The Last Days of the Loring House?

Perhaps because I grew up in a Shingle-Style cottage on the southern coast of Maine, I have always taken the style for granted, even now and here, living on the North Shore of Boston, where it also reigned in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The strident Federal architecture of Salem appealed to me much more when it came time to buy a house–not quite at war with nature but not really melding with it either. But now, just across the water in the Pride’s Crossing section of Beverly, one of the most iconic Shingle cottages is apparently nearing its end: a house so harmonious with its surroundings yet so exacting in its details that even I can appreciate it. The Charles G. Loring house was built between 1881 and 1884 as a mid-career commission of the architect William Ralph Emerson (1833-1917), who is widely credited with originating what came to be known as the Shingle Style. The man who coined that term, Yale architectural historian Vincent Scully, calls the Loring House the very best of all the houses along this coast and considers that it may well be the finest surviving example of the Shingle Style, yet despite these and other weighty judgments, it may soon be taken down by its present owner, one of the co-founders of iRobot.

Loring house by Steve Rosenthal

© Steve Rosenthal

Loring House by Steve Rosenthal 2

© Steve Rosenthal

Loring House by Steve Rosenthal 4

© Steve Rosenthal

Loring House by Steve Rosenthal 3

© Steve Rosenthal

Loring House 1969

Ryerson & Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago: Myron Miller photograph, 1969

Loring House 1969 2

Ryerson & Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago: Myron Miller photograph, 1969

Loring House 3

Ryerson & Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago: William Ralph Emerson’s “Plan of Principal Floor” of the Loring House, 1881

The house was built as a summer cottage by Charles G. Loring (1828-1902) on family land. Loring (like his father) has an amazing biography: he was a thrice-breveted Major-General of the Union army, the second time “for gallant and meritorious services at the battles of the Wildneress, Spottsylvania, and Bethesda Church and during the operation before Petersburg, Virginia” (Loring Genealogy). A passionate Egyptologist, he became one of the first trustees and curators at the newly-founded Museum of Fine Arts, Boston after the war, and then its first director. After his death in 1902 the estate was transferred to another old Boston family though its acquisition by Quincy Adams Shaw, one of the Museum’s major benefactors. It remained in the Shaw-Codman family for over a century, until the death of Mr. Shaw’s grandson, Samuel Codman, in 2008 (at age 100). After he inherited the house in the 1960s, Mr. Codman worked tirelessly to maintain it, apparently single-handedly, and I think you can see the impact of his care when you compare the photographs above. Even before Mr. Codman’s death, a group of “Friends” organized to raise funds in order to endow and preserve the house as a study property of Historic New England; very sadly, their fundraising goals fell short and consequently the house went on the market and was purchased first by several Loring descendants and then by Ms. iRobot. Her proposed “alterations” were deemed destructive by the Beverly Historic Commission, which imposed a one-year demolition delay that has now expired. An application sent to the Beverly Conservation Commission last week indicates the Loring House will be replaced by a larger structure (surprise).

Loring House 1969 4

Ryerson & Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago: Myron Miller photograph, 1969

Loring House Detail Rosenthal

© Steve Rosenthal

All of my preservationist friends are desolate: their only consolation is that this house is very well-documented, inside and out. There are the Myron Miller photographs that I have showcased here, along with the beautiful images of the renown architectural photographer Steve Rosenthal, who provided his services pro bono to the Friends of the General George G. Loring House. Another reason why I never really appreciated the Shingle Style is its characteristic interiors, which always seemed a bit drab to me, but obviously I’ve been looking at the wrong Shingle Style houses. As Mr. Rosenthal’s photographs illustrate so well, the Loring House glows with light and features details that are most likely irreplaceable, but apparently also ephemeral.

Loring House Interior Rosenthal

© Steve Rosenthal

Loring by Steve Rosenthal interior

© Steve Rosenthal

Loring House Rosenthal Stair

© Steve Rosenthal

Loring Upstairs Rosenthal

© Steve Rosenthal


16 responses to “The Last Days of the Loring House?

  • ggirlforevah

    tragic, ignorant, barbaric

  • jane

    the new owner can never duplicate the quality here – the wood – old growth lumber – doesn’t exist. The craftsmen have died or are prohibitively expensive and we rarely use the same tools. How the spaces change during the day with the light and shadow will not be equaled. The relationship of the house to the site has grown better every year. I am sure someone tried to tell the new owner all this…
    I pity the new designer – all the ghosts of excellence wafting about, critique-ing.

    • daseger

      I am certain that the present owner has been told all these things, Jane–this is the end game of a long process–but you express the loss very eloquently.

    • Paula

      Terribly sad. A national treasure lost. Yes, Olmsted had a hand in the siting of the house; his legacy is part of its poetry. There is a letter from him to Loring discussing it. May I ask: where are the disputed 1906 additions which the present owner wanted to remove? I don’t see them in the photographs…that could be a solution, if she would be willing to leave the original house intact…

  • Marie Parc

    This is heart-wrenching. What is WRONG with the person who would do such a thing?

  • ggirlforevah

    she is a vile person to do this

  • carol

    No campaigns on Facebook
    , Instagram, Youtube etc?

    • daseger

      We’re in the end game of this struggle, Carol–the house has a group of (apparently) well-funded advocates, but I think property rights are trumping their appeal.

  • Suzanne Mitchell

    I’m from Reading, Ma and we are having a similar issue with one of our historic homes. It’s a travesty for both of these beautiful homes to be destroyed.

  • Alan

    Has anyone mentioned that the property was designed my Frederick Law Olmsted? He was even more significant than the architect. He probably worked in conjunction with Emerson as the property was being developed. Someone may want contact the archives at Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site in Brookline. There should be several plans and perhaps photos in the collection.

    • daseger

      I didn’t mention that, Alan, but you’re absolutely correct: this estate constitutes a famous garden, “Pompey’s garden”, as well as a famous house.

  • Cstar

    Disgusting. If she is so intent on having a large and modern space why not search elsewhere.

  • William bambery

    Best wishes.

  • Breakfast Links: Week of September 29, 2014 – Very Dresses

    […] the true colors of ancient Greek statues.• Heartbreaking: the last days of an iconic 19th c. Shingle Style house overlooking the harbor in Beverly, MA .• Image: Merton College Library, Oxford – […]

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