Another One Bites the Dust: <I>In Neponset, Quick Wake for Funeral Home

After the Saturday morning shift at the post office in Fields Corner, Jim Trabucco was heading back to the home on Neponset Avenue where he's lived since October of 1983, expecting not much in the way of change.

Wrong.

Flat wrong, actually, as flat as what had once been the Frost Mansion, the venerable building across the street from Trabucco's house that until last year had housed Mulry's Funeral Home. The structure was razed on Saturday morning, making way for three two-family units.

The demolition of 223 Neponset Ave. marked the latest in a string of razings and near-razings, alarming preservationists who say the neighborhood's historical makeup is unraveling, and vexing the anti-condo forces who see rising home prices as an inevitable result.

Moreover, the Frost Mansion's demise has politicians pointing fingers at the development team, headed up by Al Prest and Steve Ballou, and accusing them of misleading the neighborhood about the date of demolition.

Elected and city officials said the developers had left them with the impression that the house, constructed in 1803, would still be standing come this past Monday - displeasing to those who sought to preserve it indefinitely, but a half-a-loaf victory for those who recognized that the city's Landmarks Commission policy of a 90-day demolition delay had expired.

In an e-mail to Neponset constituents on Wednesday, May 18, at-large Councillor Stephen J. Murphy wrote, "We have been told that demolition of Frost Mansion will not happen this weekend."

On Monday, after the house had come down, Molly Dunford, the mayor's eastern Dorchester liaison, said, "We were under the impression that they were willing to step back as a gesture of goodwill to the community."

Prest and Ballou told the Rev. Thomas Foley, pastor of St. Ann's, that they hoped to take the house down on May 25, this past Wednesday, but he asked them to schedule it for a day when school wouldn't be in session, Foley said. After it became apparent that the developers were unwilling to wait until school lets out next month, Foley said, "We thought that the agreement was for this coming weekend, the holiday weekend."

City Councillor Maureen Feeney said she sat in a meeting with Ballou, Foley, and St. Ann's School principal Cynthia Duggan on Friday afternoon, and left reassured that at least a week would pass, allowing Foley to alert parishioners, Duggan to notify parents, and Feeney's office to flier the neighborhood.

"I think when someone lies to a priest and a principal, that's unfortunate," Feeney said Tuesday during an interview in her City Hall office. She added, "We were violated as a community."

Neither Prest nor his attorney Joseph Hanley responded to phone calls.

After Feeney moved to put a stop-work order on the property on Monday morning, the developers agreed to mitigation measures like bales of hay to prevent runoff, a secured front gate, and long-term measures like a decorative fence, asphalt removal, and a resurfaced schoolyard.

The events elicited an outburst of anger against the developers, the same ACP Custom Building and Restoration team who tore down a home at 1615 Dorchester Avenue last month, to the consternation of activists who said the Landmarks Commission should have more actively pushed for the early 19th century building's survival.

Foley said, "They had every right to do it. It's just the manner in which it was done was a little … sneaky, I guess, is the word."

On Monday, Pope's Hill Neighborhood Association president Philip J. Carver sent an e-mail calling for a community boycott of the developers and the realtors who sold them the property, Re/Max's Marquis Group.

The Marquis Group's Craig Galvin declined to comment beyond saying, "It's an unfortunate situation. I've lived in this community for 35 years, and my record of commitment to the neighborhood can never be questioned."

Feeney targeted her ire at Prest and Ballou. "Our issue is with the developers," she said. "I don't know what role the real estate agency would play in the role of developing."

Others fretted about what they call a neighborhood-wide trend. Recently, activists have blocked the demolition of a historic home on Virginia Street in Uphams Corner, and helped persuade the owners of Dolan Funeral Home in Lower Mills not to sell their property to developers who hoped to locate a Walgreen's there.

But other homes, like the 1615 Dot Ave. property, have gone under the knife for the sake of development.

"Other communities get it, I don't know why we can't have developers who feel like that," said Rosanne Foley, chairwoman of the Architectural Preservation Committee of the Dorchester Historical Society and coordinator of the Dorchester Environmental Health Coalition.

Therese Fitzgerald, who grew up in Neponset and recently bought a home on Garner Road, said she was outraged to learn that the e-mail she got from Councillor Murphy was based on bad information.

"I don't oppose development. I don't oppose condos. But I do oppose destroying historic homes," she said. "I'm just afraid that developers will just start thinking they can lie to city councillors and start ripping down houses."

Feeney's office was trying Tuesday to coordinate with the Landmarks Commission an effort to extend the "demo delay" from its current 90 days and, the eastern Dorchester councillor said, "create other mechanisms that allow for more public engagement."

For Trabucco, who last year changed his pre-arranged insurance plan for the eventual passing of his mother to nearby O'Donnell Funeral Home, after a string of relatives had been waked at Mulry's, the building's destruction and the prospect of residences meant new neighbors.

"There's a big condo boom, I guess," he said. "Any place they can put it."