Discussion continues regarding razing of historic North Street house

A woman who once owned a historic house on North Street that is expected to be demolished said she doesn’t believe it should be razed.

The Sanford/Bristol house, built in 1790, was structurally sound when she and her husband owned it through 2005, said Kathy Lutz. She said she doesn’t believe it could have become structurally unsound in less than 10 years.

A city Historic District Commission recently gave the owner of the house, Bill Farrell, approval to demolish the house and to replace it with a new one, based on opinions from two engineers that the house is structurally unsound.

In a letter this week defending its decision, members of the Historic District Commission further stated, “We will truly miss the presence of the Sanford/Bristol house in our neighborhood; we regret the 30-plus years of neglect by prior owners which mandated our decision.”

It is the reference to past neglect that especially bothers Lutz because she maintains that less than 10 years ago, it was well maintained.

“When we purchased the antique house at 113 North Street, we knew that we had a lot of work to do,” Lutz said. She and her husband bought the house in 1997. “The previous owner had lived in the property for more than 50 years and, according to articles we read, at one time had taken great pride in the home. They were preservation minded and had saved many of the historic aspects of the home and had it decorated beautifully.”

But as the couple aged and then the husband died, only essential items were fixed and the home was in dire need of work, Lutz said. The home had a 30-amp electric system with fuses, an inefficient old heating system, rooms had not been painted in many years, the plumbing system was a mess, the roof was questionable, there was no insulation, and the kitchen was ancient.

“Most people would not take on such a task, and the home was for sale for over a year when we decided to buy it,” Lutz said. “We immediately went to work. During the eight years that we owned the home we had the entire electrical system upgraded to 200 amp; we completely redid the roof, including a new plywood base; we installed a new efficient furnace and water heater; we added space to the kitchen and totally remodeled the kitchen, pantry and downstairs bathroom; we replaced the worn out original floor in the kitchen, pantry and bathroom with custom wide-board pine floors from New Hampshire; we created a first floor laundry room, we painted and remodeled every room in the house; we had the outside of the house stripped, repaired and repainted. We totally rebuilt the front porch; we had the fireplaces checked and two fireplaces restored to working order; and we insulated where possible.”

The Lutzes also installed a patio using stones found on the property. They had the house structurally reviewed by restoration experts and were told that the house had settled significantly because of an 1840 addition “but was structurally solid,” Lutz said.

“In short, we worked on the home the entire time we owned it and returned it to a condition we were proud of,” Lutz said. “It was worth it. The home had eight fireplaces, two large enough to stand in, with bread ovens. The home was loaded with charm and had many original details including interesting mantels and molding, plank doors, wide board floors, hand-carved paneling, original plaster, clawfoot tubs and a well that could be reached by opening a window.”

According to city records, Richard Wincapaw bought the house for $445,000 in 2005 from the Lutzes, but filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

At that point, people who toured the house because it was for sale said it was in horrible condition inside: Walls were torn out, floors were missing and there was a jack holding up the ceiling in a main-floor room, likely the dining room.

Farrell bought the house for $150,000 in January, with the intention, he said, of  restoring it to its original condition.

But Farrell said he learned the house was beyond repair, and that it was nearly impossible to restore because of the amount of structural damage.

Much of the inside of the house has been gutted, and main supports are being held up by jacks in the basement, Farrell said. The previous owner removed anything of historic value, such as wainscoting; the foundation is compromised, an impressive beehive fireplace cannot be used because it is not up to code, and the structure isn’t safe, he said.

While the historic commission voted to give him permission to demolish the house, the vote was not unanimous: Member John O’Neil voted against demolition. Alternate member Tim Chaucer, who does not vote but partakes in discussion, also disagreed with demolition, arguing that the commission’s job is to protect historic homes.

The members said they did not take the decision lightly but relied on professional opinions that said the house was beyond repair. Farrell’s architect, Raffaele Aschettino, said earlier that just to make the house structurally sound would require replacing most of the historic components, so that by the time the job was done, there wouldn’t be much of the historic house left anyway.

The commission-hired engineer agreed, adding that the house as it is now is a safety hazard.

Alternate member John Carissimi said he is a “restorer,” but didn’t think the North Street house could be restored. “By the time the restoring is done, there would be so little of the original left, it wouldn’t be a restoration anyway,” Carissimi said.

Chaucer was adamant that the house be saved, as was City Historian Richard Platt when he spoke at an earlier meeting. Chaucer said the house is on the Riverpark National Historic District and consequently on the National Register.

Kathy Lutz agrees.

“We feel strongly that when you purchase a historically significant home, you are the caretakers responsible for the maintenance of the home so that it can be passed on to the next generation.

“This home was documented by the WPA during the Great Depression, was studied by Yale, is mentioned in many historic books and has been a fixture on the duck pond since 1790. It was worth saving and passing on to future generations.”

Historic District Commission members said they did not take their vote lightly, and most agreed that the plans for a new house are impressive.

Architect Ray Oliver has drawn up plans to replace the house with a new one that uses some of the original pieces and looks much like the existing structure. The Historic District Commission members said they like the plans. Even O’Neil said he liked many aspects of it.

There would be four dormers on the top, instead of the five there now, and there would be two chimneys. Stones from the existing foundation would be placed around a new, concrete foundation. The new house would be slightly smaller than the existing one, and set back in line with the other houses on the street.

“The character of the property would stay pretty much the same,” Oliver said.

He estimated it will take about a year to knock down the existing house and build the new one.