‘Foursquare’ demo rejected by MVC

Most commissioners vote against destruction of 43 Look St. house.

The Martha's Vineyard Commission rejected a plan to demolish this house at 43 Look St. in Vineyard Haven. - George Brennan

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission voted to deny demolition of a circa 1900 house at 43 Look St. in Tisbury Thursday night. The decision follows a prior vote by the Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) to recommend denial.

As The Times previously reported, an overall project was put forth to raze the four-bedroom, 1,920-square-foot house at 43 Look Street, and replace it with a five-bedroom, 3,479-square-foot house. Considered an example of American Foursquare architecture, the commission found that the home was worth preserving. Not everybody on the commission was onboard with the decision.  Commissioners Ernie Thomas, Peter Wharton, and Trip Barnes abstained from the vote with the latter two voicing opinions in favor of the demolition. Commissioners Fred Hancock, Michael Kim, Linda Sibley, Christina Brown, Jay Grossman, Ben Robinson, Kate Putnam, Jeff Agnoli, Kathy Newman, Jim Vercruysse, Greg Martino, Doug Sederholm, and chair Joan Malkin voted in favor of blocking the demolition. Commissioner Brian Smith wasn’t present for the vote. 

The Tisbury Historical Commission previously recommended renovation of the house instead of demolition. In an Oct. 19 letter to the MVC, that commission described the home as “one of the few existing examples left of American Foursquare architecture on Martha’s Vineyard.”

At the meeting, DRI coordinator Alex Elvin told the commissioners a rough estimate of $650,000 to $750,000 was provided for renovation of the house as opposed to leveling it and building a new structure. The cost of a new structure, excluding the cost of demolition and some site work, was estimated at $734,000, Elvin said. 

“This is a loss and I don’t see any compelling reason to accept that loss,” Kim said of the prospect of demolition. 

Among other criticisms and observations, Barnes said the house wasn’t within the historic district.

“There’s absolutely nothing historic about this building at all,” Barnes said. “Nothing. It’s an old house.”

Renderings of the replacement house were previously deemed subpar by commissioners. Newman made note of this when expressing her thoughts about the house. Newman said she might be able to digest the loss of the house better if plans for what would replace it were more thorough.

Sibley was unsold on demolition. “I’ve been unable to find a compelling argument in favor of destroying this house,” Sibley said. 

Wharton suggested Foursquare houses were popular in their day and may have been the “McMansions of their time.” Wharton said an advantage to the Foursquare design was that it offered maximum interior space. Wharton described the neighborhood the house was in as “eclectic at best” and argued the owner should be free to make his own building choices. 

Robinson described the house as an echo of modest year-round residents who settled the neighborhood. Robinson said the house shouldn’t be judged by its plainness.

“History doesn’t need to be made up just by the ornate and the grand and the giant,” he said. 

In other business, the commissioners voted to approve the Meshacket Commons affordable housing project in Edgartown. Commissioners Michael Kim, Greg Martino, Linda Sibley, Christina Brown, and Jim Vercruysse recused themselves from the vote. Commissioners Fred Hancock, Doug Sederholm, Jeff Agnoli, Ernie Thomas, Peter Wharton, Kathy Newman, Trip Barnes, Kate Putnam, Jay Grossman, Ben Robinson, and chair Joan Malkin voted to approve the project. 



  1. I have lived on the Island for 31 years. I have lived in the house that I now own for 25 years. I believe that we need to preserve the current housing stock. That having been said, 2/3rds of the houses on the Island are occupied 1/3 of the year. 1/3 are occupied by year-round residents. I do not believe that seasonal residents are obliged to make their homes available the other 2/3rds of the year, but either the Island’s population must be brought into line with the available housing stock or the housing stock must be brought in line with the population. Unfortunately, having watched the stone, lumber, and full-grown trees coming off the ferries, the new construction is not consistent with the house-needing population. Why don’t the Island’s governing bodies step in to save the Island from itself?

  2. Lets tear it all down and max out building lots. We definately need less people who can’t afford to live here, lets just find them a place off island and ship them over daily to work until they get fed up with the commute. Then with the larger homes keep them heated or cooled to deplete the world’s resources.

  3. Confiscate the wealthy owned houses that sit empty most of the year and give it to the homeless. The Soviet Union confiscated homes during communism and grandmothers were evicted to make room for communist apparatchiks.

  4. The fact that this owner isn’t allowed to do what he wants with this particular property is outrageous. There is nothing special, or historic about the house. If he wants to build a new house, he should have every right to. The MVC disallows this but allows someone to build an ugly eyesore (putting it mildly) 2 inches from the Steamship terminal…

  5. It is ironic I think, that 2 blocks from 43 Love St they are demolishIng a very large building, which I would guess is in much better shape, and much younger, than the 4 square. Not much consistency to this process!

  6. So then, Mr. Daley, with all due respect, if we were to follow your logic, there would be no historic preservation at all and the character of our Island should be subject to the whims of developers and house flippers. Are they concerned about the historic or beautiful character of the Island? Little, if at all. Some historic preservation is amply justified and someone must make those decisions. If you believe you are a good candidate, offer yourself up for the governing bodies!

    • I think you took a wrong turn following my logic. I am all for historic preservation. What I am not in support of is using the guise of historical significance to deny a property owner the ability to do what they seek with their property. This particular house has no historical significance. Just because something is old doesn’t make it historic.

      Furthermore, how can the committee justify denying this property owner, but letting the building on Union St go up as it is currently, in a much more visible and significant location? $$$

  7. I love that house, and that corner.
    I walk up West William Street all the time.
    Glad it won’t be demo’d.

    As for the disaster on Union Street—well, it is a disaster.
    That is no reason to commit another mistake. I do hope the Tisbury Planning Board and the MVC have reviewed the Union Street situation and will present the public with a report as to how that mess occurred.

  8. I’m baffled that the MVC is ruling on whether random houses can be torn down. Maybe trust people to make their own decisions about their property?

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