Developer Gary Martell told residents last night that if the city gives him the parking lot at Corey and Railroad streets for his latest condo proposal, he'll gladly give up the decaying old Gilmore place and the small brutalist former bank next door on Centre Street so that residents can try to turn them into a history-oriented community center.
But if the city turns out not to be interested in giving up the parking lot - across from the commuter-rail parking lot and on the other side of the post office from a smaller municipal lot - he says he will tear the two buildings down and put up the four-story building for which he's filed plans with the BPDA - which, however, has yet to take any action.
Martell spoke at a sometimes contentious Zoom meeting, organized by the mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services, in advance of a hearing next week by the Boston Landmarks Commission on whether to give Martell's CAD Builders permission to tear down the two buildings. Demolition of any building more than 50 years old in Boston requires sign off by the landmarks commission.
Neither building is currently designated as "historic" on any government lists, but residents argue that the Gilmore building in particular is worth preserving because it was originally built as a post office in the 1840s or 1850s and is now one of the last examples of a Georgian Revival post office from that era left in the state.
Also, the building has key ties to local and even national history, they say. Postmaster William Keith, who had the house built after his appointment as West Roxbury postmaster by Andrew Jackson in 1836, played a key role in the development of what would become the town of West Roxbury. Robert Gould Shaw trained for the army at Camp Andrew at the former Brook Farm nearby and used the post office for his correspondence before assuming control of the famous 54th Massachusetts - while other notable figures, including Nathaniel Hawthorne and Theodore Parker, would also get and send their mail from there.
Residents have said the house - which was most recently a real-estate office before it was shuttered and started to fall apart - could be rebuilt as the sort of community focal point West Roxbury does not really have now. One resident said he's been in "back channel" discussions with a Boston-area group that works on restoration of historic properties that says it would be interested in working on a West Roxbury project, but only if the property were first deeded to either the city or a non-profit group. Other residents spoke of creating a fundraising drive for such work.
Martell, who builds in West Roxbury and Roslindale, said last year he'd spent $2.4 million on the land. He says he would not only be amenable to swapping the parcels for the municipal parking lot, he was the one who first proposed it.
Even aside from the historic issue, however, residents said they would continue to oppose Martell's developing the two parcels.
Local insurance broker Jim Hennigan, whose office is next to the Gilmore property, said Martell - a partner in turning the old West Roxbury Motors site into condos across from the Starbucks - just wants to turn Centre Street into "a tunnel of condominiums." Others said West Roxbury has done its part to ease Boston's housing shortage - just look at all the new apartments constructed or going in along VFW Parkway, they said.
Vincent Finn accused Martell of failing to get the proper city permits for some preliminary work at the Gilmore house. Martell said that's not true, then refused to engage with Finn further. "This isn't a trial," he said.
Other residents accused him of deliberately letting the house fall apart - for example, by leaving attic windows open so rain and vermin could get in.
Ginny Gass, president of the Bellevue Hill Improvement Association, said she personally would be opposed to eliminating the parking lot "because that's a parking lot that we all use every day." However, she emphasized she was speaking for herself. The group meets later this week on the proposal, she said.