Bartlett’s Garage renovation gets initial OK amid opposition

A proposed renovation to Bartlett’s Garage received initial approval from the Marblehead Old and Historic Districts Commission on Aug. 15, despite opposition over the project’s inclusion of a second-story addition to the 1 Stacey St. building.

Architectural rendering of the proposed renovation of Bartlett’s Garage, showing the controversial second-story addition that aims to balance modern needs with historical preservation. COURTESY PHOTO /WALTER JACOB ARCHITECTS 

“I have many of my neighbors here with me today who are universally in favor of the restoration of Bartlett’s garage,” said Katherine Howe in her remarks before the commission and residents in Abbot Hall’s Select Board Room. “We love Bartlett’s garage. We are excited for it to be restored to its former glory. We’re excited for the windows to be repaired. And we also recognize that there is historical precedent for a change in the outside cladding of Bartlett’s garage.”

She added, “However, our position is that there is no defensible historical precedent for the addition of a second story or any additional height for a garage of this vintage in this kind of neighborhood.”

In a 3-to-1 vote, commission members Bob Bragdon, Mariana Vaida and alternate member Duncan Facey voted to approve the renovation plans, while alternate member Michael Fuenfer cast the lone dissenting vote. (Alternate members participate in decisions when regular members are absent).

The vote came after four public meetings and hearings over the past couple of months during which and after architect Walter Jacob said his client made concessions. 

“We made this smaller than our client wanted it to be. We’ve brought it down in height,” Jacob said. “We’ve compromised a lot … so that we could make sure that we were able to make [improvements] but still be relatively compatible with the neighborhood.”

The proposed changes to the iconic auto garage, which closed nearly five months ago after being operated by the same family for over 100 years.

Architect Walter Jacob presents a rendering of the proposed renovation of Bartlett’s Garage, highlighting the second-story addition that has sparked debate among Marblehead residents. CURRENT PHOTO / WILLIAM J. DOWD

Marblehead resident Michael Rockett acquired the building from longtime owners Mike and Greg Quillen upon their retirement.

Jacob said Rockett aims to adaptively reuse and expand an existing garage structure by adding a second-story addition and renovating the exterior and interior.

Be our car-loving neighbor’

“Having a client that can find a use in this that is something other than residential in this historic district,” Jacob said, “I think is a positive thing.”

The existing single-story garage is a masonry unit block structure with a flat roof with a footprint of about 3,075 square feet and an overall height of 14 feet and seven inches. There are three garage doors and several windows on the south facade facing Stacy Street, with additional windows on the other facades.

Jacob noted that the proposal does not include changes to the existing lot size, setbacks or zoning for the property. He argued for keeping a non-residential use, which several abutters supported. The new second level will have an overall height of 20 feet, 1.5 inches above the first floor. It would also add 785 square feet.

Rockett, Jacob said, plans to continue using the existing ground floor garage space for vehicle storage and maintenance while the new second-story addition will provide room for storage, office and other needs related to his car collection.

“We have lifts that are gonna go partially into that double-height space,” he said. “Parking on the outside doesn’t let us expand the structure horizontally, so we chose to go up.”

The issue was raised of how the renovated building would impact views of the iconic Old North Church steeple, especially from vantage points south and east of the garage. Howe emphasized the importance of considering the impact on the town’s historic skyline.  

Bartlett’s Garage is being eyed for a proposed renovation including a second-story addition that has sparked debate among abutters. COURTESY PHOTO 

“The Old and Historic Districts Commission’s job, as I understand it, is to not only safeguard individual buildings and their historical authenticity but also to safeguard the aspects of the historical part of the town,” Howe said

“As we all can agree, Old North steeple is like a navigational aid that appears on all the navigational charts. It’s actually a very important part of the visual landscape of the historic district.”

Howe concluded by saying that her position, and the position of the neighborhood, is that the garage should be renovated and beautified without raising the height.

“Change the cladding. Repair the windows. Make it beautiful. Give it love. Be our car-loving neighbor, and don’t raise the height,” she urged.

An acceptable balance

In the end, a majoirty of commissioners felt the adapted design struck an acceptable balance between refreshing an old structure and preserving its heritage. This initial approval indicates the commission agrees conceptually with the changes the applicants are looking to make.

“We’ve done a good job maintaining the garage feel from where we started,” said Bragdon, who voted to approve the addition.

Vaida said the final design strikes a reasonable compromise between respecting Bartlett’s past and allowing upgrades to sustain its future as a 


“We’re very lucky that we found somebody willing to put all this money and effort into maintaining this building,” she said.  

But Fuenfer joined vocal neighbors in asserting the two-story addition crosses a historical line. 

“Ms. Howe makes a pretty compelling case,” Fuenfer said. “I see this one-story concrete garage architecture throughout Lindsey Street. They’re not pretty, but they are historical.”

Overall, while initial approval has been an important first step, member Gary Amberik — who could not vote on Tuesday night because he arrived midway through the hearing — said there are more details to be worked out before the Bartlett renovation can become a reality.   

After receiving the certificate of appropriateness, the applicants will need to come back to the commission with more detailed plans.

“They’ll come back, and they’ll have more fleshed out kind of stuff,” said Amberik, adding that this will include looking over everything from “light fixtures” to “the types of doors.” 

“It’s specifics, just more specifics,” he said.

The project must go before the Planning Board next.

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