Why Adam Sandler Likes Swampscott?

A conversation with Jer Jurma, member of the Local Historic District Study Committee


If you’ve ever traveled outside New England, you begin to notice that most of the rest of the country looks a lot alike. Rapid development on a budget lends itself to a landscape of boxy stores in strip malls and cookie cutter homes. Some of these cookie cutter homes are “McMansions,” and very nice to live in, but even so their exteriors are unmemorable, duplicated a million times over.

New England—Swampscott—looks different.  Neighborhoods have personalities. The roads curve in unpredictable ways.  Houses don’t all look alike. I happen to like the intricate purple paint on a certain home on Paradise Road, but we all have our favorites.

Swampscott’s difference is an aesthetic difference, meaning that the difference is in the way buildings and the landscape look, as well as in the feelings they evoke in people—a difference often hard to measure, hard to calculate.

Yet there is true value in this difference.  Part of the reason that Massachusetts has attracted so many movies is because of our location—place matters.  Grown-Ups 2 is here because Swampscott looks like a typical New England town, and New England is a good brand, a marketable brand.

And crucial to the New England brand is a community’s willingness to embrace its historic past, to pay attention to its older buildings, and to, in short, care about the way something looks. A quick drive through the Olmstead District will remind all of us how lucky we are that the Mudges had the foresight to hire someone so talented to lay it out, that the town pays to upkeep the greens, and that the homeowners in the area now take such pride in their property.

But Swampscott has other, more hidden historic gems, and there is a growing movement to recognize the treasures we have, and perhaps to protect them.

Toward that end, this past spring the Selectmen appointed the Local Historic District Study Committee, comprising of five members, as well as the town planner, Pete Kane. In a conversation with member Jer Jurma, he explained the Committee’s goal.

Their task is to “document and inventory” possible neighborhoods in Swampscott that have historical and aesthetic value. If such an area is found, they would recommend to the Town Meeting that the area be designated a Local Historic District. Town Meeting would then have to approve the designation by a two-thirds vote.

The Massachusetts Historic Commission sets up guidelines for towns in proceeding from that point onward.  After a designation, Town Meeting can then decide whether to and how to regulate the district.  The goal is not to create another kind of cookie cutter neighborhood in which all homes have to be painted white and plant red roses; the goal is to preserve the district’s character.  Perhaps a house could not be torn down without review, perhaps an addition would adhere to certain standards. It would up to the town to decide.

Jurma explains that such a designation, “establishes a sense of place … we live not just in the present moment. We (are) living in an historic arc of the town (and) this is an issue of stewardship of the past.”

Such a designation would be “a community action. A lot of people identify with living in an historic district,” and such homeowners are often “attuned to its historic ambience.”

In response to worries about the resale value of historic homes, Jurma says that research has found that the historic designation “tends to stabilize home prices, and they rise, not fall.”

Another component of Commission’s mission is education. Did you know that there are colonial buildings on Humphrey Street? Or that Rockland boasts a cluster of Victorian era homes? Jurma hopes that a booth at the Farmer’s Market, and small house parties will help to inform residents what the Commission has found.

And, when we understand what it is we have, then it will be time to begin a town-wide discussion of how best to care for it.

Uncle Leo August 13, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Swampscott is still a great place for kids to grow up. We live in a neighborhood where our children roam freely and are watched and disciplined by neighbors. Kids still go to the beach, still jump off the pier, and still drink on the golf course. Parents, neighbors, coaches, teachers, and police officers still keep an eye on all kids. These still are 'those' years...they have not gone away. (And kids still know what the Battle of Bunker Hill is...but thanks for the clarification.)
Uncle Leo August 13, 2012 at 06:34 PM
I think most people in town would prefer to see Cap'n Jack's still there, but the reality is that it was not a viable business anymore. Keeping the 3 Inn buildings would have resulted in less money for the seller and higher costs for the current developers. Needless to say, there's not much the town can do with private property and private transactions. Sorry, but that is capitalism at work. As for the Middle School, that building is a brick monstrosity. Nothing quaint and New England about that. Other than the free land, not sure why the town built a high school there in the first place. No fields, no parking, highest spot in town. Of course I'd rather see a few single family houses there instead of a condo project, but NO ONE came forward with that plan and money after several years. If the neighbors are so dead against losing control of this project, they should have pooled their money, gone to bank for a loan, and outbid Groom.
Dale Milne August 13, 2012 at 08:01 PM
I am a former resident, watching with interest from New Hampshire with a question: Do the residents of Swampscott want the town to change its unique seaside town character? Be careful, the projects proposed can do that. Perhaps zoning ordinances need to be updated, following what today's residents desire for their town. Justin - Are you related to the wonderful Angel Mattera?
Margie McTague August 14, 2012 at 04:58 PM
I lived in Swampscott for 47 years and I now live across the street from the town line. Swampscott has changed considerably since I moved there in 1964. However, the changes have been gradual and in keeping with the area. The town is unique and I would love for it to stay that way. There is so much history in Swampscott. I would hate for that to be forgotten and changed for the sake of progress.
Uncle Leo August 14, 2012 at 05:46 PM
Interesting to note that Marblehead has just torn down their 100 year old Glover School and I have not seen a single comment on either Marblehead Patch or The Reporter about the historical significance of that building.


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