Plan to raze home sparks preservation debate

This home at 375 Tarkiln Hill Road in New Bedford was recently bought by St. Mary's Church, which hopes to raze the former whaling captain's residence to create parking for parishioners.JOHN SLADEWSKI/The Standard-Times

NEW BEDFORD — A North End church’s attempt to raze a mid-19th century house on Tarkiln Hill Road was stalled this week when the city’s Historical Commission declared it historically significant and preferably preserved.

The vote will trigger a public hearing before the City Council and the possibility of a six- to 12-month delay before a demolition permit can be granted.

“It would be a shame — whether we find this building historic or not — for this house to be knocked down,” said Anne Louro, the city’s preservation planner. “I feel strongly we need to find a place to move this house.”

The house, a simplified Gothic Revival, was built sometime before 1862 likely by William L. Davis, a master mariner who was a crew member on numerous whale ship voyages before captaining the George on a trip to the Pacific in 1865, according to Louro.
St. Mary’s Church, which abuts the property at 375 Tarkiln Hill Road, wants to demolish the house and build a parking lot to create more off-street parking for its parishioners.

There is no plaque on the house denoting its historic value, and at some point the house was vinyl-sided and all its windows replaced, according to Monsignor John Oliveira, the pastor at St. Mary’s.

“I look at 375 Tarkiln Hill Road and see an old house, modernized, that was built by a sea captain but is not really, in my sense, historic,” Oliveira said. “If everything is historic, then nothing is of historic significance.”

The church is willing to sell the house for $1 to someone who can move it off the lot and has advertised that opportunity in North End parish bulletins, Oliveira said. No takers have emerged so far, he said.

Ward 1 Councilor Linda Morad said she has been working with church and city officials on identifying an interested buyer or a possible location where the house can be moved.

“I know you don’t do this job lightly,” Morad said.

But, she continued, “This isn’t precedent-setting if this board does make this decision to allow this home to be demolished. … That’s been done before for parking in the city.”

City resident Glenn Baptista, who spoke against the demolition request, informed the commission that Davis, the whaling captain, was his great-great-grandfather and that his great-grandmother was born in the Tarkiln Hill Road house.

“Unfortunately, it was vinyl-sided over the years, but the historic significance of the property remains real,” he said. “If I could take the house over, I would.”

Mark Fuller, president of the New Bedford Preservation Society, also spoke against the demolition request.

The vinyl-siding on the house can be removed, and the building restored, Fuller said, pointing out that the building was in very good condition.

“When we keep tearing down structures that are perfect, what happens?” he asked. “We’ve all seen in the past couple years that we’ve lost historic structures to other means such as arson.”

Commission Chairman Derek Santos said the purpose of the city’s demolition delay ordinance is to ensure that all possible alternatives to demolition are explored before structures are torn down.

“The process needs to play out,” he said.

December 03, 2010

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