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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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Preservationists anxious to maintain McLaury House renovations

Updated 11:42 am, Tuesday, July 8, 2014

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  • The town-owned Emily McLaury House at 99 Myrtle Ave. as it looked after extensive renovations completed in 2007. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News
    The town-owned Emily McLaury House at 99 Myrtle Ave. as it looked after extensive renovations completed in 2007. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Seven years after completing extensive renovations on the historic, town-owned Emily McLaury House at 99 Myrtle Ave., leaders of that project are asking that the Historic District Commission ensure their efforts are preserved.

"We anticipated that ongoing maintenance could be a challenge," said Wendy Crowther, a former HDC member who helped spearhead the McLaury project, along with Morley Boyd, who was then the commission chairman.

For over two years, they and about a half-dozen others worked on the house from about 2005 to 2007. The town, which bought the house in 1972, invested $250,000 in the project, though Crowther said many contributions helped to lower costs and a lot of the work was completed by committee members themselves.

"Morley Boyd and I were both on the original committee that restored that house," she said. "We live in the neighborhood and we still care about it a lot, so we keep an eye on it."

"It won a preservation award from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation," she said, in part because it was a town-generated project.

Over the past few years, however, she said they original preservationists have observed lapses in the kind of upkeep required to maintain the structure. "They've made a couple of inappropriate repairs," she said, even though the committee left the town with a detailed manual of specifics on painting, treating materials, cleaning the finishes and much more.

"We're concerned," she said. "Even with the simple plan we sort of left for them ... things are just sliding."

Crowther said she doesn't believe anyone is purposely neglecting the prescribed repairs, but that miscommunication and sometimes just necessity are causing a disconnect. For instance, she noted how one of the antique glass windows was recently broken and haphazardly replaced with plexiglass. She said it probably done with good intentions by someone who wasn't even aware of what the house required.

She also noted that the house has a cedar shingle roof that has to be oiled every three years, but apparently went by the wayside. "They eventually did it, but it probably went another year or year and a half," Crowther said. "That might have slipped if I hadn't been watching and asking."

Built around 1921, the house was designed by local architect Charles Cutler, who also designed Greens Farms Elementary School and the Westport Bank & Trust building, which today houses Patagonia at the corner of Church Lane and the Post Road.

"It's a house that was a built for a relative," said Carol Leahy, HDC staff administrator. "I think there was that local interest in it for that reason, (although) I believe the reason the town bought it was not so much for the house, but the accessway to the (Baldwin) parking lot."

"I'm so impressed with what a careful detailed authentic job of restoration they've done for it, so I think it's a great example of preservation for the town," said Francis Henkels, HDC chairman.

"We've tried to stay in touch with the town departments ... who are in charge of maintaining the house," Crowther said, including the Parks and Recreation Department and Department of Public Works.

"It's difficult for them to maintain the property to the standard that the people involved in the restoration feel was warranted," Henkels said. "I tend to agree with them. It should be carefully maintained."

"It would be a shame to let it slip back into some state that would not reflect the effort that went into it," he said.

"We're not pointing fingers," Crowther said, "but the town has budget issues and it defers maintenance."

While she said upkeep could be costly, the house also generates rental income for the town.

"It provides a paycheck to the town because it has always been for lease, so it's paying its way," she said.

Asked about the town's maintenance record for the McLaury House, First Selectman Jim Marpe said, "We are reviewing the maintenance protocols for 99 Myrtle Ave. to be sure they are current and appropriate for the historic nature of the house and to better understand the concerns about the town's maintenance.

"I will also be establishing a small task force to hear and discuss issues and concerns about the property and, to the extent we agree that there are problems, determine how they might be addressed," Marpe said.