Published in the June 16, 2016 edition.


WAKEFIELD – The Historical Commission will not fight to preserve an 1857 Mansard style house at 24 Church St. as a majority of members last night declined to exercise their right to invoke a six-month demolition delay.

The vote was 4-1 with only chairman Nancy Bertrand voting to delay demolition. The remaining members, Gene Moulton, Juliane Gerace, Francene Harrington and Daniel Benjamin did not favor a demolition delay.

The house sits on the south side of Church Street and faces the Old Burial Ground and Lake Quannapowitt. It was owned in 1874 by S.B. Atwell of a manufacturing family and later by Wilbur C. Crocker, an insurance agent who lived there into the 20th century.

The house and the property are currently owned by Randy and Kara Brown, who live next door at 18 Church St. The Browns purchased the 24 Church St. property in 2015 with the intention of razing the present structure and selling the lot to a buyer to construct a new two-family home.

“The reason we purchased the 24 Church St. home is to precisely ensure that a home that meets the standards of historic Church Street is built,” Randy Brown told the Commission. “As we look to develop this property we will not partner with the highest cost potential buyer but with a contractor who is aligned with the vision of maintaining the culture of the neighborhood.  We feel strongly enough about maintaining the culture of the street that we have invested a significant portion of our personal savings in the cause.”

Brown presented a petition which he said was signed by the six neighbors on Church Street who live closest to the property expressing their agreement with the “need to demolish the eyesore that is 24 Church Street without unnecessary delay.”

Brown said that his family has lived next door to 24 Church St. for 14 years, having purchased 18 Church St in 2002.

“I have been inside the 24 Church St. house extensively and it has a failing foundation, a failed roof that has enabled water damage for the past 10+ years,” Brown explained. “Water has leaked from the second story roof down into the first floor ceilings in many places. The house has about 10 rooms. In the past 40 years, only six have been inhabited. The remainder of the house has not been maintained and has fallen into an extreme state of disrepair. This house is old, but it is not historic. It is an eyesore that is a detriment to the rest of historic Church Street.”

Bertrand was not convinced.

“But you want to tear down an 1857 home,” she observed. “Have you considered restoring it?”

Brown said that he and his wife considered various options.

“I’m a civil engineer,” he said. “There are no options. The foundation is no good.” He noted that the front part of the house is the only part that is even remotely salvageable, and that was a later addition. The historic part of the house, he said, is in back and is in poor condition.

Bertrand maintained that Brown had no idea what would eventually be built on the site. But Brown re-iterated that he bought 24 Church St. in order to see something built there that would fit into the neighborhood and that his family would want to live next to.

“I’m not making any money,” Brown said. “I’m just trying to control what’s built.”

Representing the Browns, attorney Brian McGrail assured the Commission that the Browns would place restrictions and conditions on the sale that would limit what could be built on the site. Those restrictions on the contract would carry over to a restrictive covenant in the deed, he said.

Bertrand wondered if there might have been a buyer willing to restore the home.

But McGrail said that a six month demolition delay would only place a financial burden on the Browns and could force them into selling under less than ideal circumstances.

Brown said that he has a buyer in mind who wants to construct a two-family home and live in one of the units. McGrail added that the prospective buyer is someone who grew up in Wakefield.

Brown told the Commission that his interests were aligned with those of the Commission.

“There’s nobody who cares more what goes on on Church Street,” Brown insisted. “I guarantee I care more than you do. I guarantee it.”

Commissioner Gene Moulton said that his biggest concern was that whatever was built on the site would fit in with the look and period of the other homes on the street.

Brown thanked the Commission.

“I think you’ll find that we’ll be someone who’s working in the spirit of what you’re trying to accomplish.”