For the original article, please go here: Historic Larchwood Inn in Wakefield is Torn Down. For the published response (with less colorful language), go here.
Donita Naylor's piece on the Larchwood demolition was welcome coverage of the situation, which has been going on for more than two years. It is true that the Master Plan for the proposed Alzheimer's facility -- a ghastly assemblage of post-modern architectural styles mostly seen on contemporary motels, which is roughly six times the size of the current building stretching from one side of the property to the other -- was denied by both the Planning and the Planning Board of Appeals. However, those Town decisions are also being appealed in Superior Court by both the owner, Roland Fiore, and the proposed developer, Post Acute Partners, and may yet come to pass.
The Larchwood was one of the oldest buildings in Wakefield of this era, and certainly one of the largest of its time. It was a bookend on one side of a Historic District recognized by the National Register of Historic Places that encompassed Wakefield's Main Street from its site at the corner of Belmont to Columbia Street on the other end of town. The fact that this district, and any of the named buildings in the register application, were never recognized by the Town of South Kingstown to be of any significance, and therefore never protected in any way, is shameful.
Furthermore, the assertion by the would-be developer and various laypeople that it was unsalvageable flies in the face of the testimony of several preservation professionals, who during the Master Planning hearings assessed the building to be in very bad shape, but still structurally sound and very much able to be preserved.
This building was a defining architectural structure in Wakefield. It was the location of countless weddings and ceremonies and celebrations, and hold the collective memories of those not just in Wakefield or South Kingstown but all over South County and beyond. It is the responsibility of planners and local governments to ensure that their most treasured historic resources like this one are protected, both in respect for their citizens and in acknowledgment that these emotional ties attract people to a place and therefore have a direct impact on our local economy -- tourist and otherwise.
Now that the building is being demolished it is incumbent upon all of us who care about Main Street economies, about the preservation of a "sense of place", and about responsibility of local governments to protect the resources that its citizens find valuable, to make sure that whatever is proposed on the Larchwood site fits into the scale and character of the neighborhood, and into the character of Main Street's southwestern gateway, in order that the least amount of damage is done.
Today I am sick to my stomach with grief and cannot bear to go to the bottom of the hill to look at the demolition. I hear the beeping of big trucks and enormous crashes and can only imagine what's coming down. I imagine six year old boys in trucks gleefully smashing through walls and roofs like it's a dollhouse, ignorant of the grief it's causing. I met a neighbor yesterday who summed it up as "senseless". "You can see how well that building was built; it was structurally sound," she said. "They're not even trying to salvage any of the wood." Heartbreaking. -Karina Burston
Today's desecration of a piece of our history is not the end of the battle to protect its site. The Town Planning and Zoning Boards both agreed that the Comprehensive Plan's priorities for the Larchwood's site should not include a massive Alzheimer's facility. The proposed structure would, it was argued, not, as mandated, protect the western entrance of the Town, a gracious drive into lovely and historic Wakefield. South Kingstown, as mandated, is now fighting in Superior Co...urt to uphold their Zoning and Planning Board rulings. We have all been engaged in an historic, community wide effort and will not stop until the will of the community, as articulated in the Comp Plan, is followed and the memories that we all have for the now destroyed Larchwood is honored. We all knew this day was coming sooner or later. It doesn't make it any easier to see a piece of history destroyed, but our community's resolve is not destroyed with the building, but rather fortified. -Marc Levitt
Preserve Wakefield seeks to improve the future of Historic Wakefield, RI by advocating for responsible decisions that improve its sense of place, environment, and economy. We are currently looking to raise funds to fight an appeal by the developer against the Town's decision to deny its proposed Master Plan.