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We need your help if we are going to save the Hathaway House

  • Published in Letters

To The Daily Sun,

The holidays have passed. Once again, like millions of others, folks in the Lakes Region watched the most-loved film in America, a traditional Christmas favorite, "It's a Wonderful Life". It's a film about a kind and caring man, George Bailey, who over and over again put his dreams on hold while helping others. His dreams of saving the Bailey Building and Loan Association and building a Bailey Park with affordable housing are shattered by a slum landlord, Henry Potter. In despair, George attempts suicide. His guardian angel, Clarence Odbody, stops him and hence gets to earn his wings and ring his bell. Without George, Bedford Falls would become Pottersville, home to sleazy nightclubs, pawn shops, casinos and immoral people and Bailey Park would never be built.

Yes, it's a fantasy. But we can look right outside our windows and see some of the same. We saw how urban renewal stripped most of our Main Street of its history. Most of our brick buildings are gone and with it fine stores and local owners — O'Shea's, Keller's, LaFlamme's, Oscar Lougee's, Story Drug and Baker's to name a few.

Some brave souls like Peter Karagianis, Esther Peters, Norman Weeks and others sprang forward, put themselves in line for ridicule, encountered closed doors and resistance from town leaders but they did it anyway. They formed the Save the Mills Society to save the Belknap Mill and the Busiel Mill and received the first national grant for industrial preservation. And each New Year, the bell rings at the Belknap Mill to welcome a new year and each spring, it rings to welcome scores of fourth graders for their, hands-on, role-playing at "A Day at the Mill". . . thanks to dedicated volunteers like Tom Tardiff, Diane Wells, Ted Shasteny, Jon Pound, Helga Stamp and others.

Visits to Facebook sites, "You know you're from Laconia when..." and "I love Lakeport" will introduce you to new friends and old acquaintances recalling their hometown favorites — watching Seth Keller make his ribbon candy, being served fast-food by Spider at Jerry's Shore Diner, eating grilled cheese sandwiches at the counter in Woolworth's, foot-long hot dogs at the Red Shanty, lunch at Bill's Diner or dashing to Goody Good Donuts before they sell out. Others remember dates at the Colonial or the Gardens theaters, dancing at Irwin's Winnipesaukee Gardens or the Teen Haven. Fans recall first jobs, favorite teachers or colorful characters. All dearly miss O'Shea's and the fascinating pneumatic cash system that shuttled money to and from the office upstairs and other fine shops with seamstresses and tailors to fit — Rosen's, Levasseur's, Gerry's. Many a gift for mothers was bought at Newberry's or Bloom's.

It all centers on their connections to their Main Street, their community, their favorite old buildings. The Laconia Heritage Commission hoped to help save some important buildings that have become part of their history. Sadly we have lost many and are still losing more — the Tilton House, the Putnam House, the Baker House are historic examples of the architecture in Laconia in the past centuries. The "Hathaway House" is another gem that triggers local memories of historians and others that had first dinner dates at Summerfield's or later wedding receptions. Many remembered the fine shop, the Hathaway House, owned by Constance St. Clair or the later reuse by Florence Cummins as a real estate office where many a local home was bought and sold.

Today, the Hathaway House is owned by Dunkin' Donuts and/or their franchisee, Cafua Management Co. LLC. a.k.a. Laconia Real Estate Co. LLC. It was their Greg Nolan who made many promises in public to Laconia planners and the Laconia Heritage Commission that had formed to save the Hathaway House. They promised restoration and reuse, painting and repairs to leaky roof and other improvements. They acknowledged its significant history and spoke of preserving it in public on many occasions. They spoke of their hopes to use the Hathaway House as corporate offices or to rent. Yet, once their new Dunkin' Donuts was built, they hastened the deterioration of this gem — this "Pink Lady". They ignored safety requirements and made pseudo attempts to do repairs or to offer it for sale or lease, keeping everyone interested in the Hathaway House in limbo, on the back burner until the end of the year when they applied for permission to demolish this classic example of Italianate architecture built in 1872 during the Victorian period and owned for nearly 80 years by the famous Clark family that owned acres of land and properties in Lakeport and Laconia.

We did not sign the demolition permit for the Hathaway house. We chose to conduct a public hearing so your voice could be heard too. So, here we are again, beseeching the community to help — you've seen us walking in picket lines on snowy days during the holidays and the start of a new year carrying signs to "Save the Hathaway House".

We need your local support. Help us to ring our bell by signing the petition (always available in the Laconia Antique Center), writing letters to the editors in support, walking the picket line with us on Saturday or Sunday mornings anytime between 8:30 and 11:30 a.m. Another goal of the heritage commission is to revisit our local demolition ordinance and upgrade it with teeth and seek ways to identify and add a protective state to any buildings with historical or cultural significance to our community. Please join this effort.

PLEASE, please do attend this Laconia Heritage Commission Public Hearing on Wednesday, January 22, 6:30 p.m. at City Hall Room 200A, Beacon Street East.

Dorothy Duffy