Demolition Delay Imposed On Iconic Shore Road Home

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Historic preservation

The house at 233 Seaview St. which faces Shore Road. On Tuesday the historical commission imposed an 18-month demolition delay on the structure, although its current owners say they do not intend to fully demolish the 91-year-old house. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM – The only thing certain about the fate of an iconic Shore Road home is that it will continue to exist in its present state for at least the next 18 months.

After unanimously agreeing that the 91-year-old house, whose official address is 233 Seaview St., is historically significant, the commission voted Tuesday to impose an 18-month demolition delay on the structure. Owners Ronald and Ann Cami of San Francisco can return to the commission within that timeframe with plans to save all or a portion of the home.

And that's likely to happen, said Peter Polhemus of Polhemus Savery DaSilva. While the application before the commission was for a full demolition of the structure, “our intent and our client's intent is to be back here before the board with a plan that will not include a full demolition of the house,” Polhemus said.

Sitting on a slight rise set back from Shore Road with sweeping views of Chatham Harbor, the Colonial revival summer cottage is considered an excellent example of its style, according to the historical inventory form on file for the 1.5 acre property. One of the many stately homes along Shore Road, it is “quintessentially Chatham,” said Lisa Wallace Ouellet, whose family owned the property from 1977 to 1981.

“This property is woven into the enduring Chatham landscape,” she said, urging the owners to preserve the house and its many features, which have “much to say” about history and the town.

“But if it's demolished, they will speak no more,” she said.

The owners, who bought the house in 2012 for $3.6 million, are “looking to make changes and update the property,” said attorney Jeffrey Ford. They are working with Polhemus Savery DaSilva on options for the home, and are “optimistic” that will not mean a full demolition, he said. They did not dispute the historical significance of the house and filed the request under the town's demolition delay bylaw because they're “obviously looking at time lines,” he said.

Chairman Frank Messina, who was calling into the meeting via telephone, said it was “disingenuous” of the owners to say they want to save some of the house but also want to start the clock running on full demolition.

“They remain optimistic” that a full demolition won't be necessary, Ford said of the owners, “but at this point they have requested we file a full demolition.”

Ouellet asked the commission to delay the start of the demolition delay period until plans were available, but commissioners said once an application is filed they have no choice to but act on the request.

The owners have the option of moving the house to another location, noted acting chairman Benjamin Smolenski, but Ouellet said part of the significance of the building is the site and its integration into the streetscape of Shore Road.

“If you take that house away from Chatham, and that street, you're going to be losing a lot,” she said.

Messina noted that the commission had considered nominating the Shore Road area as a National Historic Register District, but had put it aside and instead nominated the Stage Harbor Road and South Chatham areas.

“Maybe that's something we want to dust off again,” he said, adding that he felt if nominated, a Shore Road historic district “would probably be approved in a heartbeat.”

If that was done, a discretionary referral of the 233 Seaview St. house project could be made to the Cape Cod Commission, noted commissioner Robert Lear. A district, Messina added, could even be a single property.

Built in 1927 or 1928 by S. Herbert Jenks, who bought the property from Chatham Bars Inn, which the property abuts, the house contains 3,662 square feet and seven bedrooms. The historical inventory form calls it “an excellent, intact example of a high-style, Colonial Revival summer cottage, an early 20th century style that was employed throughout Chatham as the town emerged as a summer destination.”

Ouellet said when her parents bought the house it was in poor condition. They “lovingly restored” the home's many features, such as hardwood floors, and taught her and her sisters that they were “only temporary caretakers” of old houses like this one.

The house was sold to Robert and Rosemary Black in 1981 and was purchased in 1994 by noted geographer and author Harm de Blij.

Lear suggested the commission revisit the project in September to determine its status.

Email Tim Wood at twood@capecodchronicle.com