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Northampton commission saves Shaw’s Motel building for up to a year

Shaw's Motel, 87 Bridge Street, Northampton.

JERREY ROBERTS Shaw's Motel, 87 Bridge Street, Northampton. Purchase photo reprints »

“The commission felt really stuck because they really don’t know a lot about the building,” said Sarah LaValley, the city’s conservation, preservation and land use planner.

Commission members did not want to pave the way for immediate demolition and then find out later the former motel at the corner of Bridge Street and Pomeroy Terrace had historical significance, LaValley said.

Commissioners believe there is enough evidence to pinpoint the building’s construction to sometime in the 1700s, including its chimney, “bones” and location in one of the oldest parts of the city, LaValley said. That alone would make it unique, she said.

“There’s not a whole lot of 18th century left,” she said.

She called the building’s history a “big unknown,” noting that one commission member who works at Forbes Library has volunteered to research the structure.

The commission was not able to get inside the building, which was abandoned after the motel closed in the late 1990s and officially shut down more than 10 years ago.

Building Commissioner Louis Hasbrouck declared the structure unsafe earlier this year after a tour with police, fire and health officials. He said the building’s stairs, balcony and floors are in poor condition.

“I didn’t do a full survey of the building, but based on my inspection I found it unsafe to occupy and ordered it boarded up,” Hasbrouck said.

In deeming the motel building “preferably preserved,” the commission delayed its demolition until Nov. 1, 2013, though the commission has the right to re-evaluate its decision and allow the building commissioner to issue a demolition permit before then. LaValley said that could happen if the commission is presented with more definitive plans for the site that include information about the building and its condition.

The issue came before the commission now because Northampton resident Harold R. Fitzgerald, of Fitzgerald Properties at 37 Mary Jane Lane, filed a zoning permit application last month with Hasbrouck’s office in which he proposed to demolish the motel and renovate a six-unit apartment building and a single-family home on Pomeroy Terrace.

Fitzgerald, who does not own the building, was not at the Historical Commission meeting and no further plans have been submitted to the city.

Architect and former Northampton resident Aaron Helfand said he was pleased to hear the commission voted to study the building further. He urged members to do so in a detailed letter last week in which he said the building is of much greater architectural and historical significance than a first glance would suggest.

“It’s worth finding out what the history is before throwing it away,” Helfand said.

Based on his observations, Helfand speculates the building was constructed between 1720 and 1770 and may have served as an inn/tavern in its early days.

Helfand said that even though the building is an eyesore right now, he’d like to see someone with an appreciation of historic preservation take on the restoration project.

“It’s important to look past the poor condition it’s in ... to see what it could look like if restored to its 18th-century condition,” said Helfand, who noted that he has not seen the building’s interior. “It’s not unheard of for this to happen.”

He pointed to the restoration of the 19th-century Pratt Cottage, which moved from Bridge Street to Dewey Court in 2004, as an example.

Another factor that the commission considered in its decision is Shaw Motel’s importance to the city’s history. The 20-room motel was run for more than 60 years by Josephine A. Shaw, who rented units to those down on their luck or suffering from mental illness. Shaw transferred the properties to her son, Donald M. Shaw, in 2010. The Shaw family owns the motel and related property, which at one time was on the market for $1.3 million.

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