Historical Commission Saves House on Vineyard Street…. For Now.

In a city that prides itself in its history and turn-of-the-century buildings, Cambridge may soon be losing one of its elder residents.

On Oct. 4, the city historical commission in a 7-0 vote designated the house at 26-28 Vineyard St. as a “building of historical significance,” but that may not be enough to save the structure from being torn down. The house, built in the 1800’s is beginning to show signs of deterioration and according to architect Jookun Lim of Cambridge, it may be too costly to restore.

“When my client bought the property, we did not know tearing down the current building and constructing a new building was a possibility,” he said after the meeting.

Under a city ordinance there is a delay in all demolition projects if the building is more than 50 years old. Then, the historical commission votes to decide if the building has historical significance. If the commission members find it to be the case the project is delayed six months and until all permits for the replacement building have been approved. The commission members can also recommend a building to be considered for landmark status but that vote was not made Thursday. If no action is taken by the city in the six-month period the owner can go ahead and tear down the building.

“Significant is defined by the ordinance very broadly,” said Chairman William King. “It could be anything of individual significance or part of a development like an awning on a building. This house meets the criteria since it is preferably preserved.”

An Irish immigrant, Patrick Quigley, built the house back in the 1862. He was part of the original developers of the Auburn Hills subdivision in Watertown. Quigley and his relatives had bought numerous plots of land when the subdivision was settled in 1848.

In 1966 the owner, James Hazard, built an addition on the side of building. Recently, before Lim’s client, Gonzalo Artigas, bought the property this past summer, the house was used as a rental property.

“Preferably preserved,” is also a general term that in essence means the building is still standing and, if not barely up to safety codes, could be compliant with codes at a reasonable cost. But according to Lim, the house is in a state of disrepair, and needs plenty of work to be brought up to code because the building was almost condemned by the city two years ago. Lim said he would also have to rebuild the stairs.

“The ceilings were very low and I would have to raise the floor for any project,” he said. “After a while it felt like I’d be designing a building inside of a building, and thought it might be more cost effective to take down the building.”

Lim and Artigas presented a design for a contemporary two-unit town house at the meeting. The two units would be constructed next to each other in a staggered design. The property is located near the corner with May Street, and the neighborhood is composed mostly of colonial-era homes.

“I think this design will be different for the neighborhood but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” said vice-chairman Bruce Irving. “We just need a more concrete design we all like.”

The two units would be joined in the middle because city law requires that buildings with more than one living unit must be one continuous structure.

However, members of the historical commission did not take issue with the newness of Lim’s design. They did take issue with his lack of a specific design for him to get approval from the commission, which would have by-passed the six month delay.

“What you have here is the beginning of the process, and we are here tonight to show you that we will work with you in that process,” said commission member Chandra Harrington.

Fran Bonacci, a neighborhood resident, was open to the idea of having a more modern-looking home on the street.

“I came here tonight just to better understand what their ideas for the property were,” she said after the meeting. “It’s a nice neighborhood and it’s not within the historic district, so they are not going to have to adhere to as many restrictions.”

According to King the commission will most likely not pursue making the house a landmark, and Lim claims he already has a head start on the project but may wait it out.

“I already have the design for the building done,” he said after the meeting. “We talked to a lawyer and he advised us just to wait the six months because if we come back to them with a design before then, they can pick it apart.”

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About Alex LaCasse

Hungry for justice.

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