(Image courtesy the Boston Landmarks Commission)
To the dismay of the Tomasini Family, the Boston Landmarks Commission voted unanimously Tuesday night to designate their Grampian Way property a landmark.
The designation, which must receive the sign-off of the mayor and can be overturned by the City Council, limits what the family can do with the Savin Hill property, which they took control of in 2005 after the death of their father Raymond Tomasini.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino is expected to sign off on the decision sometime in the next few days, according to Brian Swett, chief of Environment and Energy for the city of Boston, which oversees the Boston Landmarks Commission.
“The mayor is supportive of the designation and agrees with the commissioners,” said Swett. “We’ve been looking at this property for a long time. It’s a unique structure and tied to a unique person.”
Located at 24 Grampian Way in Dorchester, the deteriorating 3,466-square-foot single-family home, dubbed the Kehew-Wright House, was constructed in 1871 and sits on an approximately three-quarter of an acre property. A stable was also located on the property, but that was recently razed.
The property was highlighted for preservation after the owners sought to have it demolished and because of its connections to George Wright, an early baseball pioneer; William P. Hunt, an entrepreneur; and John Kehew, a whale oil merchant.
The commission made the designation Tuesday night after a long and heated process that included discussions about the the house’s history, its past owners, and its future.
The Tomasinis and their attorney Howard Speicher have been extremely vocal in their critiques about the report the BLC commissioned, calling it “historical puffery” and many of its claims “embellishments.”
The Tomasinis have also criticized George Wright, one of the main figures associated with the house, for what they say is his complacency in the face of segregation in baseball and for his promotion of tobacco products.
“There’s no doubt that he [George Wright] had some great ability as a player, but the Hall of Fame recognized him for leadership as an executive in the sport,” Chris Tomasini, told the commission Tuesday. “As such there’s no separating George Wright as an early leader in baseball from the policies of that time, specifically the exclusion of black players and we think that’s an important part of the record.”
Although no testimony was taken at Tuesday’s hearing with regards to the actual designation decision, the commission did review amendments to the report it commissioned about the house’s historical value.
The amendments, which were passed by the commission unanimously, were made for clarification purposes. They included updates to Wrights’ involvement in baseball, Hunt and Kehew’s relationship, and Kehew’s involvement with Ritchie & Co., which manufactured and held the patents on many products Kehew sold. The report also corrected an earlier error that alleged Wright donated the land for the George Wright Golf Course in Hyde Park.
“It [the amendments] speaks to this ongoing pattern of trying to sandbag the facts,” said Chris Tomasini.
Speicher, the family’s attorney, spoke to the financial burden a landmark designation would place on the family.
Under the current zoning code, as of right, two two-family buildings could be added to property in addition to the existing building, according to Speicher. He, however, said even with two new buildings and the profit they would generate, it would still not be financially feasible to repair the home.
“You could not make enough money to renovate and preserve this house,” said Speicher.
He estimated it would cost close to $1.2-million to completely renovate the structure.
The property is worth an estimated $395,190, with the land valued at $278,190 and the building valued at $117,000, according to the city’s Assessing Department.
Speicher also criticized the commission for what he said was a conspiracy to landmark the property.
“We believe the process before the commission has been tainted by a lack of sunlight as to who’s really involved,” said Speicher.
Specier alleged that Historic Boston Inc., which has met with the family about the property in the past, worked behind the scenes with the Dorchester Historical Society and the commission to have the property designated a landmark.
Speicher said he has several emails that show a conflict of interest and coordination between the Dorchester Historical Society, the commission, and Historic Boston Inc. After the hearing Speicher, however, declined to produce the emails for review by Boston.com.
“I understood the function of the commission and staff is to prepare an impartial study report about the house and its merits…not to lobby with outside entities and people to promote the landmarking of a building,” Speicher said.
Members of the commission, however, didn’t buy Speicher’s allegations.
“I’m more convinced than ever that staff did their job in this case,” said Yanni Tsipis, a member of the commission.
Tsipis cited language on the commission’s website that he said disproves Speicher’s claims.
“The Boston Landmarks Commission, along with the local Historic District Commissions, provides information and assistance concerning the regulatory process, historic preservation planning and protection, archaeology, sources for historical information, and technical assistance,” read the commission’s website, which was highlighted by Tsipis.
Tsipis went on to say that although he was originally a skeptic, the property should be designated a landmark.
“As many as you know I was a skeptic when this case first came before us, but I think the amendments that have been made were conscientious....and I support the recommendation [to landmark],” said Tsipis.
John Freeman, also a member of the commission, said a landmark designation can be a blessing.
“Often people inexperienced with preservation make the assumption that it’s a taking and that it reduces the value of the property,” said Freeman. “Time and time again in our history we have seen that the opposite is true….We’ve seen properties that are this bad or worse and are now gems.”
After the hearing Speicher said his clients have not determined their next move.
The designation, with Menino's approval expected, can still be rejected by a two-thirds vote of the 13-member City Council. The council has 30 days to override the decision.
At the property’s Article 89 Demolition Delay hearing in August, a number of elected officials and their staff came to the defense of the Tomasinis including at-Large City Councilor Stephen Murphy, at-Large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, Allston-Brighton City Councilor Mark Ciommo, South Boston City Councilor Bill Lineahan, and Jamaica Plain-West Roxbury City Councilor Matt O’Malley.
A request for comment has not be returned by any of the above councilors excluding the office of at-Large City Councilor Stephen Murphy.
“City Councilor Murphy hasn’t decided how he will act on the [City Council] floor, but there’s a compelling argument to overturn the commission’s decision,” said a spokesperson from his office.
Dorchester City Councilor Frank Baker also testified in support of the Tomasinis in August, but withdrew his comments after the Dorchester Reporter highlighted a conflict of interest between the property and Baker’s family.
Baker also did not return a request for comment.
To read about the property’s initial Article 85 hearing, click here.
To hear about a community meeting held by the Tomasinis in September, click here.