How best to preserve the Island’s historic architecture was once again a topic before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission last Thursday when a public hearing continued on a request to demolish a house at 7 Arlington avenue in Oak Bluffs.
“These are always difficult, these demolitions, both for the applicant and for the neighbors and for the community,” commissioner Doug Sederholm said.
The project is under review by the MVC as a development of regional impact (DRI). Situated in an area known as Institute Hill (so named because a summer institute was once held there), the four-bedroom house (originally a guest house) dates to 1875, the house is listed in MACRIS, the state database of historic structures. The house was built in the Camp Ground cottage style and originally was located in Beecher Park. The house was partitioned and moved to its current location in 1917. The other half was moved to 11 Arlington avenue.
In the review pipeline since early this year, the project predates the commission’s new policy on demolitions, adopted last month. The policy aims to shift the focus away from demolition and toward preserving buildings. While the 7 Arlington application is not subject to the new policy, commissioner Michael Kim said he hopes this demolition would be the last of its kind.
“This is precisely why we wrote our preservation policy,” Mr. Kim said. “We want to see you working with the existing buildings, so this is hopefully the last one under the old policy.”
While the footprint has not changed since it was moved, the house has undergone changes over the years. All the ornamental trim — a feature of the Oak Bluffs cottage style — has been removed. Also a wraparound porch has been replaced and windows have been replaced and resized.
The house is owned by Eunu Chun and Lisa Kim. Chuck Sullivan is the architect for the project.
The Oak Bluffs historic commission designated the house as “preferably preserved,” meaning it would rather see it maintained than demolished.
“We love the house. We love everything about it, but it’s really difficult to touch one thing and not have to rest of it need work,” said Ms. Kim at the hearing. “We do our best to make the outside look nice, but the inside needs a lot of help.”
The renovation plan has been revised twice in order to incorporate parts of the existing structure, Mr. Sullivan said. The current plan calls for retaining and relocating two stories of the three-story section of the house, while knocking down the rest. No exterior materials would be retained, although some replacement materials would be similar to what is already there. Parts of the inside of the house — including doors, railings and balusters — would be kept in the new design.
“We have made an attempt to keep the existing front facade in a similar fashion and architectural detail with the existing structure,” Mr. Sullivan said.
The plan also calls for renovating an existing detached bedroom, adding a garage and moving the driveway from the side to the center of the house. The proposed demolition and renovation would nearly double the footprint of the house, taking it from 2,333 square feet to 4,054 square feet.
Much of the proposed work is necessary to make the house liveable, Mr. Sullivan said. There are portions of the house with significant amounts of rot and both the deck and roof need to be rebuilt. The renovation would add a foundation to the house and winterize it.
“In this day and age it’s impossible to winterize these houses and bring them up to 2020 without adding framing, without adding insulation, so that needs to be done,” Mr. Sullivan said.
Commissioner Ben Robinson asked Eric Dray, who did an independent review of the building’s historic significance, if the house could be restored to its original state.
“Really all we have are some pretty rough bird’s-eye view drawings of the original house, so probably we could glean a fenestration pattern from that, but it still would be somewhat speculative,” Mr. Dray said.
The hearing was closed. In the weeks ahead the project will go through the MVC’s post-public hearing review process.