Plans to demolish Coolidge's summer White House aired in Swampscott 

File photoPresident Calvin Coolidge's summer White House, known as White Court, could face a wrecking ball if condo developers plans to demolish it are approved in Swampscott. The town's Historical Commission will hold a public hearing on the plan on Tuesday night.

SWAMPSCOTT — The Historical Commission will hold a public hearing Tuesday night on plans to demolish the oceanfront mansion that once served as Calvin Coolidge's summer White House and build condominiums in its place.

Developers want to erect a building along the same lines as the Coolidge mansion and findings of the commission and developers will be aired at the public hearing on Tuesday.

A local group of developers plan to build 18 high-end condominiums for those 55 and older at 35 Littles Point Road. The estate, known as White Court, served as Coolidge's summer White House in 1925, and was most recently the former campus of Marian Court College, which closed in June 2015, citing poor enrollment and financial difficulties.

In December, a company called CC White Court LLC, which has the same address as the commercial real estate firm Centercorp Retail Properties of Salem, bought the property from the Catholic women's organization, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Northeast Community Inc., for $2.75 million.

Originally, developers proposed sparing the 1895 estate, and flank it with two new, three-story wings. However, the owners have gone to the town's building inspector for a demolition permit that includes the estate, along with classroom buildings and other additions.

Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said developers plan to use the original design in a new building that would be symmetrical and more in keeping with its original look.

"It looks very much what the original would've looked like before the additions were put on," Dreeben said. During a recent presentation to the board, Dreeben said developers discussed problems with the building's foundation and other deficiencies, making it "not sound enough to renovate." Developers plan to utilize details from the original building, and incorporate them in a new one.

Under the town's 2004 Preservation of Historically Significant Buildings bylaw, a request to knock down a structure 75 years or older to the building inspector triggers a three-step demolition delay process.

The commission has already determined the building is historically significant, said Justina Oliver, the commission's chairwoman. The next step is Tuesday's public hearing, which is scheduled for 7 p.m., Swampscott High, 200 Essex St., Room B208 (second floor).

The third step is a determination of whether or not to impose a demolition delay, which must happen within 10 days of the close of the public hearing. A determination of "structure preferably preserved" means a nine-month delay, after which the building inspector could issue a demolition permit, after all other approvals have been obtained.

The delay is meant as a way for the commission, the owners and the community to find ways to spare the building or mitigate impacts.

The public hearing will include the commission presenting its findings of historical significance with its consultant, historian Lisa Mausolf. Also representatives of developers are scheduled to present findings, and then the public will get to have its say.

Oliver said developers have applied for a full demolition of the building, and she expects owners to present what they have come across in the past two months in assessing the condition of the building.

The Historical Commission has not been inside the building, though developers have talked about problems with the building's foundation, Oliver said.

One of the criteria for a building to be deemed historically significant includes being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which White Court is not, Oliver said.

The town has initiated the process, she said, and the Massachusetts Historical Commission has recognized it would be eligible, Oliver added. The process to get the building on the National Register costs about $10,000, and that process has been put on hold. 

If the building were listed as such, developers could take advantage of tax credits for historic restoration, she said.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.

 

 

 

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