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Westfield's Wychwood Residents Call For Gate House to be Preserved After Fire

Jill D'Ambrosio

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 • 11:53pm

WESTFIELD, NJ – Eight months after an electrical fire severely damaged Westfield's historic Wychwood Gate House, owners of the home have proposed two options for the property, both of which involve building new houses on the lot, neighbors say.

Residents in the Wychwood section of town are worried about the fate of the whimsical Gate House, which sits at the neighborhood’s entrance at the corner of East Broad Street and Wychwood Road.

Many neighbors attended a meeting held earlier this month during which the owners reportedly presented two ideas for the house.

The first idea called for subdividing the property and building two 3,500 square foot sister homes designed in the style of the current Gate House. The other idea called for demolishing the Gate House and building one 7,000-8,000 square foot home on the lot, which is said to be two-thirds of an acre.

Under the first proposal, the owners initially mentioned preserving the Gate House with an addition, although upon closer reading, the Wychwood residents at the meeting say they did not see a preserved Gate House in the description.

“The Gate House is an important Westfield landmark that deserves saving,” said Wychwood Road resident Amy Tahl Jester, who attended the meeting. “I feel strongly that when one purchases such a landmark, there is inherent responsibility to maintain and protect it.”

At the meeting, some neighbors asked about the possibility of repairing the existing house instead and were told it was not a financially viable option.

Attorney Courtney Schael, one of the owners of the Gate House, declined to comment at this time.

Owners of the home must get a variance to subdivide the property. Wychwood residents were advised to watch for notifications of a public hearing.

The Westfield Fire Department determined that the blaze that tore through the house last December was accidental. The fire burned through the back side of the house and into the roof assembly. The house was unoccupied at the time of the fire.

Several days after the fire was extinguished,  a town building inspector told the fire department that the home could be repaired. To read that story, click here.

Recently, a few neighbors questioned the owners’ failure to have a tarp placed over the gaping holes in the roof of the Gate House, leaving the home’s interior exposed to harsh winter elements.

“It was always a mystery to me why they didn’t put a tarp over the house when it’s winter,” said Kimball Circle resident and Westfield Historical Society president Nancy Priest. “From the beginning, that made a statement.”

Karen Doskow, who has lived on Wychood Road for 20 years, agreed.

“It was very sad, especially with the brutal winter we had, that nothing was put on that poor house,” she said.

The Wychwood section of town was envisioned as a pastoral enclave and retreat for a growing commuter population when it was created by developer Arthur Rule in the 1920s.

The Gate House and the Little Gate House across the street on Canterbury Road were fashioned after “medieval fairy tale houses,” according to a 2002 report by Westfield’s Historic Preservation Commission.

While neither Wychwood nor the Gate House is locally designated as historic, Priest believes a subdivision on this property will alter the character of the area.

“If you put a subdivision there, it will definitely impact the whole community, not just Wychwood,” she said.

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