Court Rebuffs Boston YWCA's Attempt To Gain Ownership Of Historic Homes
CHATHAM – The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has cleared the way for a Philadelphia nonprofit organization to once again offer vacations at three historic cottages in the Old Village to its members.
In denying an appeal last week, the court let stand a ruling turning back the Boston YWCA's attempt to wrest control of the three cottages donated to the Philadelphia YWCA by Avis Chase more than half a century ago. Late last year the state appeals court affirmed the Philadelphia organization's ownership of the property, which has a combined value of more than $6 million, after a Barnstable County Probate and Family Court judge ruled in favor of the Boston group in 2015.
“I'm happy for the women who will get to come here,” said Joan Horrocks, a member of the Avis Chase Women's Association and the group's local liaison. “I think that's really the major thing.”
A meeting of the Avis Chase organization is scheduled for next Saturday, when fliers will be distributed seeking applicants to spend a week or two at the cottages this summer. In late May or early June, a volunteer work crew and the program's summer administrator will begin working to open up the cottages, which have been unoccupied for the past two summers.
“They're really in pretty good condition, considering,” Horrocks said.
Albert Piccerilli, one of the group's two attorneys, said since the only appeal of the decision is to the U.S. Supreme Court, he expects it to stand.
“We're very happy about this,” he said. “We felt this was just an effort to get the cottages.”
Emily L. Boardman, director of communications and marketing for the Boston YWCA, said the organization will not be commenting on the case.
A Chatham native, Avis Chase bequeathed the cottages at 20, 25 and 52 Water St. to the YWCA of Philadelphia, where she lived with her husband, upon her death in 1953. Chase, who also gave the town the land that became Chase Park, wanted the houses, which had belonged to herself and her mother, to be used for the “benefit, rest and recreation” of YWCA members. Beginning in 1959, hundreds of women from the city came to Chatham to stay in the cottages for a week or two at little or no cost.
In the early 2000s, the Philadelphia Y fell on hard times, Piccerilli said. It lost its affiliation with the national YWCA but continued to operate as the Avis Chase Women's Association. Since 2010, he said, the organization has been growing and increasing its membership; today it also offers scholarship programs for young girls. Horrocks said the group has 250 to 300 members.
In 2012 the Boston Y sued “at a time when the Philadelphia association was trying to emerge from the difficult times upon which it had fallen,” Piccerilli said. Claimed the Philadelphia organization could no longer carry out the original intention of Chase's will, the Boston Y – which had been named a successor organization in Chase's will – sought to gain control of the cottages, two of which have frontage on Mill Pond.
Piccerilli said although the Probate Court awarded ownership of the cottages to the Boston Y, the appeals court dismissed the complaint, “in large part on the ground that Boston YWCA lacked any standing to sue for the Chase cottages.” The March 29 denial by the Supreme Judicial Court reaffirms that ruling.
“The Philadelphia organization will reinstitute its Chase cottages summer program so that women members from all backgrounds can enjoy each other's company and the pleasure of a Cape Cod getaway that they otherwise might not be able to afford,” he said.
The Philadelphia association voluntarily put the program on hold in 2015, said Horrocks. “To me it seems like 100 years,” she said of the two summers the houses were vacant.
The case had aroused concern among Old Village residents over what the Boston Y planned to do with the properties, should it prevail. Although historic restrictions that prohibit demolition of the buildings or subdivision of the land were put in place in 2012, the possibility that use of the houses could intensify or that they could be sold on the open market was worrisome, said Winnie Lear, president of the Old Village Association.
“It's good news for the Old Village,” she said of last week's decision. “We're all thrilled that it was decided in Philadelphia's favor.”
Residents are looking forward to welcoming back women from the Philadelphia association, and Old Village Association members will be meeting with Horrocks to learn what they can do to support the program.
“If we can help in any way, that's what I would like to do so it can survive,” said Lear.