A sprawling 19th-century house slated for demolition may have been given a reprieve on Friday when the state’s historic properties review board voted that the structure still qualifies as a part of the local historic district.
A key question before the State Historic Preservation Review Board was: had the 6,700-square-foot house at 80 Shore Road in Waterford been altered since establishment of the Hartford Colony National Historic District in 2005?
Any significant changes after 2005 could disqualify the house from being a “contributing resource” of the district.
The main house, built in the 1850s, had been added on to in the 1890s, 1930s, 1950s, and 1970s – but all of those changes were included in the 2005 historic district decision.
The only change after 2005 was the addition of a 3-garage and breezeway in 2007.
“All this, except for the garage, was in situ when [the house] was nominated in 2005,” Todd Levine, architectural historian with the State Historic Preservation Office, told the board as he pointed to the house’s additions during a photographic presentation about the building.
The new owners of the property, Robert and Susan Marelli, want to demolish the entire house and build anew.
At Friday’s meeting, the Marelli’s attorney, Chelsea McCallum, of Shipman and Goodwin, said that federal regulations require consideration of “the location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association that the property adds to the district’s sense of time and place in the historical development” in the board’s decision of whether the property was still a contributing resource to the historic district.
“If any of those factors have been altered or deteriorated, such that the overall integrity of the building has been irretrievably lost, the property can no longer contribute to the district,” McCallum said.
Nina Peck, the Marelli’s architect, asked whether the building was worthy of being defined as a continuing contributing asset to the Hartford colony. She said the style of the building could be considered “vernacular,” but added that “this 7000-square-foot conglomeration of poorly conceived additions does not fall into such a category.”
Peck, who formerly served on the Old Lyme Historic Commission, said that it undermined the mission of historic commissions when structures like 80 Shore Road were allowed to be deemed historically significant.
“I think it behooves us to pass judgment critically, to make sure that the truly historic structures that do exist are not undermined by making poor decisions of structures that do not have such architectural integrity.”
However, John Herzen, board co-chair, said that the individual components of a historic district do not have to meet the level of distinction of an individual building listed on the National Register.
“The criteria are much broader for listing properties on the National Register. They’re part of districts and they’re within the period of significance. And also they’re very forgiving about changes to buildings – their evolution is part of a building’s significance to be evaluated, and why were they done,” said Herzen.
Co-chair Christopher Wigren emphasized that the key point was whether the property contributes or does not contribute to the historic district. He said that buildings in a district may not qualify themselves but when considered together in a neighborhood, tell a bigger story.
“In this case, the bigger story is the story of the development of a summer vacation community, largely by upper middle class people coming from Hartford,” Wigren said. “The house is not important in this nomination, really, for its Greek Revival architecture, but for the fact that it was altered and expanded as part of the development of this summer colony.”
Ultimately the board voted 7-1 in favor of continuing to keep 80 Shore Road in Waterford as a “contributing resource” to the historic district.
The board decision will be sent to the Office of the Attorney General, who will make the final decision about the demolition of the building, which is under a moratorium until Dec. 23.
In addition, an architectural historian and structural engineer were given access to the house on Nov. 30 and will issue a report next week that will be sent to the Office of the Attorney General.
“SHPO has performed an inspection of the premises and the OAG is awaiting information from the inspection to determine whether there are prudent and feasible alternatives to destruction,” said Elizabeth Benton, Chief of Communications and Policy for the Office of the Attorney General, in an email to CT Examiner on Friday.