WEST HARWICH — After a one-year demolition delay expired less than two weeks ago, the Roman Catholic Diocese and Holy Trinity Church moved quickly to remove the Gothic Revival late Victorian 1914 structure on church property along Route 28 in West Harwich, razing it last Wednesday.
“It is sad that the church couldn’t have found it in their hearts to conserve, restore and repurpose this...historic parish home,” said Len Kalbach, the abutter to the east side of the church.
The dioceses announced its plan to demolish the building in an application to the historic district and historical commission in October 2019. The town has a demolition delay bylaw for structures more than 100 years old which are considered to have significant historical value to the community.
The building, located on the corner of Lothrop Avenue and Main Street, served as the church rectory, and more recently, as a thrift shop. It has been vacant for the past six years.
The HD&HC held a couple of hearings to weigh the historic significance of the building to the community. Joseph Nolan served as spokesperson for the church and said the building was tired, suffering from termite and pest damage and had cracked beams.
The plan, Nolan said, was to remove the structure and plant grass. There were no plans to put up another building or to increase the paved parking lot, Nolan told the commission.
The demolition proposal was met with opposition from neighbors. A little further west on Route 28, the Captain’s Row initiative sparked a lot of public interest in protecting the historic character of West Harwich, which has led to the creation of a district of critical planning concern and a newly approved West Harwich Special District zoning provision design to protect historic character.
“We are concerned about the history here in Harwich, the character and charm of our neighborhood,” Holy Trinity Church abutter Dan Goodin said during a commission hearing.
“It’s really unfortunate the church has chosen to tear down a piece of our neighborhood history,” Goodin said Monday. “History repeats itself, and I’d like to have people aware of that and look at it going forward. We lost The Exchange building and now we’ve lost another 100-year-old building in town,”
“I am sad to have lost the historic home,” Captains’ Row advocate Sally Urbano said. “A quick drive by will fill you with the sense of loss and a gaping hole in the continuity of the story of us.” Historic buildings, structures and artifacts, “if available in the present, hold stories to be told,” she added. “If erased, so is the discovery of the stories. Those stories cause us to reflect and dream and propel us into more complex ways of thinking. Further there is an added dimension to the feel of a town that respects and preserves history.”
The core portion of the building is a significant architectural piece, HD&HC commission member Robert Doane said at the hearings, referring to the Gothic revival of the Victorian period. Doane also had another view of the condition of the structure, stating it was in “very good shape.”
Commission members focused on possible new uses of the building, possibly for social services or even affordable housing. It was suggested the church communicate with the town’s affordable housing trust about affordable housing use. Nolan had said the church would be willing to sell the building for $1 to anyone interested in relocating the structure.
At a Dec. 18, 2019 hearing, the commission invoked the one-year demolition delay provision. Nolan later wrote the affordable housing trust stating the diocese was willing to contribute $20,000, the projected cost of demolition, if the trust was interested in moving the building.
Trust member Larry Brophy examined the building and worked on cost estimates for moving the structure, placing it on a new foundation, connecting utilities and upgrading the structure to meet code. Brophy estimated the cost would be $175,000 to $200,000 to renovate the building for use as a three-bedroom house.
“We’re not getting real value for our money,” Brophy said. The trust would be better off locating a parcel where it could develop three or four lots and go out for requests for proposals to develop four units by a group like Habitat for Humanity, he said. The trust voted to take the church building proposal off the table as an affordable housing concept.
The one-year delay expired on Dec. 18, and 12 days later the Victorian structure was reduced to rubble.