Owner: 'Starboard Light' Won't Be Demolished

By: Tim Wood

Starboard Light, the historic home overlooking Stage Harbor, will not be demolished, the owner said this week. But permission is being sought to remove additions to the rear that the owner said are not historic. FILE PHOTO


CHATHAM – Starboard Light, the iconic historic home at 154 Champlain Rd., will not be demolished.

Whether it will remain at the spot where it’s stood since being floated to Chatham from Nantucket sometime in the 1800s or will be moved to another location has yet to be determined.

But William Litchfield, attorney for owner Robert Mahoney, told the historical commission Tuesday that there is no intention to tear down the house.

“There are no plans, certainly no desire, to demolish,” Litchfield said during a demolition delay hearing at the annex. Mahoney added that “we're very close to a solution” to save the main house. Litchfield said there are two people “very, very interested” in flaking or moving the house, and one or two others interested in redeveloping the site and incorporating the main house.

However, those parties need to know how much of the structure needs to be preserved; the main house alone or with additions to the rear that Litchfield said are not historic.

The owner had no problem with the commission declaring that the main house—a three-quarter Cape that may date from the late 18th century—is historically significant and imposing an 18-month demolition delay (such an order had in fact been put in place nine years ago, when Mahoney first bought the property). But he asked that additions, connected to the main house by a breezeway, be excluded from the order. The additions, which include a kitchen and dining room, bedrooms and a garage, date from the 1950s and are “unimpressive,” he said.

Commission members questioned the age of the additions, however. Donald Aikman said the windows indicated they are older, and the Massachusetts Historical Commission inventory form for the property lists the date of the additions are the 1930s.

After discussing whether to issue separate orders for the main house and the additions, the commissioners agreed to postpone a decision until July 29. In the meantime, they will ask a historic preservation specialist to examine the additions to determine their approximate age and historically significance.

The house was featured in the 2013 documentary “Starboard Light,” directed by Nick Fitzhugh, whose family owned it for more than 80 years before deciding to sell it. Mahoney, who owns a home behind Starboard Light, bought it from the family in 2010 to prevent its demolition and the “McMansioning of the neighborhood,” Litchfield said. The property was on the market for six years, and many of those who inquired about it were interested in saving the main house, but the question that always came up was what to do with the rest of the structure, he said.

Mahoney purchased the house for $3.4 million, and it has been on the market for $2.5 million, the amount it is assessed for by the town.

Litchfield said Mahoney has “carried” the property for nearly 10 years. “Now is the time when something happens,” he said, and “certainty” is needed to work out plans with potential buyers.

“We've got four serious players right now who want to do something, but need to know what they can do,” Litchfield said.

“It's been years developing these alternatives,” Mahoney added.

The house's prominent location overlooking Stage Harbor at the bend in Champlain Road makes it a critical part of both the streetscape and the view from the water, Chairman Frank Messina said. Neighbor Dorothy Lovett called Starboard Light “the lynchpin of the neighborhood.”

In an email, Nick Fitzhugh said two of his cousins are working on finding a new home for all of the structures on the property, or at least the original dwellling.

"The Fitzhughs very much appreciate the efforts to save the original dwelling house which is certainly the most historic of the structures,” he wrote. “They would love to save the painting above the fireplace in the kitchen house, too, which depicts a view of Stage Harbor and the lighthouse at a time when very few boats graced the waters.”

Usually the commission deals with the entire structure, said Messina. But commission members pointed out that historic structures have been differentiated from newer additions in past decisions. They specifically noted the Briggs windmill off Shore Road; the old mill section was saved while a newer addition was removed. Commission members were willing to separate the main Starboard Light house from the addition, but not without more information.

“I just need more proof that this kitchen wing is not old,” said Aikman.

Commissioners expect to get that information at the July 29 meeting, which will be held at 9 a.m. at the annex. At that time a vote will be taken on the demolition delay request.