On a beautiful morning I head out to Cherry St in Somerville’s Spring Hill neighborhood. Although just a block from the Porter Square Shopping Center and hosting the K-8 Kennedy
elementary school it’s a surprisingly quiet street. I dig through my notes to find the exact house number, but as so often happens on my interview outings, the award-winning house is already obvious once I reach the street. First I see gleaming new cedar shingles, and then its very unique architecture. The house was built in 1893 in the “Shingle Style,” but the rear has a surprising Victorian detail, a tower to which a second level was added circa 1910.
Another surprise greets me at the front door, two large, leaping bull mastiffs, introduced to me as GIR and Zim (named after two comic robot characters), who nearly knocked me to the ground but apparently just trying to be friendly. I am always excited to see original details fully intact within historical homes, including their ceramic tiles fireplaces and natural wood trim. As we walked through to the back porch I was struck by the elevation indicating the steepness of the property, as well as the expansive view of neighboring yards, which were large by Somerville standards.
Before purchasing, Jered Floyd and Brian Gibbons explained their need to first understand what it meant to own a designated local historic property. They attended one of the monthly meetings of the Somerville Historic Preservation Commission and were delighted to see this group would be helpful and constructive in any future restoration plans they might have, so the prospect of ownership was all the more exciting. By examining City census records Jered and Brian learned that the house had only 3 previous owners. The original owner was Walter C. Mentzer, who worked for Armour Meat Products, and Jered pulls out a book called “Somerville Past and Present,” where he displays a photo of Mr. Mentzer, as well as the house in its original state. The book was written in 1897 in commemoration of the Somerville’s 25th anniversary as a City, and it offers a wealth of information and photos about its earliest decades.
One striking aspect of the house photograph in 1897 is the absence of any neighboring houses. All four of the current abutting lots were once owned by the Fyfe family, and descendants of that family still reside on Cherry Street today. When Jered and Brian moved here in 2005, they were able to meet Mrs. Fyfe of 30 Cherry St, and she recalled her childhood days when houses and roads were more sparse and she could sled all the way down the hill to Willow Avenue without interruption!
Jered and Brian purchased the house from the Fortuna family, who had owned it for several decades. On closing day, Mr. Pasqua and his wife (whose parents had owned it before them), followed family tradition and left the house by the same door they first entered except they were different doors. Ms. Fortuna left by the front door and Mr. Pasqua by the side door, which he first entered to meet Ms. Fortuna’s parents in order to ask for their daughter’s hand in marriage.
After Jered and Brian moved in, they immediately set to work both to restore the house and change it to meet their needs. They used the photo of the original house as a guide. At purchase the shingles were painted brown with a red asphalt roof, and the driveway was paved all the way around to the back, with a small grape arbor. The house was configured as a two-family, and they converted it back to a single-family to give them more space, but kept on the side a small apartment which originally housed the kitchen and servant’s quarters. Then they replaced the shingles with unfinished cedar and pulled off the red asphalt roofing, replacing it with a more historically appropriate cedar shake-style asphalt. The dark porch was repainted with lighter colors, grey on the flooring and sky blue on the ceiling. All of the columns on the front of the porch were removed, stripped of their old paint, repainted, the capitals were restored, and each column was then reinstalled. Finally, modillions, likely removed long ago, were installed along the top. Two oval-shaped, beveled glass windows to the left and right of the front door remain intact.
A few details, likely from the 1960’s, can still be seen, such as a cement walkway and front steps with wrought-iron railing, but Jered and Brian intend to tackle this in a future project. The back of the house is not visible from the public street and was significantly changed. An addition with windows all around the rear and side allowed for a larger kitchen filled with more natural light. A new foundation comprised of large river rock was added in keeping with the original 1890’s time period, while original slate stones remain in the foundation of the tower. We end our meeting on the back porch where GIR and Zim are enjoying the wonderful yard and keeping a lookout for the next visitor. It’s no wonder there’s been so few owners of this historic house — it’s too beautiful to give up.