History Lost: Clark House to be Demolished by September

The history of the Thomas Clark House, one of Belmont’s oldest residential homes, will end next month in a pile of boards, bricks, nails and plaster as three years of work to preserve a rare piece of the town’s pre-Revolutionary era past failed to save the 254-year-old structure.

“Numerous attempts were made to find a site, use and the funding necessary to create a viable option for this most historic home; however, each attempt failed,” said Michael Smith, co-chair of the Belmont Historic District Commission, who helped lead the effort to save the structure after the site was sold to a developer in 2011.

Smith said the Clark House’s deed holder, Architectural Heritage Foundation – a Boston-based nonprofit which is committed to the preservation of historic buildings, structures, and spaces – faced a September deadline on renewing a town license to “park” the house across from the Underwood Pool. And next month the foundation would need to raise a substantial insurance payment that would be close to six figures.

With all local options exhausted, it was determined the only avenue for preservationist was to take the building apart under the foundation’s leadership.

Smith said that it was not hard to understand why it was difficult to find a solution for the Clark House.

“Potential sites were very limited because the size of the house is too large to pass through streets without meeting obstructions or requiring significant tree removal,” said Smith in a press release.

“Site, funding and use were all keys needed to save the Clark House,” Smith told the Belmontonian on Wednesday, July 30.

“Potential sites were very limited because the size of the house is too large to pass through streets without meeting obstructions or requiring significant tree removal,” said Smith in the release.

Potential locations included land at the First Armenian Church of Belmont on Concord Avenue, the Belmont Public Library and an open lot adjacent the Underwood Playground on School Street. Possible uses for the site included as a home of the Belmont Historical Society or as commercial space.

“Without any one of those keys opportunity was shut out. In every attempted exercise at least one of the keys was missing – frustratingly so near, so many times but never able to satisfy all the needs,” he said to the Belmontonian.

Built in 1760 by Thomas Clark, a “minuteman” member of a local militia who reportedly fought in the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill; the house was later occupied by his son, Peter, the first person to cast a vote in the newly-formed town of Belmont in 1859. The house was subsequently owned by members of the Underwood and Sifneos families who retained most of the historic features of the house including doors, windows, floors, hardware, fireplaces along with possible evidence of a secret hiding place for escaping slaves traveling on the Underground Railroad.

The most dramatic effort to save the Clark House came on a bitter Saturday morning in February 2012. The two-story, two-and-a-half century old structure was taken off its original foundation located between Clark Street and Dunbarton Road and slowly moved down Common Street onto Concord Avenue and to its current location.

“We won’t lose the written history and important documentation of the Clark House; what we lose is the house itself,” Smith told the Belmontonian.

But rather than dwell on the fate of the Clark House, Smith said he is looking towards preserving other historic sites in town.

“There were many people who worked hard toward saving the Clark House.  The goodwill of everyone involved is what kept the momentum going. While we don’t like the idea of losing such a treasure, we know there are many other important preservation causes to pursue. Let’s compare it to a doctor losing a patient; that doesn’t end the pursuit toward care,” he said.