By Tom Shevlin
NEWPORT – Prompted by city action, the owner of a pair of historic, but badly neglected homes in the city's Historic Hill has pledged to make necessary improvements to secure the structures in the hopes of staving off any further deterioration.
The homes, located adjacent to one another at the corner of Spring and Mill streets, are owned by Providence-based DSM Realty Corp.
In a letter to members of the Historic District Commission, the company's principal, David Malkin, indicated that he is "committed to a proper restoration and repair of these properties in a timely yet appropriate manner."
The pronouncement comes on the heels of a resolution by the City Council to initiate action on the properties after the HDC determined they had entered into a state of demolition by owner neglect.
According to an outline submitted by Malkin through his attorney, Turner Scott, DSM Realty is prepared to make some significant exterior improvements.
At 166 Spring St., the proposed scope of work includes replacing any and all broken winnows, weather-proofing exterior entryways, and patching any area on the building's original roof to prevent any further water damage. On the more recent rear addition, where a fire ripped ripped through the roof, a tarp would be applied over all existing leaks.
In concert, improvements are also being proposed for 62 Mill St. Those include replacing the plywood currently covering the front entryway with a more appropriate door; repointing and reconstructing the home's foundation where needed; a full window replacement; new roof; and the construction of new stairs and a landing on the east entrance of the property. In addition, all the building's chimneys will be repointed, and the property will be regraded to prevent future water damage.
Should the city sign off on the work, it could help mollify concerns by preservationists who have for years lamented the sorry state of the buildings.
The HDC is expected to take up the matter at their May 15 meeting.
If approved, the work would represent a turning point for the properties. According to city staff, since 2006 ore than 60 inspections of the properties have shown "no progress made" in regards to their condition, and weekly inspection photos have shown a "degrading condition and neglect" since 2008.
The house at 166 Spring St. was built in 1762, more than a decade before the war with Britain. At just 1,676-square feet, it has an assessed value of $210,300. In April of 2007, it was the subject of a suspicious fire later determined to be arson which burnt through much of a rear addition before being extinguished by firefighters.
Known as the Norton Wilbour House, the 2 1/2-story clapboard home was noted as being in good condition on Aug. 14, 1970 by the Historic Building Data Sheet of the Rhode Island Statewide Survey. That same survey also described the property as the "anchor" of a row of historically significant 18th and 19th century homes that run up Mill Street.
62 Mill St., or the Joshua Sayer House & Bakery, was completed in 1807 and was similarly noted as being in "excellent condition" by the 1970 statewide survey.
Once a stately Federal style home of roughly 3,000-square feet with views of Newport Harbor and Trinity Church, today, dull yellow paint peels away from its rotted clapboard facade, and cracks are visible in its red brick foundation. It's most recent assessment, for $398,200, was completed earlier this year. It is also considered a contributing property within the Newport National Historic landmark District.
According to the HDC, the two properties are each "historically and architecturally significant and valuable to the City of Newport." Additionally, because both properties are listed on the Newport National Historic Landmark District, they are therefore "deemed important beyond the local and state level."
A progress update is expected to be given to the council sometime after July 1.