Council overrides Savin Hill landmark designation

Gintautas Dumcius, News Editor
Dec. 18, 2013

In a rare rebuke of the Boston Landmarks Commission, the City Council on Wednesday voted 12-to-0 to overturn the designation of Savin Hill’s 24 Grampian Way as a landmark. District 3 Councillor Frank Baker recused himself and voted “present,” because he lives diagonally across from the home.

City Councillor Bill Linehan of South Boston said the family of the late Ray Tomasini has lived there for 63 years -- longer than historical figures associated with the home -- and the designation is “not warranted.”

The council’s economic development committee, chaired by Councillor Linehan, held a hearing on the landmark status last Thursday, with Linehan expressing skepticism over the designation.

The Landmarks Commission voted 9-0 on Nov. 26 to designate the home as a landmark, and Mayor Thomas Menino approved the designation the following day.

The home is largely associated with George Wright, an American sports figure whose family bought the home in 1887. Ellen Lipsey, the executive director of the Landmarks Commission, said in her testimony to the council that the “fanciful, Stick Style of the house [and the stable, which was taken down for safety reasons prior to designation] was built by William Prescott Hunt, a wealthy industrialist. John Kehew, a maker of nautical instruments and an oil merchant, purchased the property from Hunt and Kehew was the first occupant of the house.”

Lipsey added that in the last 20 years, there have been 27 landmark designations and the council has approved all of them. Lipsey’s comment prompted Linehan to respond, “but this is a process and we get the opportunity to weigh in.”

A two-thirds vote was needed to override the designation. Six councillors were previously on record as opposing the landmarks designation: Stephen Murphy, Ayanna Pressley, Mark Ciommo, Matt O’Malley and Linehan. District 3 Councillor Baker recused himself from participation after questions were raised by local civic activists who said he may have a conflict of interest due to his living near the house and his brother recently making an unsuccessful attempt to buy it.

Linehan and O’Malley were the only two councillors who attended the Thursday hearing, which lasted about an hour. Linehan said he had concerns about the preservation of a particular property becoming a restriction on the property owner’s ability to redevelop or fix up a home.

The family of the late Ray Tomasini, which owns the property but did not testify at the council hearing, has argued against the landmark status for the home, saying it would impact their ability to redevelop the property. Family members have also lobbied councillors to oppose the designation.