Unique demolition for Seton House to proceed

When there is discussion about demolition of a structure, the first image that comes to mind could well be a wrecking ball coming in and knocking down all in its path. But when it comes to the Seton House, Greenwich is proceeding with something different, called a “historically sensitive demolition.”

If this demolition proceeds according to intention, the foundation of the house would be left on the site while eliminating the parts of the structure that are not considered to be historically significant and that provide a hazard due to disrepair. This way the foundation would be there to at least indicate where the house was.

The plan became a reality on Jan. 22 when the Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) unanimously approved $100,000 for the Seton House demolition. This follows the unanimous recommendation of the BET’s Budget Committee, which met with a group including town Director of Conservation Denise Savageau, town Building Superintendent Alan Monelli and representatives from the Greenwich Boy Scouts and the Greenwich Preservation Trust, according to committee Chairman Marc Johnson.

The approval came with two conditions. The first is that a “historically sensitive” demolition plan be created and implemented, and the second is that all necessary approvals from the town for the demolition be sought and granted.

The Seton House, which was built in 1900, is considered to have historic value because it was once the home of Ernest Thompson Seton, a founder of the Boy Scouts. Jo Conboy, chairman of the Greenwich Preservation Trust, also has linked the house to Grace Gallatin Seton, a leading suffragette, as well as to writing and publishing of music from the house. Because of that, Mr. Johnson said, the committee had given interested parties until Sept. 30, 2013, to come up with alternatives to the demolition, but none were received.

The Seton House has long been an area of concern for the town because of its condition and as a target for vandalism. Last year, in discussing the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development, First Selectman Peter Tesei called it an “attractive nuisance,” and the issues were part of the BET’s discussion on Wednesday. Mr. Monelli told the BET about the broken windows, a damaged roof and a history of fires there. Mr. Johnson said he also understood that the second floor of the house had been “renovated pretty poorly” more than 50 years ago, leading to a loss of historic value there as well as the poor condition of the structure.

“Basically, the police have been called on a very frequent basis due to disturbances and vandalism,” Mr. Johnson said.

Because of all of this and the fact that no alternative plans were offered in the six months leading to last year’s Sept. 30 deadline, Mr. Johnson said, it made the most sense for the town to proceed with the demolition with “sensitivity to the historic nature of the site and the surrounding property.” The Budget Committee supported this unanimously, and the full BET followed suit at its Jan. 23 meeting.

But before the vote was taken, BET member Sean Goldrick said he wanted to make sure the Greenwich Preservation Trust and others were on board with that decision. While the members of the trust who came to the meeting did not have a spot on the agenda to speak, they did indicate they were on board. After the vote, Ms. Conboy confirmed to the Post that the action had the group’s support.

“We want a historical demolition, not just a demolition,” Ms. Conboy said. “I just found this out today. The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation is doing statewide research of homes that have literary significance. They’re even working with national historic preservation, and I hope they’ll do this with us. They want to re-see the house, and I think it’s very important that we do this. The BET seems very sensitive toward the historic value.”

Ms. Conboy said the idea of a historic demolition that will dismantle the house slowly to see what can be saved is something the Greenwich Preservation Trust supports. She said she’s hopeful that at least the first floor can be saved and her group’s efforts on this will be ongoing.

“This house is not only important to Greenwich, but it has national historic significance,” Ms. Conboy said.


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