before, once to Gordon College and another time to Salem Little League, but neither deal worked out. This time, the goal is to find a “caretaker-tenant.”

“A caretaker will help maintain this historic building and the surrounding grounds,” Partanen said in a statement. “We’re hoping to find someone who will keep the house up in a manner that best respects Dr. Mack’s sense of community and his gift to the city.”

A caretaker will give the city “a year-round presence on the hill, to keep an eye on the park and ensure it is kept safe, clean and vibrant for the neighborhood and our community’s children to enjoy,” Driscoll said in a statement.

The park has had problems with vandalism in the past.

Neighbors didn’t like the prospect of college students moving into Dr. Mack’s house but seem to be warming to the idea of a caretaker.

“The house is deteriorating sitting there by itself,” said Rosemary O’Connor of the Mack Park Association. “It’s shameful the city would let something so beautiful deteriorate like that. We’d love to see it occupied.”

The caretaker’s job is an unpaid position with a one-year lease and an option to renew. The $500 rent does not include utilities. The city has issued a “request for qualifications,” which is due back Monday.

For more information, go to the city’s website (, click on the “Purchasing Department” and search under “RFQs,” or requests for qualifications.

Tom Dalton can be reached at