Historic Preservation News In the Press

Falmouth Enterprise

Demolishing Our Heritage Building by Building

By Eric Turkington & George Hampson
August 6, 2013

The demolition machinery is already at work at the Zylinski house at 93 Teaticket Highway next to the Burger King parking lot.

A classic example of Greek Revival architecture, this house has overlooked Teaticket since 1830, when it was built by Charles Lawrence. For most of its life, this house was surrounded by farmland, for the past 30 years by the highway and parking lots.

In a week it will be gone.

93 Teaticket Highway

93 Teaticket Highway

Next to go will be the small farmhouse at 93 Davis Straits, until recently home to Jack Conway Realty and soon to be demolished and replaced by an expanded CVS pharmacy building and parking lot.

It was built in 1879 in “folk Victorian” style by Andrew Davis. Davis was a master mason in town for over 35 years, and was the namesake for the section of roadway we still call “Davis Straits.”

93 Davis Straits, photograph by Gene Marchand / Enterprise

93 Davis Straits, photograph by Gene Marchand / Enterprise

The straits are long gone, piped into a culvert and then into Falmouth Harbor; and soon the Davis house will be gone too.

Then there is the Nimrod. Much attention has been paid to the smaller wing on the Nimrod restaurant property, where the cannonball hole in the men’s room wall is an evocative reminder of the War of 1812.

But the main house, a classic Georgian colonial, is a reminder of an even earlier war. It was built by Issac Bourne, a defender of Falmouth in the Revolutionary War, and includes beams from an even earlier structure.

Unless a wealthy angel shows up in the next couple of weeks, this house too will be gone. Falmouth is known for its sense of place, and has a history of caring for our historic structures.

As a town we made a choice to preserve the Main Street and East Falmouth fire station buildings, the Mullen-Hall and Woods Hole School buildings. And of course the Highfield Hall saga is a classic story of this community working together to save its heritage. We know our historic buildings help define us. Yet in a few months three buildings important to our heritage will be gone.

The problem is not ill intent by owners or developers. The problem is economics: the real estate on which these properties are located, business zoned in all three cases, is worth more without these buildings than with them.

Moving the buildings to another site is expensive, and rehabilitating them to what the building code currently requires is also expensive. So they will not be moved, or restored; they will be demolished.

What can this community do to make it economically desirable for owners and developers to rehabilitate, relocate, and restore historic structures?

Up to now our only tool has been the demolition delay bylaw. With the notable exception of the Highfield Hall case, that bylaw has not resulted in furthering the goal of saving our historic structures. We have tried the stick, without much success. Perhaps it is time to try a carrot.

Maybe the town should think about amending the zoning code to create a “Historic Structure” bonus, by special permit. Say a developer owns two business- zoned acres with a historic structure. By right presently he can build 12 residential units, plus commercial space, the amount dependent on proposed use, required setbacks, et cetera.

If the developer could go to the board of appeals and get one or more additional residential units in the historic structure, provided he restored the structure for that use, it would be economically worth his while, and he would probably want to do it. This idea needs tweaking, and there may be other, better ideas. The planning board, the historic commission, the historic district commission, the community preservation committee, the Falmouth Historical Society, the chamber of commerce, and the board of selectmen should be thinking about this. Until the town comes up with something, it will continue to lose the historic structures that define our heritage and our history, and make Falmouth, Falmouth. (Eric Turkington is a Falmouth attorney, former selectman and state representative. George Hampson is a former planning board member.)