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Editorial: Time to let Shaw’s Motel go, just like barn in Amherst

  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>A barn located behind a rental property on Lincoln Ave in Amherst may soon be torn down despite claims that Robert Frost may have utilized the space as a studio.

    JOSH KUCKENS
    A barn located behind a rental property on Lincoln Ave in Amherst may soon be torn down despite claims that Robert Frost may have utilized the space as a studio. Purchase photo reprints »

  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Shaw's Motel, 87 Bridge Street, Northampton.

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

  • JOSH KUCKENS<br/>A barn located behind a rental property on Lincoln Ave in Amherst may soon be torn down despite claims that Robert Frost may have utilized the space as a studio.
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Shaw's Motel, 87 Bridge Street, Northampton.

Sometimes historic buildings become just that — history. And sometimes that fate is simply inevitable. While historic preservation efforts are to be commended in cases where important pieces of history can be saved, it’s hard to see how saving the landmark Shaw’s Motel in Northampton from the wrecking ball will do much to preserve history in the city.

We also question whether sparing a much-debated, century-old barn at 290 Lincoln Ave. in Amherst would have done much to preserve Amherst’s history.

While some in Amherst believe that the town lost a piece of itself when the barn came down last week, the Historical Commission isn’t so sure. The commission studied the barn and took testimony from both sides in September before unanimously agreeing that the structure is not historically significant, despite its reported connections to poet Robert Frost.

That ruling meant property owner You-Pan Tzeng could move ahead with demolition plans immediately rather than face a one-year delay.

The home and barn on Lincoln Avenue were built in the early 1900s by Warren Brown, an Amherst businessman and author. Brown was a friend to Frost, but there was no indication the barn was used as an artist’s studio until claims were made by a real estate agent selling the property in the last year.

The commission correctly ruled that a friendship with Frost was not enough to justify declaring the barn historically significant. That said, the town could have done a better job communicating with residents who expressed concerns last week about the barn’s imminent demise.

Many of those residents, through a group called the Coalition of Amherst Neighborhoods, filed an appeal of the building commissioner’s decision to grant a demolition permit. That appeal should have at least delayed the demolition until the Zoning Board of Appeals weighed in. After 100 years, a few more weeks would not have caused Tzeng irreparable harm.

In Northampton, many sources who have been inside the old Shaw’s Motel building at Bridge Road and Pomeroy Terrace say the building is falling apart and is not worth saving. The building’s exterior isn’t looking great either, with windows boarded up to keep squatters out.

Given its location at a key gateway to the city, the time is right to let the building be torn down if a potential buyer for the property believes that’s the only way to make the site viable. One prospective buyer is exploring that option.

While there’s no question Shaw’s Motel is a recognizable building, that’s not a strong enough reason for the Historical Commission to stick it with a “preferably preserved” tag, thereby delaying its demolition for up to a year. Commission members are set to make that decision Nov. 26.

Unless some better evidence is presented at that meeting that shows the motel is historically important enough to delay its demolition, the commission should clear the way for it to come down.

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 property to her son, Donald M. Shaw, in 2010.

In the end, chances are good that the motel in Northampton will come down eventually, just like the barn did last week in Amherst.

The demolition delay bylaws in both communities can’t keep a property owner from tearing down a building — they can only postpone it — unless that owner or another group is willing to find an alternative site for the structure.

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