They are icons of South Boston, the only two properties in the neighborhood that might qualify as estates. Both are on the last block of East Broadway before it ends at Pleasure Bay, and for generations, Southie people liked to play a daydream game and ask themselves which of the two big houses they would buy if they ever hit it rich: the red one or the white one?
“I don’t know anyone that doesn’t have dibs on one of those houses,” said Mary Sweeney, a lifelong resident. “I always wanted the red one, and didn’t understand anyone who wanted the white one.”
That game may be about to end. Both homes are for sale, and both with asking prices so high that longtime residents worry the only people who can afford them are developers who will tear them down and build condominiums.
“They’re the only two we have, and I don’t see any more being built,” said Danny Bothwell, 36, as he played with his two daughters at the beach a block away.
The red house at 945 East Broadway, a single-family Georgian Revival built on an embankment above the street, is on the market for $3.9 million. The estate, which was built in 1939 for William H. Taylor, vice president of South Boston Cooperative Savings Bank, has an assessed value of just over $678,000, according to city records.
The listing features no photos of the interior but plenty of the 0.67 acres of land around it, and it promises a “once in a lifetime development opportunity.” Bids were due on Friday.
The white house at 928 East Broadway is a massive 8,700-square-foot mansion with a mansard roof on just under half an acre. It was built in 1867 for James Collins, a wine and liquor distributor, according to city records. The house has 14 bedrooms and eight baths, remnants from a time when it was used as a rooming house, according to neighbors.
It is listed at $2.35 million, and includes a separate three-family house on an adjacent parcel. The city lists the main home and property as a one-family with an assessed value of $1.178 million.
Neither home has a landmark designation with the city, said Ellen Lipsey, executive director of the Boston Landmarks Commission. But if demolition were proposed, she said the commission has the power to impose a 90-day demolition delay to review properties that may have some historic significance. That process would include a community meeting and a public hearing before the Landmarks Commission, she said.
The two houses are steeped in South Boston lore. The white house was said to be haunted, though there was never anything to base that on other than the fact that it was the only house in the neighborhood that looked like a haunted house. The red house was known for its mysterious grounds, clearly large but hidden from view because they were elevated above street level. Neighborhood kids created stories about what they could not see; the favorite rumor was that the house had secret underground levels.
Ryan Long, 23, who grew up across the street from the red house, said the longtime owner, Frederick Langone, was a retired mailman who used to pay Long a couple bucks to mow the lawn and shovel the stairs. Long said the owner died recently, and his four children were selling the house.
“I was hoping I’d be the heir to the throne,” Long said as he sat on his porch and looked across the street at the grand property. “I should have been nicer.”
Just up the block at the corner of P Street, Jackie Thomasma, a 29-year-old newcomer to the neighborhood, stopped with her dog to admire the white house.
“Part of the charm of Southie is that it is not all condos, and if it becomes all condos, it wouldn’t be charming anymore,” she said. “But as soon as I saw they were for sale, I figured they were going to be knocked down. I’d rather they be left like this.”
As South Boston has gone through a massive gentrification over the past decade-and-a-half, property values have skyrocketed. The red house doubled in assessed value during the 2000s, and so did the population of 24- to 29-year-olds, according to US Census figures. As the young have flocked to the neighborhood, the housing stock has been heavily modified to accommodate them.
“Change is hard, but it’s not necessarily bad,” said Kristin Dearden, 37, a lifelong resident who lives with her family in the house she grew up in, just up the street from the two mansions. “But it’s going to an extreme. I drive down streets and I don’t even know where I am anymore. Every square inch of available property is being built upon. You have so many people all squeezed into a postage stamp. We don’t fit. All the people, all the cars. And now these, the last two recognizable pieces of property in South Boston, are going to be no longer. It’s going to completely change the face of this neighborhood. South Boston is being made into a factory of people, and it’s disheartening.”
At Pleasure Bay, just a short walk away, Joanne Sweeney, 52, and Lynda Rheault, 50, got into an animated discussion about the fate of the two homes, and the neighborhood they have always called home.
“Every kid in Southie loved those houses,” Sweeney said. “I would hate for them to tear it down.”
“It’s all about the money,” Rheault said.
“It’s not a neighborhood anymore,” Sweeney said, shaking her head in disgust.
“No. It’s yuppies and puppies,” said Rheault, who used to live in the three-family on the property of the white house.
“Look, it’s fine what they’re doing with the Seaport,” Sweeney said. “That was parking lots. But now it’s coming here.”
“They’re looking at our land,” said Rheault, “and they’re drooling.”