WEYMOUTH — Modeled after George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the century-old Emery Estate mansion on King Oak Hill in Weymouth is reminiscent of a real-life doll house, with heart shapes carved into its shutters and pint-sized copper lanterns decorating the entrance.
But the columns on the stately home are splintered, the bricks fragmented, and the emerald-colored shutters stained from weathering. Three years after the town bought the estate for $1.9 million, local officials are still struggling to find a use for it.
James Clarke, planning director for the town, said the property is estimated to need about $3.1 million in renovations. He said he expected the project would take time, and “we want to do things right.” However, Clarke added, “We can’t take too long, and we need to have some progress moving forward.”
Becky Haugh, the Town Council member for District 1, said that when Weymouth bought the estate, it was known there wouldn’t be an immediate use for it. She would like to see the town partner with a business for the restoration project. “It would be thinking outside the box to get something going,” she said.
The property was acquired using money from the town’s Community Preservation Act fund, which comes from a 1 percent surtax on real estate bills plus a contribution from the state.
The mansion is thought to date from 1903, and the 24-acre property off Commercial Street had been owned by the Emery family — prominent wool merchants — since about 1916. Allan Comstock Emery Jr. was living there until his death, at age 91, in September 2010.
Open to the public, the estate sits atop King Oak Hill, and features a 5-acre lawn with views of downtown Boston.
Clarke said town officials had the Emery Estate “on our radar as a property that should be acquired” because of its historic value and the size of the parcel. The Town Council voted unanimously to buy it in June 2011.
Following the purchase two months later, the mayor created an advisory committee of residents, and the town spent $35,000 on a study by a consulting firm to find possible uses for the property.
In its final report, published in July 2012, the Cecil Group Inc. called the estate “one of the premier properties in the region,” and suggested a range of options, including a community-supported farm, an events center, an artists’ gallery, and a history museum.
Last year, the Town Council authorized spending $90,000 for a study on widening the property’s driveway, but the project has been put on hold, Clarke said. The town is looking to partner with a business or nonprofit, and has asked the Emery Estate Advisory Committee to meet more frequently.
“This is something the town has never done before to this extent,” Clarke said. “It’s not for want of trying to do something up there.”
Kathy Casey, a lifelong town resident, said that when she was growing up, the mansion was a local legend. After the town bought it, the 62-year-old said, she went to see it and was “kind of disappointed.”
“It’s rundown,” said Casey. “It needs a lot of work.”
She said she would like to see the building renovated and used for events like high school proms. “We own it; we should do something with it,” she said. “I don’t think it was a great idea’’ buying it, Casey added. “I think it was a waste of money.”
Christopher McDonald, 44, who works as a manager for the Old Country Pizzeria in Weymouth, said, “It would be a shame if they spent millions on a mansion — when there is so much more they could of spent it on — if they’re not going to use it.”
Jean Gamble, 82, who has lived in town since 1959, said she is pleased Weymouth acquired the estate, and hopes the town turns it into a museum that features local artifacts.
“I didn’t want to see it go,” she said. “It’s better than using it for condos or apartments.”
Bob Conlon, an at-large councilor, said he wants the town to demolish the house and turn the estate into a park. He described the property as panoramic, and said the town should keep it simple: add a few benches, some trails, and maybe a community garden.
“You can’t improve on nature,” he said, adding that there is a limited amount of public space in Weymouth.
District 3 Councilor Kenneth DiFazio said funding other projects, such as the renovation of Legion Memorial Field, may have taken priority over the estate, but he still is pleased the town chose to acquire it.
“The naysayers will say that we haven’t done anything,” he said. “We haven’t made any physical progress in three years, but I still back the initial purchase.”