, Salem, MA

May 8, 2013

Our view: It’s time to make a deal

The Salem News

---- — There are times when half a loaf really is better than none, and the fate of Beverly’s historic Loring House is a case in point.

The beautiful, 1881 residence of Civil War general Charles G. Loring, who became the first director of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, is considered a superb example of the shingle style of architecture that flourished in the late 1800s and into the turn of the century. This probably came as news to many people in Beverly, however, as the house — perched on a rocky outcropping overlooking the ocean in Prides Crossing — is not visible from the street and has always been privately owned. It’s safe to say most residents have never seen it.

Perhaps that explains why a fund drive a few years ago, seeking to raise money to buy the house and donate it to Historic New England, was unsuccessful. The house fell into disrepair, and last year a private buyer, iRobot co-founder Helen Greiner, purchased it for $3.75 million. She planned to preserve and restore the original portion of the house, but remove wings that had been added in 1906.

That’s when the Beverly Historic District Commission balked.

Though the commission can’t prevent changes to the house, it can and did order a one-year delay, hoping Greiner would come around to their view that the entire building should be preserved. As a body whose mission is preservation, first and foremost, they were doing their job.

But it appears that all this succeeded in doing was driving up renovation costs for the new owner, while provoking her enough to disregard their views altogether. Now she’s filed a plan to demolish the whole structure. Once again, the commission has ordered a one-year delay.

Greiner doesn’t want to live in a museum; she wants to live in a home of her liking, and feels the changes she had proposed would make it more comfortable to live in and easier to manage, while still preserving its historic value. Presumably, if the commission were to rescind its delay on the earlier plan, she could be persuaded to stick with her original plan, rather than tear down the whole thing a year from now.

The two sides plan to meet to discuss a possible compromise, and that’s the best that could happen here.

The Historic Commission does not own this property and cannot dictate what will happen to it. It’s possible that Greiner is bluffing, but with a property that architects and historians value so highly, it’s better not to risk losing everything. A compromise may not be what commissioners want, but it seems the best option going forward.