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Beverly’s historic Loring House set to fall

Roomba co-creator eyes demolition

The Loring House at 441 Hale St. in Beverly is scheduled to be demolished.
The Loring House at 441 Hale St. in Beverly is scheduled to be demolished. Steve Rosenthal

BEVERLY — From the waters of Plum Cove, the Loring House seems to sprout from the rocky shoreline as though nature put it there, just as it did when it was built 130 years ago. A Boston lawyer bought the property in 1844, and in 1881 the lawyer’s famous son hired a renowned architect to build him a summer home on the idyllic patch of land near Pride’s Crossing.

That was 20 years before the invention of the vacuum cleaner.

Now, the co-creator of the Roomba robot vacuum owns the house, having snapped it up for $3.75 million from the descendants of the Civil War general who built it. It has been an albatross to some who have owned it, and beloved by others who have admired it from afar. It is an architectural landmark and it is kind of a dump.

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And preservationists, who had hoped to save the Loring House, say it soon will be gone.

Helen Greiner, who in 2012 bought the home from descendants of General Charles Greely Loring Jr., plans to demolish the building, ending a years-long squabble with the town’s Historic District Commission and other guardians of history who have been pushing to save as much of the home’s original character as possible.

Greiner, the cofounder of Roomba-maker iRobot Corp., and now chief executive of CyPhy Works Inc., says she sought to save the house by initially offering a renovation plan that would have preserved the home’s original feel — and make it liveable.

“For 25 years, the house has been going to ruin, and it wasn’t under my watch,” Greiner said. “I would be moving in this year if the historic commission had let me go forward. I never expected to be in this position.”

But town officials — who viewed her initial plan as too far from the home’s original character — say the house could be saved if Greiner truly wanted to save it.

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Greiner’s plan amounted to gutting the interior and adding a porch that would have severely compromised the original look of the home, said William Finch, chairman of the Historic District Commission.

“Her definition of preserving the original section of the building and those of us who are concerned about the architecture are two very different things,” Finch said.

The commission did not have the power to reject Greiner’s plan outright, but it did exercise its power to delay construction a year. Greiner returned to the commission soon after with a plan to demolish the home entirely. The one-year delay on the second plan expired in the spring.

Designed by William Ralph Emerson, the Loring House — also known as Pompey’s Garden, named for a slave who once worked the land — is perhaps among the prime examples of Shingle style architecture still standing, and is noted for its “rusticated stone base, dark brown stained shingles, a round tower, sweeping piazzas, a complex roofline, and a Palladian window,” wrote Pamela W. Fox in her book “North Shore Boston: Houses of Essex County, 1865-1930.” Old photos suggest Loring, who became curator and then the first director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, lived in pre-Gatsby glamour among elegant fireplaces and dramatic ocean views.

At a public hearing in 2012 and another in 2013, neighbors, architects, and others spoke or wrote letters, some strongly behind Greiner’s renovation plan, and others desperate to return the house to its past glory.

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Situated at the end of a private drive off High Street, it has been unoccupied for years and has fallen into disrepair. Some sections of roof have as many as seven layers of shingles. Wood beams in additions made after Loring’s death are rotting. Only a small portion of the living area is heated.

“There are animals living in the house,” said Greiner, who bought the property after it had been on the market for more than three years following the death of its previous owner, Samuel Codman.

Codman lived in the house for decades, having bought it from his mother, Lydia Eliot Codman Turner, for $1 in 1978. Turner’s husband, mining executive Quincy A. Shaw Jr., bought it from Lorings in 1902.

Before Codman’s death, Loring’s descendants — some of whom live in the adjacent houses on Plum Cove property their ancestors settled in the 1840s — secured an option to buy it back, paying $4 million for the property in 2009, said Peter Loring, whose great-great-grandfather was General Loring’s brother.

“I’m going to miss it tremendously,” said Loring, who was among the descendants who bought the house after Codman died. In the housing crisis, a proposal from an initial buyer fell through and the house languished.

Then Helen Greiner came along and made a serious offer,” Loring said. “We lost money on it, even selling it for $3.7 million. . . . But at that point, we just had to get paid back.”

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The family, some of whom had taken out loans to buy the property, ultimately agreed to sell the house with no assurances that it would be saved.

This 2003 photo shows the entrance hall of the Loring House.
This 2003 photo shows the entrance hall of the Loring House. Steve Rosenthal

Loring said he is sympathetic to Greiner’s position, and was among the abutting property owners who were in favor of the renovation plan that the commission did not like. But the preservation board imposed the first of two one-year delays on Greiner, and discussions broke down amid squabbles about covered benches and double-decker porches and fanlight windows that may or may not have been original.

Greiner said she isn’t interested in a renovation that the town does not support anyway, opting instead to tear the building down and start over. She said she made a good faith effort to save the home in some form, after an attempt to raise money to buy the house and turn it over to the preservation organization Historic New England came up short.

“I’m the only person who actually spent money to save it,” Greiner said. Demolition day hasn’t been set yet. Plans for the new house Greiner intends to build once Pompey’s Garden is gone must be approved by the town before the demolition permit is granted.

But Finch said he suspects the fight is over. “Each generation of nouveau riche comes along and wants to build their own landmarks,” Finch said.


Nestor Ramos can be reached at nestor.ramos@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.

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