It all began because Alison and Maynard “Kim” Knapp decided they really really wanted to live on the 100 block of S. Whitcomb street, presumably because it is a picturesque Old Town neighborhood. And of course it doesn’t hurt that property value in Old Town neighborhoods have only gone up, not down, through all the vicissitudes of The Economy. So, they bought the house at 122 S. Whitcomb (see picture below, circa 1995), a Queen Anne style house built around 1900: it was a bargain at around $230K, but it was also not-so-slowly going to seed through “demolition by neglect.” It had a “twin” right next door, which at one time was also in a pretty decrepit state, but the owners chose to restore that house — and did it quite well too.
But the Knapps wanted BIGGER and BETTER, because the original house was 1) too small for their needs, 2) would cost too much to renovate and anyway was probably beyond salvaging (asbestos, among things, though asbestos removal can be considered almost a routine part of renovation projects in Old Town), and 3) hey, it’s their property and they can damn well do whatever they want. They hired David Hueter to design and HighCraft Builders to build them a BIGGER and BETTER house, and set about overcoming all neighborhood objections (although in their defense, one must admit that they did in fact do everything they were legally required to do).
The houses on the street were simple, vernacular homes built mostly between the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, with some in-fills from the 1920s to 1930s. They were not showy houses, because the homeowners were mainly middle-class people of modest means; the fancier residences were around the corner on Mountain avenue.
This is the Knapp House:
I love that chair on the porch; maybe it is there so that the new owners can have a nice view of the street with its array of cute old houses?
Quote from Dwight Sailer of HighCraft Builders on behalf of the Knapps when they applied for a building variance (because such a high style house cannot possibly be expected to follow the usual building codes):
It is our intent to introduce a classic architectural element, a turret, in a fresh and modern expression. This turret is recessed back into the facade and becomes one with the building and not a dominant but a complementary element [emphasis mine], even though it is larger than the allowable 6 feet. Our goal is to preserve but also enhance the Old Town feel of this neighborhood and we feel we have accomplished this [emphasis mine].
Oh, I love the chutzpah of this statement, particularly the last sentence.
HighCraft Builders actually claimed that the Knapp house would have minimal visual impact on the historic character and integrity of the existing neighborhood. I am just so glad that the historian hired to do the architectural inventory survey was not responsible for that particular statement.
Nothing like enhancing the neighborhood.
I suppose the Knapps really believed that their house would be a welcome addition — after all, Alison Knapp told the Landmark Preservation Commission that there were neighbors in favor of the design . . . . And this is why people need to learn how to do math: at the most, just 3 of the other 13 property owners may possibly have been in favor of the design; clearly not a mandate, unless you are one of those people who just know that what they are doing is right.
All this is why there is now a Whitcomb Street Historic District: because of their arrogance, Alison and Kim Knapp pissed off 10 of their neighbors, and these homeowners willingly jumped through all the many legal hoops to get their block designated a landmark district. So, kudos all around: to the Knapps for being just short-sighted enough to misjudge their neighbors, and to those tenacious neighbors for believing that their homes were worth preserving.