Mayor Thomas Menino last week signed off on the designation of a controversial Savin Hill property as a city landmark. Menino’s approval came a day after the Boston Landmarks Commission’s 9-to-0 vote to designate 24 Grampian Way as significant at the national, state, and local level.
The designation was in large part due to the property’s association with George Wright, a prominent local and national sports figure in the late 19th and early 20th century period, according to Ellen Lipsey, executive director of the commission.
Wright, a member of the original Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869 who later played for the Boston Red Stockings before becoming a successful merchant of athletic equipment with the Wright & Ditson Co., was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937. The municipal golf course in Hyde Park is named after him. The home, also known as the Kehew-Wright house, is also associated with the whale oil merchant John Kehew and the industrialist William Prescott Hunt.
“It’s a very important house,” Menino said Tuesday while in Dorchester for a JFK Library panel on his City Hall tenure. The city has to “preserve the past for the future,” he added. “That’s what we’re doing with Grampian Way… The character of the city is so important and we’re maintaining that character with Grampian Way.”
Brian Swett, whose energy and environment department oversees the commission, pointed to the panel’s study highlighting the history of the home’s occupant and its architectural significance.
The mayor’s approval was sent to the City Council, which has until Jan. 6 to consider the designation. The 13-member council can override the designation through a two-thirds vote. Historically, a Landmarks Commission’s designation is rarely overturned. City Council President Stephen Murphy, who expressed opposition to the designation at a recent hearing, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
The family of the late Ray Tomasini is seeking a permit to tear down the empty structure and has lobbied city councillors on the matter. The family and other opponents of a landmark designation argue that the designation would make the property harder to sell and redevelop. The Tomasini estate sought— and won— city approval to raze an adjacent stable, which was demolished in October — much to the chagrin of preservationists who wanted it saved as well. But city officials said they found the barn was not salvageable and its demolition was justifiable.
Swett said the home’s landmarks designation doesn’t restrict use inside the home or renovations that preserve the home. Historical preservation of a home adds value to the neighborhood, he added, and the home could become the “crown jewel” of Dorchester after restoration.
“One of the things people sometimes misinterpret is historic preservation means ‘stop’ and you have to preserve it the way it was,’ ” Swett said. “It’s just the exterior.” He added: “At the end of the day, you have a unique asset and a unique piece of property.”
The commission’s staff, in response to public comments, argued that the house has “Second Empire style” of architecture that was fashionable at the time, and the exterior, with “pierced rickrack edging and stick-style cross bracing,” has stayed intact.
Bill Walczak, a Savin Hill resident and former mayoral candidate who backed the landmarks designation, said there are numerous examples across the city of houses in decrepit condition that were saved and restored through the development of the overall parcel. Walczak pointed to a Greek Revival home in Clam Point that looked like an abandoned building, but the parcel was redeveloped with condominiums.
“We need to help the Tomasini family to be able to get the kind of development on that land to both get the value of the property and make sure the neighborhood is made whole in the process, not overdeveloping the property but allowing development that will enhance the neighborhood,” Walczak said. “This could be a win-win.”
Nonprofits like Historic Boston Inc. and Boston Preservation alliance frequently redevelop historically significant buildings.
“There’s plenty of evidence that this thing can work,” Walczak said. “And the real estate market in Dorchester has climbed dramatically over the last year and in Savin Hill is re-approaching its all-time high.”
According to city documents, the main building is worth $117,000, and the land is worth $278,190.
An attorney for the Tomasini family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
District 3 Councillor Frank Baker, who lives down the street from the home, had also voiced opposition to the designation, but withdrew his comments after questions were raised about whether the comments represented a conflict of interest.