A venerable building in downtown Hingham could soon be facing the wrecking ball under a plan a developer said would help bring new vitality to the heart of the waterfront suburb.
Developer Reuven Levi is seeking to demolish the 1859 Lincoln Building at the corner of Main and South streets and replace it with a new building that would contain a mix of five ground-floor stores and offices and eight luxury apartments on the upper two stories.
Although it would mean the loss of a historic structure, the plan — which Levi is pursuing in partnership with realtor Charlene Flynn — calls for the new building to replicate the original appearance of the Lincoln, which is in deteriorated condition.
“Right now, it’s an eyesore, and what we are creating is going to be beautiful. We’re really excited about it,” said Flynn, whose firm, TLC Realty, would manage the new building.
As a first step, Levi is seeking town approval to raze the building. Under a town bylaw, the local Historical Commission can delay for up to six months the demolition of a building it deems historically significant to allow time for the owner and the town to explore ways to save the structure.
The panel recently determined that the Lincoln Building was historically significant. It is awaiting further information from the developer about the condition of the building and its plans for the new building before deciding whether to order a demolition delay, according to Andrea Young, the commission’s administrator.
The project would need to undergo permitting from other town boards. But Mary Savage-Dunham, Hingham’s director of community planning, called the property “an important piece of the fabric of our downtown and our streetscape,” and said, “We are looking forward to working with the property owner and we are supportive of reinvestment in our downtown.”
‘The building is actually leaning to the left a little. The third floor is almost unusable. It’s in really, really rough shape.’Charlene Flynn, Realtor and partner in a plan to demolish the 1859 Lincoln Building in Hingham and replace it with a new structure
The Planning Board has prioritized the encouragment of more foot traffic and additional housing opportunities in the town center in a master plan update it has been preparing, Savage-Dunham said. “This is a great opportunity to add vibrancy to our downtown with increased residential units,” she added.
The 3,300-square-foot, Italianate style Lincoln Building was constructed by James B. Lincoln, a shipmaster, according to the historical commission. Retail businesses and the post office originally occupied the first floor. The second floor housed the courtroom of the Second District Court of Plymouth. The third floor housed the Old Colony Lodge Free and Accepted Masons, who since 1929 have had their own building on Central Street.
The Lincoln Building over the years has continued to house stores and businesses, including Flynn’s real estate business, two clothing boutiques, and a stationery shop today. The second floor has been vacant since Flynn moved downstairs from it about five years ago, while the third floor has been vacant for at least two decades, Flynn said.
Listed on the town and the state’s comprehensive inventories of historical assets, the building is also part of the Lincoln National Register Historic District in downtown Hingham, a federal designation that does not carry with it any limitations on the property.
Levi, who found the building suffering from neglect when he bought it nine years ago, has been working with Flynn for about six years to redevelop it. During that time, they have looked at both restoring and replacing the building but have now determined that due to structural and other deficiencies, saving it is not realistic, Flynn said.
“The building is actually leaning to the left a little. The third floor is almost unusable. It’s in really, really rough shape,” she said, noting that structural engineers have advised the team against trying to preserve the building.
Steven Meyers, the project architect, said that all of the original architectural features that might make the Lincoln Building worth saving have been replaced or altered over the years.
“The original detail that occurred in 1859 is gone. Interior wise, there is nothing really there,” he said.
With a new structure, the developers say they could bring back those lost historic features while also offering modern amenities attractive to prospective residential and commercial tenants. The new building would be the same size as the existing one.
Flynn said community members made clear they want to see any future building recreate the original appearance of the Lincoln when they reacted unfavorably to a previous, more modern-looking design she and Levi offered several years ago from a different architect.
“I’ve lived in Hingham my whole life, and Reuven is very respectful of the town and we want to keep the integrity of what has been here since 1859,” Flynn said.
Flynn said the project would boost the downtown economy both because of the visual enhancement of the site and the foot traffic that would come from the new residential apartments.
She said she is hopeful that the evidence of the building’s poor condition, and their plans for the new building, will sway the historical commission to allow the demolition. But even if a delay is ordered, the project will still proceed.
“We are in it for the long haul,” she said. “Patience is a virtue.”John Laidler can be reached at email@example.com.