One of Nantucket’s most historic downtown buildings will remain vacant this summer and continues to fall into disrepair. The structure at 46 Centre Street, for many years the home of George Pollard, captain of the doomed whaleship Essex, has stood empty for almost two years, and the lack of attention is starting to show.
“There’s no question that it's a deeply historic building,” said Mary Bergman, Executive Director of the Nantucket Preservation Trust. “What’s happening to it now is sad.”
In 2021, the building, once known as the Seven Seas gift shop, was condemned and it remains so to this day. Over the past two years, the exterior has begun to fall apart. At the time of the condemnation order, agents from the Board of Health and the Nantucket Fire Department cited a number of violations that made the building unsafe for human habitation, including a non-functioning alarm system, dangerous electrical wiring, a lack of fire extinguishers, and a hole in a sewage pipe.
At a Board of Health meeting that month, an attorney representing the corporation that owns the building — Emma LLC, co-owned by shoe designer Vanessa Noel, who purchased the property for $2.1 million in 2002 — claimed all of the issues would be addressed by the end of the month and the Board of Health would be able to lift the condemnation order. But the order was never lifted, and it’s unclear if the work was ever done.
Noel, at least, claims that it was. “We have received a great deal of rental interest in the building,” she said in an email to the Current. “A lot of work has been accomplished inside the building.”
In addition to the potential health hazards inside the building, the facade is starting to crumble and break apart, prompting Bergman to wonder if the external disrepair constitutes a violation of the law. Certain historic structures on Nantucket, of which 46 Centre Street is one, must be at least minimally maintained to ensure their historic integrity. In 2016, the Historic District Commission determined 46 Centre Street was falling below the minimum standards for maintenance and sent a letter ordering the owners to draft a maintenance plan. Since the condemnation order in 2021, however, the HDC has noted the building’s disrepair during at least one public meeting but it hasn’t issued any orders for maintenance.
“No major construction is warranted,” Noel wrote in her email. “We are formulating a plan for the future.”
Former tenant Lee Milazzo, who owns the Samuel Owen Gallery that once called 46 Centre Street home, is disappointed with the current state of the building.
“There’s so much history with that building, which is why it’s such a shame that it’s being left in such disrepair,” he said. “It may be up there with the Oldest House, it might be one of the most historic buildings on Nantucket.”
Milazzo worries the owners might not care about the building’s historic value and fears they may be letting it deteriorate on purpose, hopeful that it will reach a point where restoration would be impossible and they will be allowed to demolish it, a process known as demolition by neglect.
Noel denies that is her goal. “We have no intention of demolishing this building,” she wrote.
“I don’t think that [46 Centre Streeet] is too far gone at this point,” Bergman said. “The resources are out there to improve this building.” But she acknowledged that doing so might require intervention from the HDC.
Barring an HDC order, Noel would have to decide to repair the building herself.