Historic Property in Danger!

Easy Street Gallery from the harbor at right, c. 1930s With roofwalk and porch (photo courtesy the Nantucket Historical Association)
Easy Street Gallery from the harbor at right,
with roofwalk and porch, c. 1930 (photo courtesy the Nantucket Historical Association)

The old Easy Street Gallery building at 27 Easy Street will be demolished unless a proposal to move it from its waterfront site is completed in the next few weeks. In December, NPT–concerned about the loss of an important element of Nantucket’s early art colony–reached out to the Land Bank, which allowed us to complete an assessment of the building with timber frame expert Michael Burrey and preservationist Pen Austin. These experts concluded that the structure is a candidate for preservation.

Although left to deteriorate for many years, the Easy Street Gallery building is structurally sound and there are no apparent “red flags” that would hinder a move from the site or its restoration. Surprisingly, the interior contains eighteenth century elements, including paneled walls, doors and timbers—all obviously repurposed from earlier structures in the Nantucket fashion. The central section of the building is of mid-nineteenth century vintage, but attic beams are hand-hewn and this section is timber frame construction, which would make disassembling relatively easy. A north wing was added about 1923 when the building was relocated to this site. The evolution of the building is still evident in late nineteenth and early twentieth century details such as whimsical door surrounds with columns and transoms for ventilation, and a large sliding doorway that reflect its use as a seaside bath house and art gallery.

Hayden’s building along the harbor, c. 1890s (photo courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association)
Hayden’s building along the harbor, c. 1890s (photo courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association)

Besides its architectural features, the building also has a very interesting history. It was originally built as a cooper shop, and acquired and enlarged by Charles E. Hayden for use as a heated saltwater bathhouse called the Clean Shore Bathing Rooms. Hayden established his bathhouse on the harbor near South Beach Street (just north of the present -day Nantucket Yacht Club) with bathing rooms and changing rooms on two floors. Hayden’s remained a popular destination for the early tourist trade for many years, but by the 1920s it was no longer in fashion. In 1923, the building was purchased by Florence Lang and relocated to its current location on the Easy Street basin. A nationally-renown art patron, Lang transformed the building into the Easy Street Gallery (consider a predecessor of the Artist Association), which opened in 1924 and remained a driving force of the art colony until her death. The gallery was part of a larger effort by Lang to acquire, transform and save the fish houses, the railroad depot, and other structures along the wharves and at the same time assist artist by providing reasonable rents for studios and craft shops. With the lost of its patron the gallery closed in 1943 – and became a home before being converted for commercial use.

Easy Street Gallery at left, c. 1930 (photo courtesy the Nantucket Historical Association)
Easy Street Gallery at left, c. 1930 (photo courtesy the Nantucket Historical Association)

In recent years historians and preservationists have embraced the importance of the art colony and deemed structures associated with it as community landmarks worthy of preservation. The old Easy Street Gallery is significant for its role in Nantucket’s late nineteenth century tourist industry as well as the emergence of the island’s early twentieth century art colony. In fact, in 2012 Nantucket’s National Historic Landmark status was expanded by the Department of Interior to include the art colony’s role, noting it is not only of local importance, but of significance to the nation.

Unless rescued, the demolition of the building will occur by early spring. Last week the Nantucket Land Bank developed an RFP for interested nonprofit groups to remove the structure. Although NPT has no funds to complete a move or restoration project, we could team up with a private developer who would be willing to take on a renovation project. Although in the eleventh hour, our hope is that the building can be rescued and remain a part of Nantucket’s architectural heritage.

For additional information contact Michael May at the NPT office 508-228-1387 or mmay@nantucketpreservation.org