Earlier this week, the long-vacant, dilapidated Denniston House, which since 1895 has sat at the intersection of Masonic Avenue and Dukes County Avenue in Oak Bluffs, also known as Bradley Square, was finally demolished.
“The building was not safe and it needed to come down,” owner Matt Viaggio told The Times.
Mr. Viaggio said flooring, windows, doors, and anything with possible historical value was salvaged from the house before the demolition took place.
The former church has been the subject of years of contention between those who consider it an historic building that should be preserved, and those who consider it an eyesore that should be demolished.
In 2007, the Island Affordable Housing Fund (IAHF) bought the property for $905,000 and proposed to create affordable housing, low-cost retail space, and preserve the historic building. The ambitious restoration and affordable housing project won approval from the MVC and town regulatory boards after more than a year of bitter neighborhood opposition, but failed when the housing fund was unable to raise $1.3 million in private donations to complete the project.
In 2010, in an attempt to make the property more attractive to a buyer, the IAHF applied for a permit to demolish the Denniston House. The asking price for the one-half acre lot was $975,000. The housing fund had already invested $1.2 million in the development and faced a monthly mortgage payment of about $6,000.
At special town meeting in 2011, voters rejected the creation of an historic district in the Bradley Square area with a standing vote of 53 to 33.
Mr. Viaggio bought the troubled property at a bank auction in 2011 for $500,000 after it had been on the market for more than two years. It took three years to clear title on the property before closing in October 2014. He applied for a demolition permit in December 2014. Since the building is more than 100 years old, the matter was automatically sent to the Oak Bluffs Historical Commission.
In February 2015, the historical commission voted unanimously to designate Denniston House as a “preferably preserved property,” sparing the building from the wrecking ball for six months. The permit application also triggered a lengthy MVC Development of Regional Impact (DRI) review. A second demolition moratorium expired on Sept. 9.
Mr. Viaggio said he has no definitive plans for the lot, part of which is zoned B-1 and part zone R-1.
During DRI public hearings, Mr. Viaggio told the commissioners that he had contacted the NAACP immediately after buying the building, and that they had come to an agreement that a plaque recognizing the Rev. Dean Denniston and Susan Bradley — who founded a mission at the church dedicated to helping the Island’s growing immigrant population — would do the history of the property justice.