Demolition Alert 5: “Clipperways” in Scarborough, Maine

Picture of Clipperways on Winslow Homer Road in Prouts Neck in Scarborough, Maine

Clipperways

According to the Portland Press Herald, the 113 year-old “Clipperways” house located on Prouts Neck in Scarborough, Maine is fated to meet the wrecking ball.  According to the story:

For the second time since 2004, a stately older home in one of Maine’s most exclusive neighborhoods will be demolished to make room for a new house overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, The 113-year-old home called Clipperways on Prouts Neck in Scarborough is going to be demolished by its new owner this fall and replaced with a new home consistent with the architecture of the original.

Clipperways, an 8,000-square-foot home built at Prouts Neck in 1898, is expected to be torn down this fall.

Robert Gould of South Hamilton, Mass., bought the property for $4 million last year. He plans to replace Clipperways with a home that is consistent with the architecture of the original. Demolition and building permits were approved by the town this month.

Averil Porcaro, who sold Clipperways along with her four sisters, said she was sad to learn that the 113-year-old house would be demolished.

The house has been called “the jewel of Prouts Neck” and was a vacation destination for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was a friend of a former owner, Porcaro said. It is on Winslow Homer Road, not far from the late artist’s studio, which is now owned by the Portland Museum of Art.

Do read the rest of the story as it really gets into the history of the house.  Also be sure to read through the comments as folks battle it out over whether or not this demolition should occur.

Our view is that while it is true that this (very wealthy) homeowner is within his rights to tear down this property his actions should be tempered by all of the irreplaceable aspects of the property as-is. For instance, why are antiques so valuable? It’s not the raw materials or even the craftsmanship, but it’s the patina of history that gives an object a “soul.”  You simply can’t create that overnight and it does have value–just witness all of the family heirlooms that get handed down from generation to generation.

Then there is the efficiency argument that a new house will cost less to heat and maintain. Really? By the time you factor in all the energy to destroy the house, manufacture new materials, ship them to the site and rebuild that house . . . how long will it take to earn that back in lower heating and maintenance costs? The current house already has that embodied energy in it. Removing the asbestos or any other work that needs to be done is a marginal cost compared to wiping the slate clean.

Finally, no man is an island unto himself and actions have consequences on others. Neighboring homeowners have every right to be concerned because the value of their homes are directly affected by his actions. If a parking lot is put in, then there is an imposed cost on the neighbors since they will have a harder time selling their home.  Economists call this an externality (a negative one in this case).  Adam Smith invoked the “impartial spectator” as the means to which we all become sensitive to the externalities of our actions on others–perhaps Mr. Gould’s impartial spectator is on vacation.

In the end, we feel that Mr. Gould’s actions are not only self-serving, but will likely cost society and the economy more than restoring the current home.  We all instinctively feel less wealthy when a home is consumed by fire, why is it any different when it is a bulldozer?  Wealth, even that as vast as Mr. Gould’s, will not last for long under unconstrained conspicuous consumption.  We create wealth by building on the past, not tearing it down and rebuilding it.

Please add your thoughtful comment . . .