This property is an important part of the Newburyport Historic District and is listed as C for ‘contributing’ in the National Register District. It is posted there as being an Italianate and to have been constructed circa 1870. (The late end of that architectural style’s popularity). Curiously, the assessor’s office has it posted as being built around 1850. The clue that gives away the evidence and allows us to reconcile the conflict is the foundation. Apparently, the house was originally much smaller and was a single floor deep. Later, it was expanded and made into a classic Italianate style which was popular between 1845 and on to the late 1860’s.
This style, inspired by the vernacular farmhouse architecture of the Italian country villas, is most frequently identified by heavy wooden brackets or pendants. The first Italianate houses in United States were popularized by the pattern books of Andrew Jackson Downing. While there are true Italianate buildings throughout Newburyport, the use of bracketed details became a popular item for a time period and bracketing was also applied to Georgian, Federal, and Greek Revival houses in an attempt to make them ‘modern’ (for that time period) in style.
I knew that Harbor Schools had owned the house since 1993 and it was recently purchased by a John J. McPartland in May of this year. As part of his renovation work, he promised he would take the vinyl siding off of the house. (Hurrah for High Street). Exposed for all the world to see was the crime committed by an earlier owner.
The brackets were almost all gone!
Worse, the bracketing around the windows was gone too!
One of the reasons (there were others such as energy-efficiency) that the Salem Handbook was discontinued by the preservationists in that city – they had a section covering vinyl siding. At the time of the handbook, vinyl was just coming in as a new product and so, only cautionary warnings were added:
“If you decide upon vinyl/aluminum siding, remember the following:
1. Both are imitation materials so they should look like the clapboards they imitate. The additional effects, such as wood graining, which do not appear on wood clapboards, are unnecessary.
2. The spacing between siding strips should be as close as possible to the original clapboards. When the spaces are widened, the scale of the house is changed and the appearance suffers.
3. Existing trim-cornerboards and window and door details should not be hidden. Many houses have lost their character because their details were covered when siding was applied.”
Decades have passed and now the problems that have resulted from their installation is now every preservationists warning. Historic homes are designed to breath and vinyl in effect causes the house to literally be ‘bound up’. The result is condensation that builds between the original clapboards and the vinyl. The result can be clearly seen if you walk by 72 High Street. Extensive deterioration and rot have occurred under vinyl.
One of the common mistakes when people choose vinyl is the covering over and destruction of the architectural features of the house. The beautiful brackets on 72 High Street are gone as can be clearly seen in this photo. Talk about doing everything possible to strip away the value of the house!
In addition, vinyl has been stigmatized. Just as chain link fences are death to a city like Newburyport, the covering has often been used by landlords for rental property to allow them minimal care of the property. (Not realizing that eventually great damage will be done.) To apply vinyl to an historic house is a guaranteed one-way path to property devaluation. Bad enough that David Hall’s father vinyl-clad many rental properties in the 70’s guaranteeing their identification. (Of course, at the time, it was a step up as many were not even painted – that was how bad much of Newburyport looked!)
I applaud the removal of the vinyl.
Unfortunately, that is not all of the story. This developer is again doing what many have committed in this city because it was passively ‘allowed’ in the past. Instead of doing what was permitted; the new owner has demolished without permission an addition and has taken down a chimney. The question will be asked, “Will be get his wrist slapped lightly and given a ‘stern’ talking to (about all he’ll get) or will he have to make reparations for his error?
Tonight’s meeting will be very interesting at the Newburyport Historical Commission. (7:30) Even with it being primary election night and my long hours of work; I plan on attending.
PS. He has made several excellent promises as to what he plans to do with the building and his architectural plans are very impressive. I think he will do an excellent job as long as he is closely monitored by the building inspector and by abutters and citizens!
Vision Appraisal, 2012, “City of Newburyport”
High Street Page, Newburyport Historic District Online Website, www.newburyporthistoricdistrict.org
Survey of the Newburyport Historic District, National Register of Historic Places, 1984.
From The Salem Handbook, Historic Salem Incorporated, 1977