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Sox owner Henry cuts a deal to tear down Brookline house

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Sarah Schweitzer
Globe Staff / May 20, 2008

BROOKLINE - Commodity trader and principal owner of the Boston Red Sox John Henry has won town approval for a long-awaited dream.

The town's preservation commission has approved a deal that will let Henry tear down a historic 13,000 square-foot mansion that was recently renovated by another sports impresario, in order to make way for a new mansion more to Henry's liking.

In return, Brookline gets archival-quality photographs of the houses, along with tiles from the fireplace and bathrooms and outdoor lights. Henry also agreed to a conservation restriction on a portion of his land that will mean that no structures may be built there.

"It's always sad to see something go, to see the original fabric of Brookline gone." said Greer Hardwicke, the town preservation planner. "We got something of benefit, so it's not a total loss."

The approval caps months of negotiations and hearings about the 7-acre property that Henry purchased for $16 million in August. The existing mansion, along with another 5,000 square-foot house on the property that is also slated for demolition, were some of the first built on the subdivided estate of Charles Sprague Sargent, first director of the Arnold Arboretum, in the 1920s and 1930s.

The homes are set in an exclusive neighborhood of stone-walled compounds, many reached by winding private drives. The larger house, a red brick Colonial revival with ivy-covered walls, contains seven bedrooms, eight bathrooms, and two half-bathrooms. A separate wing houses the pool, a media room, a playroom, and staff quarters.

Town officials said they were pleased with the outcome.

"What he's done is to prevent future overdevelopment on that site," said Robert Allen, a Brookline selectman. He said that Henry has been active in a number of fund-raising efforts in the town. Henry could not be reached for comment.

Joseph Geller, a landscape architect who is acting as Henry's spokesman on the matter, said that it made more sense to build a new house rather than to try to add one to the site of either of the existing houses, both of which sit on either side of a ridge. Henry wanted his house atop the hillside.

Geller said plans for the new house are incomplete. He said it would be "shingle style," but that its dimensions have not been determined.

The existing houses on the property, Geller said, held little historical value. The larger one's valuable elements had been diluted when the property's previous owner, Frank H. McCourt Jr., the former Boston-based developer who now owns the Los Angeles Dodgers, renovated it in the 1990s. The other house is in disrepair and had never been renovated, Geller said.

Hardwicke said the houses are notable for the architectural firms that designed them. One oversaw restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, she said, and another designed a number of buildings for Harvard University. She said the smaller house, because it has not been renovated, retained a number of quirky features, such as the call boxes used for summoning servants.

The town had few options to prevent demolition of the houses, Hardwicke said. It had imposed a 12-month moratorium on demolition, but that was winding down, and the town would have had no recourse once it did. Instead, the town chose to negotiate with Henry and elicited the conservation restriction and the promises of the archival material.

Neighborhood reaction has been largely positive, town officials said.

Chobee Hoy, a local real estate agent, said that while few residents spoke out, some privately voiced concern.

"I've heard a lot of people remark about a home of that stature and that worth and about tearing it down and feeling pretty negative about it," she said.

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