A five-year legal effort to save a historic Manchester landmark might be coming to an end.
The Diocese of Manchester is moving forward with plans to demolish the 150-year old Chandler House, despite calls from community historians to preserve the mansion. The Diocese says the building is unsafe.
John Clayton, the executive director of the Manchester Historic Association, joined NHPR’s All Things Considered host Peter Biello to discuss the effort to save the Chandler House.
(Below is a lightly edited transcript of the interview.)
Tell us about the history of Chandler mansion. Why did you want to preserve it?
It is an absolute gem, the interior of the building is more spectacular than I’ve ever seen, including all of the other great Victorian homes in Manchester. It was important because George Byron Chandler built this building directly across the street from what is now the site of the Currier Museum of Art. In an effort to keep the campus intact, the Currier thought, “why don’t we acquire this property that’s being threatened and use it for art exhibits, other functions, and so they made what I thought was a very generous offer to the Diocese to purchase the building.
What was that offer?
We’re talking $2 million by the time the purchases concluded. So a $2 million offer was rejected by the Diocese, which strangely enough will now have to pay to demolish it.
They’ll have to pay two million dollars to demolish the building anyway?
Oh, it won’t cost $2 million to demolish, but it will be money out of pocket certainly if they want to take this building down.
You’ve had to negotiate with the Diocese of Manchester. What have negotiations looked like, from your perspective?
The only faith involved in the negotiations is bad faith on behalf of the Diocese. I think, from the beginning they had no intention of selling the building, they had some very reputable offers made by reputable buyers and they’ve been rejected at every turn. The Currier would be a wonderful steward for the future of this building, and in fact, the reason it’s in the condition it is now, being really run down from the outside is years of neglect from the Diocese itself.
The Diocese has stated that the building is a safety hazard. Is that true, from your perspective?
It is now, again those years of benign neglect have made it so. There is damage to the roof, some of the siding is damaged as well, but again this is their own creation. Would I call it a hazard? Yes, from the outside, it certainly is. But knowing the talent of some of the people the Currier would bring in, that could be rectified, if the Diocese allowed them to do so.
If you were able to save it, what could the house be used for?
Well the Currier intends to use it for art exhibits, for receptions and gatherings, and it would be a great venue for that purpose, and again, I believe the Currier would be great stewards for that building.
And the funds for saving the building, would that come from the Currier and the Manchester Historical Association, or from another place?
Oh, sad to say we’re rather a poor cousin here at the historic association, so this is all in the Currier’s hands.
So what’s the next step, in your mind?
In my mind, the next step is for the Diocese to wake up and realize that this is a crisis of their own creation. We can provide a fabulous historic building in this city, and the Diocese will come out of this looking really good in the eyes of the public. I think the Church does care about its reputation and image, this would be a great way to restore part of that here in Manchester.
And the permit for demolition was submitted by the Diocese earlier this month, has it been approved yet, to your knowledge?
Not yet, and we’re encouraged, we got a very supportive letter from Joyce Craig who wrote to the Diocese and basically beseeched them not to demolish this building. She had been able to visit one time with Greg Barrett, one of the realtors who was trying to move the house, and she testified to to the grandeur of the interior of the building, with its carved walls and panelings, stain glass is fantastic, so again we’re hoping that Mayor Craig might help sway the Diocese to allow this purchase to go through.
John Clayton is the executive director of the Manchester Historic Association. Thanks very much for speaking with me.
Thank you Peter.
NHPR reached out to the Diocese of Manchester for comment on this. Bishop Peter Libasci provided a statement, which includes this:
While the Catholic Church in New Hampshire maintains hundreds of churches, rectories, schools and other buildings that have historical significance, in order to preserve these buildings they must serve a purpose consistent with the Church’s mission. Over the past five years, the diocese has received estimates from engineers, contractors, and potential buyers, all saying that the building requires extensive—and expensive—repairs, which neither the parish nor the diocese can afford. During that time we have explored numerous options from subdivision to sale and no feasible option nor buyer presented itself with terms acceptable to the parish and diocese. With its steadily advancing deterioration....we now see no alternative than to proceed with its demolition. There are no definitive plans for the future use of the land at this time.