Demolition Of Historic Eldredge Garage Approved; Gas Station Will Be Saved

By: Tim Wood

The Eldredge Garage property. Selectmen Tuesday voted to support town purchase of the downtown land. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Demolition of the historic Eldredge Garage stable/garage building was approved by the historic business district commission last week. The owners agree to preserve the former gas station building at the 365 Main St. site, mothballing it until its future use can be determined.

A group of residents and business owners is helping the Eldredge family clean up the former service station site to clear the way for possible town purchase of the land for public parking. The group has a purchase and sales agreement on the property, but plans to sell it to the town if voters approve of the purchase, expected to cost about $2.5 million, at a Jan. 23 special town meeting.

David Oppenheim, who is spokesman for the group, told selectmen Tuesday that all of the old underground tanks on the property have been removed and the site graded. Two “areas of concern” were identified on the property, and additional testing is being done to determine the degree of potential contamination, he said.

“We're not anticipating anything of consequence, but that's a relative term,” Oppenheim said, caution that it still could take a while to resolve possible problems.

At last Wednesday's HBDC hearing, Sharon Kaplowitz, William Eldredge's eldest daughter, made a heartfelt plea for the urgency of the demolition approval. The estate's liabilities, including a “substantial” estate tax and costly cleanup, is forcing the family to sell the property, even though it is “a part of who we are and where we came from.”

The stable – or barn as the family refers to it – has been in her family for 112 years and is much more than a historical structure to herself and her three siblings.

“We grew up there. Because my grandparents were such workaholics, we spent a lot of time there because it was the only way to get to see them,” she said. “We really loved being there, to the point where when we grew up we all worked there.”

The family spent “countless hours” in the barn reminiscing and examining the structure, she said. It became clear that it was “beyond repair. We see a potentially serious safety situation.” The reality, she said, is that “this once great bilding, home to horses, Chatham's first fire department, cars of all shapes, sizes and worth, as well as providing a place for the Order of the Redmen to conduct their lodge...the barn's life of providing a service has died.”

The decision to apply to demolish the structure was “not made quickly nor was it constructed in a cavelier manner, but was given great consideration,” she said. “It's time has come to an end.”

Residents Gloria Freeman and Norman Pacun argued that removing the buildings would compromise the site's historic integrity.

“If the site is dramatically changed by wiping out the buildings, it not only takes the buildings away, it destroys the site,” Pacun said.

Attorney Michael Ford said while the stable is literally “falling down” and is a safety hazard, the family agreed to retain the former gas station building, which was deemed to be structurally sound.

Historic Consultant Eric Dray said retaining the gas station building on the site would provide a continuity to the property, especially if its future use is automobile-related, such as a public parking lot. The building could contain historical photographs and other material about the site, he suggested.

Should the public parking lot not happen and the lot was used for something else, the appropriateness of retaining the gas station and how it might be used would have to be discussed, he added. Removal of the gas station from the property would require HBDC approval.

In its unanimous approval of the demolition of the stable building and a small storage structure on the site known as the compressor building, the HBDC included eight conditions, the most significant of which is that a plan to salvage historical elements of the structure be approved by the commission prior to the stable being razed. Chairman Dan Sylver also insisted that one of the conditions be that a thorough documentation of the site and all three of its buildings be conducted, overseen by Dray and Sarah Korjeff of the Cape Cod Commission. The documentation will include material types, dimensional details and measurements, profiles and current and historical photographs.

Oppenheim said Tuesday that work will be done after the first of the year, and the stable/garage will likely te razed in February.

Because the cleanup could potentially take a few months, he requested that the warrant article include the option for the town to lease the property with the option to purchase while that work is being done. That would provide the flexibility to ensure that the cleanup is done properly, he said.  Selectmen were amenable to the idea and requested that town counsel look into appropriate language.

Selectmen are scheduled to vote on the special town meeting warrant articles at their Dec. 27 and Jan. 3 meetings.

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