MANCHESTER, NH – It was years in the making, but a deal has finally been struck for the purchase of the Chandler House on Walnut Street, saving it from demolition and allowing it to remain in its rightful place, as an important piece of Queen City history.
On Sept. 23 a purchase and sale agreement was signed between the Diocese of Manchester and the Currier Museum of Art for the 1878 mansion and a portion of the Saint Hedwig Parish property.
Before the deal can be finalized the city must approve a subdivision of the property which also houses a church and a former rectory, but the bigger hurdle – finding a suitable buyer and negotiating a deal that satisfied the diocese – has finally been achieved.
All it took was a group of matchmakers, some high-profile cheerleaders, a little patience and perseverance.
Currier Director and CEO Alan Chong says he’s spent the last 3½ of his four years since arriving at the museum trying to reach an agreement with the diocese on the purchase.
“But I need to give full credit to Mayor Joyce Craig who intervened and put the parties together – she’s been fantastic. She met with the diocese separately and together with us, and tried hard to broker a deal. Also, credit to Arthur Sullivan, who has been equally involved as an ally, and who loves the house and understands it from a preservation point of view,” Chong said.
Perhaps the most influential partner of late has been a group of “regular folk,” community members who launched a Save the Chandler House community group five years ago. Kate Marquis, one of the original members of the group, says the deal with the Currier is a “best-case scenario,” and they are thrilled.
“We’re all just average citizens who came together. We’re not particularly important folks – we just care about our neighborhoods, and we’re so excited with this news,” Marquis said Wednesday.
One important function of the group has been as matchmakers – when they first realized the mansion was in jeopardy back in 2015 they met with the diocese to see what they were looking for in a buyer, and then, made a shortlist of possible matches that could meet the criteria laid out by the diocese for sale of the property.
“Working from those parameters of what would make for an amendable hand-off we thought of two or three organizations that could fulfill their requests, and the Currier was on that list,” Marquis said. “I have to credit Alan for stepping forward. He thought it would be an intriguing deal for the Currier and he started coming to our meetings to see if there was a way to make it work.”
Bishop Peter Libasci said over the years the diocese has only sought the best possible option for preservation of the Chandler House, which has been home to three bishops and the Felician Order of nuns since the diocese purchased it in 1915 from Fannie Chandler for $1 and three annual payments of $5,000.
“For almost five years we have explored numerous options to sell, subdivide, or preserve the Chandler House in some way, without success,” said Libasci. “We are pleased that through the experience of a friendly meeting and a fruitful exchange of ideas, the Currier has stepped forward with a plan to do so.”
Slideshow of the interior of the Chandler House.
In October of 2015 Libasci tried to find someone – anyone – who was interested in buying the house and moving it from the Walnut Street lot. When that bore no fruit the house languished and the diocese eventually considered demolition, obtaining a permit earlier this summer. That is when the community activated, solidifying the will of the people to find a way to save the house, and reinvigorating negotiations. Despite it’s deteriorating exterior the interior is exquisitely preserved and regarded as one of the premier examples of Victorian architecture in the city, if not the state.
All the more reason why the Currier is thrilled to acquire the property and begin renovation and restoration, Chong said.
The Currier plans to restore rooms on the main level of the Chandler House to their original 19th-century grandeur and to conduct public tours of these areas. The rest of the building will be renovated for office and classroom space. No rental events will be held there and rather than construct a parking lot, the front garden facing Walnut Street will be restored.
Financial details have yet to be publicly disclosed but, ultimately, the stately mansion is being sold as a fixer-upper.
“[The purchase price] will obviously be made public once the deal is finalized, but it’s safe to say there have been all kinds of rumors about plans to save the house, including erroneous reports that it was priced at $2 million. I can say that the final deal is much lower than that because the cost of restoration and renovation are the main components of a financial commitment,” Chong said.
In 2015 the diocese was looking for less than $30,000 for the house, if moved, and eventually, was willing to let the house go if someone would just take it. The final deal will include the subdivided land, which the city assessor’s office ball-parked at around $118,000. That same year it was placed on the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance‘s “Seven to Save” list.
And although the subdivision is the final hurdle, Marquis said there has been bipartisan support for saving the Chandler House among many aldermen over the past five years, and she didn’t foresee any issues there.
Mayor Craig on Wednesday expressed her gratitude to all those involved in reaching an agreement in a statement released following the announcement.
“I’m thrilled a resolution favorable to all was reached, and the Chandler House will be saved. I want to thank Bishop Libasci and the Diocese of Manchester and Dr. Alan Chong and the Board to Trustees of the Currier Museum of Art for working together to ensure this historically and architecturally significant building in Manchester is saved for generations to come. I’m also grateful for the support and advocacy expressed by our community in preserving this piece of Manchester’s heritage,” Craig said.
Chong noted that the next step is a subdivision hearing on Oct. 8 and he expected finalization to culminate in closing sometime around the end of November. From there, immediate work needs to be done on the exterior, particularly the porch which has deteriorated over the past few years for lack of maintenance. Inside there are extensive renovations needed, including a new heating system, possibly air conditioning, full restoration of the historic rooms, creating office spaces, adding an elevator and handicap access.
Although the exterior does not look like much, it is the detailed interior and the home’s rich history that makes it a valuable investment for the museum, Chong said. They will look to government grants, museum patrons and the continued support of the community to supplement fundraising goals for restoration.
“It takes a lot of work to do something like this right, and we want the community to be proud of this house. We plan to create an experience, a learning experience, so people can discover the manufacturing and financial heyday of Manchester. We see the rooms as works of art,” Chong said, adding that the interior is an artistic “time capsule” of the late 19th century.
He also notes the direct historic link between the Chandler House and the Currier, Museum, built during the late 1920s where Moody Currier’s house once stood.
“Not only is it right across the street from us, but it represents the foundation of the Currier – George Chandler and Moody Currier were colleagues at Amoskeag Bank, and purchased their properties on the same exact day, and began construction of their respective houses at the same time. The Chandler House represents the 19th-century roots of the museum and of Manchester, and with our two Frank Lloyd Wright houses representing the 20th century, we’re building for the future as well as recognizing that our city’s historic architecture is just as much a work of art,” Chong said.
Although acquisition of the original furniture is still being negotiated as part of the final sale, Chong said, the Currier expects the Chandler House will ultimately feature some of the original pieces as well as period furniture and art already owned by the museum to complete the experiential value for future visitors.
“From Lawrence to Nashua to Manchester, the great mill towns of New England made America what it is and the Currier is a benefactor of that largesse. It was created because Manchester was a center of wealth and finance. That’s how the museum was founded and that’s very important, to realize where we’ve come from,” Chong said.
There is no firm timeline as yet for when work will be completed. Depending on the extent of renovations, it could take two construction seasons, Chong speculated.
For Marquis, the waiting has been the hardest. She said with Wednesday’s announcement, the Save the Chandler House group is officially in gear and moving toward the future.
“We didn’t know when this day was coming, but we’ve been working toward it for a long time and we will definitely continue to support the cause, including raising funds,” Marquis said. “We’d like to have a ‘thank-you’ gathering at some point, as so many supporters live right in the neighborhood but it will also be a kick-off, as there’s still more to be done. It will take a lot of work to preserve the building, but it’s worth it. What’s most important is that the future of the Chandler House will now be part of the public sphere. We’re excited to help that process and to know that our participation helped in some way.”