Local couple plans to knock down historic harbor-front home, upsetting residents

A Marblehead couple plans to demolish a historic house on the harbor and is asking the town for permission to build a larger one on the same lot. The request has prompted an outcry from some neighbors and residents around town.

Holly and Jerome O’Neill purchased 84 Harbor Ave. (not far from the Eastern Yacht Club) in April 2023 for $3.65 million. They currently live on Orchard Street.

New owners of 84 Harbor Ave. on the Neck plan to knock down the historic home and build a new one. COURTESY PHOTO / RICK DODGE

At a Conservation Commission meeeting on Nov. 9, the O’Neills’ land development engineer Scott Patrowicz explained that the new house and pool will be built farther from the shoreline and 50 feet away from the so-called buffer zone. He also spoke about landscaping plans.

“We’ll be adding all kinds of best management practices with a flat lawn area, several rain gardens, and the retaining walls will have a lip to them that will act like a little dam,” he said.

The Conservation Commission approved the landscaping plan.

The O’Neill’s propsoed new home is 28% larger than the existing building. A discussion about the new home has been delayed until next month’s Planning Board meeting.

“The owners propose the demolition of the existing home, and the construction of a new single family home, moved back on the lot and set within the setback requirements,” the Planning Board application reads. “The foundation of the existing home will partially remain, as it is integrated with the seawall. The project has been designed to respectfully address the neighborhood, town infrastructure and natural resources ….”

The house, built in 1880, is recognizable from the harbor for its stone archway. 

“It is very sad to see this lovely house go — it’s representative of the early mansions built on the Neck in the late 19th and early 20th century. It was built by the same architect who built the Corinthian Yacht Club,” said Pam Peterson, chair of the Marblehead Historical Commission. 

According to preservation consultant John Clemson, 84 Harbor Ave. was built as a resort home for Thomas Thomson Paine, his son and a third generation, who used it during summers. The family’s main residence was in town on Waldron Street.

The home at 84 Harbor Ave. was built in the 1880s and is easily recognizable from Marblehead Harbor. COURTESY PHOTO / RICK DODGE

The home has a green copper roof, three-story octagonal tower and a porch over a stone arch. 

In a statement to the Current, Jerome O’Neill wrote, “We have lived in Marblehead for over 21 years and value its unique history. The existing house is in poor condition and is located on top of the coastal bank above the harbor. In consultation with environmental specialists and considering factors such as climate change expectations, building a new home away from the coastal bank is the only reasonable option to address this situation.”

O’Neill continued: “We have designed a home in full compliance with all zoning requirements and are not seeking any exceptions or relief from those requirements.”

However, Erin Pararas and George Pararas-Carayannis, who live at 89 Harbor Ave., don’t like the new plan. They wrote to the Planning Board: “The historical, century-old home will not be preserved. This iconic home with its prominent site location and characteristic green roof is recognized and appreciated from a multitude of positions in and around the harbor. It is a landmark structure of Marblehead Neck.”

They complained that the new house will be significantly bigger and block their views.

Clemson also would like to see the original home preserved.

“We care about historic buildings for many reasons. You’ve got a lot of buildings like this around the coastal zone of the town. They serve to document the town’s history. Often they can be preserved and adaptively used year-round.”

‘No, no, no, no’

People took to social media to decry the O’Neill’s efforts, in hundreds of posts.

“I really love this house,” wrote one person. “It sits so perfectly where it is. I’m not against new houses or modern design, I just don’t think that you can improve on this one. I hope the town preserves it.”

Other posts included:

“No, no, no, no!! My absolute favorite.” 

“A historic landmark on the harbor and my favorite home. A tragedy to demolish it.”

The Planning Board meeting is scheduled for Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. For more information, click HERE.

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Editor Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter.

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