MacMilton Mansions 2 of 2

September 13th, 2010 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Like an obese tourist couple on the Red Line, Wellesley-fication plops ever closer to Boston. We really don’t have the land in this jigsaw puzzle of a city for the distinguishing ostentation of the burbs…at last anymore. Yet, as with five-carat cubic zirconia rings on the shiny nailed hands of parvenus, mac mansions need only the slightest encouragement.

Ostentation must have its display!

A few hundred yards from our new-to-us Hyde Park home, this apparently will play out in all its tawdry splendor. The vagaries of zoning dovetail elegantly with the whims of the privileged.

The short of it is that an early 20 century mansion on Brush Hill Road slowly became dilapidated and then quickly lost much of its roof in a fire on April Fool’s Day eve, 2008. Its six-acre plot is under agreement with the Ruscito family of Brush Hill Properties. They want to tear down the mansion and its nearby carriage house to make way for a subdivision of five huge houses.

A little (17,000 square feet) of the land is in Boston, but the rest in Milton and the Boston bit would be lawns and not houses. The Milton Planning Board does not like the project, nor does the Brush Hill Neighborhood Association. (The Bulletin papers do not make issues easily available online. The article on this appears in the 9/2/10 issue.)

In a short-notice public meeting, locals apparently were shocked to hear of plans for five houses of 4,000 to 4,500 square feet each. The abutters, planning board members and others seemed left to sputter likely ineffective objections. For example, with limited drainage and one catch basin, where would the rain go? Yet underlying it seemed the real concern of aesthetics.

Legally though, the developers seem solid. I recall this tale from my old JP Woodbourne neighborhood. There, a family catercorner from us slapped up a pre-fab looking house for their daughter on a tiny lot, just inches outside the requirement for distance from the adjacent house. Even though it was an historic neighborhood, the new construction did not fall under the strictures and elaborate approval process of the simplest addition or other exterior changes would have.

Milton town planner Bill Clark said that the purchase-and-sale agreement provides for subdivision. Nominally, the planning board has to approve this. Likely though, while Milton could make the family alter the proposal slightly, this appears a sure deal.

In their favor, the Ruscito folk are locals. They have built and occupy their own mac mansions on Metropolitan Avenue. They are listed at 124, 130 and 140. Their sprawling, junior-college or suite-motel looking properties may not be to the tastes of old money Milton. So what? Money power, pursuit of happiness, home is your castle and so forth…it’s all as American as keeping up with and racing past the Jones.

We strolled around the existing mansion recently. The images here are from that trip. Click on a thumbnail for a larger view and use your browser back button or key combo to return.

The present path up the hill to the mansion and carriage house looks like a Wind in the Willows image.  The carriage house looks in good shape from the outside, but would be expendable in the project. hiddenhouse
approach The former grandeur of the mansion is easy to see from the approach.
The magnificent American beech is up to 10 feet around and perhaps 100 feet tall. It has split, dropping several large limbs and showing a big cleft in the main trunk. From my own experience at my previous house, I’d estimate that this is a 200 year old or so tree and would die on its own within 50 years (unacceptable to a developer).
boylefront The front entry shows piles of books and papers indicative of the dissolution within.
The roof at the front burned thoroughly. Newspaper reports said the surviving family occupant caused the fire accidentally with a cigarette. firedamage
porch The side porch still has its furniture.
While overgrown with vines, the back of the house belies the destruction on the other side. overgrownback
chest1 On the side porch, a travel trunk sits lonely in blown beech leaves. It makes one wonder what lands it visited over the past century.

The fire that hastened this process got brief, but thorough coverage at the time, like here and here. The reclusive and forlorn looking resident, Valerie Boyle, has the made-for-TV-movie look. We are left to imagine her life in the run-down home without water or electricity. The mind jumps immediately to thoughts of Grey Gardens, minus the cats.

Estimates at the time put the value of the then 102-year-old mansion at around $2 million. That could have bought a nice annuity, were she inclined to leave the family home. Meanwhile, before the fire, Milton officials had apparently told her that the house was unsafe for habitation. Her 80-year-old brother-in-law Edward Fallon, lived in the carriage house and the property apparently was owned by a family trust.

One news article in the Patriot Ledger summed up the future of the property — Fallon said Valerie Boyle has lived alone in the house since one of her brothers died several years ago. Boyle has no children. Fallon, a retired real estate investor, said the family will probably raze the house and sell the nearly seven acres of land. He said the younger family members have moved away and taking care of the huge house and rolling grounds has become increasingly difficult as the years have passed. “I guess it’s time,” Fallon said.

Now, one Milton Planning Board member would like to see a cluster development instead of a land subdivision. Another would prefer a single large condo building. Regardless, I’d bet the Ruscitos have their way, maybe with a few placation changes for the neighbors.

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One Response

  1. Alas, you can’t tell Americans how to use their property or spend their money without seriously cutting into free property rights, though sometimes it is really, really tempting. The funny part, though, is that homeowner’s associations manage to do so all the time through contractual agreements entered into when the house or condo was bought. Still, it’s a serious pity that the old mansion can’t be saved and the McMansion trend averted. You have to wonder why anyone would bother building an extravagant home that can’t even be passed on to the next generation.

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