Friday, February 8, 2008

Fallacy No. 1: Small and Outdated

This story is from Westport, Connecticut, a town that has been struggling with the compete erasure of its past. Teardowns in Westport are so common that runs a feature called Teardown of the Day to keep neighborhoods in the loop. Image from

Historic Mansion May Soon be Demolished
By Michael C. Juliano | 02/07/2008 | Westport News

An 87-year-old house on Sylvan Road North may fall victim to the wrecking ball, despite efforts by Westport's Historic District Commission (HDC) to keep it standing.

HDC Chairman Morley Boyd said his commission held a public hearing in early December on a proposal by Jean Bernhard Buttner, the owner, to demolish the white Colonial Revival and its outbuildings. He said members of his commission asked Richard Diviney, Buttner's attorney, to save the building from demolition due to its architectural merit and structural integrity.

"It's probably one of the largest teardowns in the state," he said. "It's deeply disturbing because one of the buildings appears to be new."

The HDC reviewed the property because it is more than 60 years old and is listed on the town's Historic Resources Inventory.

Boyd said the demolition was scheduled for Wednesday, but it has been resheduled.

Stephen Smith, Westport's building official, said the contractor told him the buildings would not be coming down before Tuesday.

"They may even be coming down the week after that," he said. "He's in no rush."

The 7,882-square-foot, two-story house with 17 rooms sits back a couple hundred feet from the road on 17 acres of gated property. Known as the Brosnahan-Bernhard Estate, the parcel is bordered by a stone fence and numerous trees and has an in-ground pool, a cabana, a tennis court, a caretaker's house and other amenities.

Boyd said the property qualifies for listing on the State and National Historic Register of Historic Places, and Buttner could take advantage of the Planning and Zoning Commission's recently adopted Amendment 574, which allows residential use of historic accessory structures.

"We asked the representative to contact the office to explore alternatives to demolition," Boyd said.

Boyd said First Selectman Gordon Joseloff reached out to Buttner with an offer for the town to purchase the property.

Joseloff said, "The town is looking at a number of properties."

Diviney was not available for comment on the future of the property, which has an appraised value of $5.6 million, according to HDC records.

HDC documents, which refer to the property as "one of the most important estates built in Westport," state that the house was built in 1921 for George C. Engel of New York City. Following Engel's death, the property was passed to his heirs, Ann Elizabeth Stamm and Jeanette Engle, who sold it to Roger C. Stewart in 1928.

A year later, Mona Brosnahan bought the property and then sold it to the Bernhards in 1945. The estate, which is also referred to as the Brosnahan-Bernhard property, has remained in the Bernhard family since being sold by Brosnahan.

Love the sign one community is using to bring notice to the issue (the word is Pre-)....

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