To The Editor:
Recently, a 150+ year old Victorian was torn down in Westfield, next to my childhood home. Before its aging, longtime owners fell ill, it was a well-maintained property and stood testament to some of Westfield’s earlier times. It was the original clubhouse of the Westfield Tennis Club. The neighboring cluster of houses was built by Henry West (well-known premier builder at the time), on the old tennis courts. This I know from the lovely elderly widow who lived in the house when we moved next-door in 1960. The extensive garden had a huge apple tree in the middle of a grand circular driveway, and a multi-car garage in the back most likely served as carriage house in its day. Unlike most Victorian homes of the time, this house was a two-family, the upper story apartment most likely the Club caretaker’s quarters. As of last week, it is all gone, and my heart breaks to have seen yet another piece of Westfield’s history destroyed. What irony given the current times.
After speaking with several town officials, it is my understanding that with the existing ordinances, there was little Westfield officials could have done to stop the demolition. In fact, no one even seemed to know the history of this home. Two adjoining townhouses are to be built on the property, each listed for $950,000. Already on the market though a foundation has not even been poured. It was bought by a nationally-based developer for $642,000. After improvements, this non-local builder stands to pocket a cool $1 million. No loss and all gain to them. Apparently, no variance is necessary since they will be replacing a two-family home on a large lot. Zoning restrictions would not have saved it. In other words, this Westfield treasure passed under the radar, primarily because it was not designated for historic preservation. Nobody knew and what’s done is done, but we can learn from this to avoid a similar loss in the future.
Prompted by the aforementioned (and sadly, irrevocable) event, these past two weeks have given me some education and a much better understanding of what Mayor Brindle and the Historic Preservation Committee (HPC) are trying to achieve with their proposed new ordinance for historic preservation. It will help to protect Westfield’s historic treasures from profit-motivated developers who come to our town with a ‘slash and burn’ mentality. At the same time, the new ordinance provides owners of historic homes some latitude to address their needs. As for potential impact on property values, most buyers of these homes are attracted to their charm and history, a selling point in my book. Their preservation is an effort I strongly support, in the hope that more of our historic homes and buildings will be saved for future generations.
Ingeborg Bossert, Ph.D.
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