The text on this page is from a letter to the Sun Chronicle during the debate on issuing the demolition permit.
From: Frank A. Monti
President, Attleboro Historic Preservation Society
What is the value of a building?
Real estate appraisers will tell you the value is whatever a willing buyer will pay to the seller. But a building that has been in our community for over one hundred years has a much greater value. Grand buildings like the Tappan House at 219 Park Street, on the grounds of Sturdy Memorial Hospital, is a building that serves as an anchor for our community in a restless, uncertain world.
I can not overemphasize what losing a building like the Tappan House would mean to the community. This is especially true for a building that visitors and patients see every time they approach the hospital. Those of us in Attleboro who are trying to elevate the preservation consciousness of the community view historic structures as tangible links to the past.
Preservationists recognize the enormous importance of symbols. We know that place has power. We know that we can read about our history in books, but we also know that facts on paper are no more or less important than truth on the ground – truth made tangible in the physical place where history was made.
History says, “This is what happened.” Preservation says, “Right here.”
The Tappan House means a great deal to many in our community. Many people have called and stopped to speak to me about the Hospital’s decision. These people have been both members of the Attleboro Historic Preservation Society and very many non-members. Many who do not consider themselves “preservationists” are concerned about the loss of this link to our past. It is a reminder to me that all people realize that our heritage is incredibly important – and incredibly fragile. A historic building is an opportunity. A historic building demolished is an opportunity lost forever.
Charles H. Tappan was an industrialist. He provided jobs to hundreds of his fellow citizens and demonstrated what founding father Alexander Hamilton called the “commercial republic” – combining civil liberty with a relatively unrestrained economy. Each citizen in our great country has the opportunity to become a pauper or a tycoon, depending on his ambition, resourcefulness and luck. Charles H. Tappan used his resourcefulness, seized an opportunity and with a little luck, became a success. He built a grand home and in doing so, provided inspiration and a view of the American dream to every citizen of Attleboro.
When I think of preservation and of preserving a building like the Tappan House, I think of saving a symbol that is real and tangible. Structures such as this provide our society with an orientation and help to establish values. Residential structures, especially, speak to us about the things we cherish most – family, home and community. A wonderful residential structure such as the Tappan House does that and more.
After three generations of the Tappan family lived in the home, the family recognized the need for a community hospital. The land surrounding the home was gradually turned over to the expanding hospital until the home itself was owned by the hospital. In addition to being a symbol of family and home, the Tappan House is a strong symbol of community values. The House is a symbol of individual opportunity and achievement, while at the same time it demonstrates the individual’s obligation to give back to the community as a whole.
This is why losing the Tappan House would be a greater loss than that of many of the other historic structures our community has lost over the years. I think the Hospital has an obligation to the community which is as strong as its mission to provide high quality care to the sick and injured. Frequently when people go to the hospital, it is a time of stress and strain. The subconscious message conveyed by the Tappan House, perched as it is on the hill near the entrance, is vitally important to all who pass through the Hospital’s doors. One could easily argue that the quality care to the sick and injured starts when they pass by the Tappan House on their way into the hospital.
The events of 9/11/01 have sharply focused the Society’s efforts on our Historic Structure Recognition Program. Everyone says that we now live in a “changed world”. An understanding of the history and values that Americans share is part of the cultural “glue” that binds us together. Our sense of history keeps our society from cracking apart into dozens of separate pieces. If we are to meet the challenge of living in a changed world, it is imperative that we pledge our best efforts to recognizing and safeguarding the places that help give us a sense of community – and a sense of continuity.
The Hospital first has to value the Tappan House for what it represents to the community. Then it must recognize its obligation as a corporate citizen to preserve that value, and then a valid and valuable use will be found for the restored building.
Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1858 “In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.”
I urge all of the citizens of the greater Attleboro area to publicly express their sentiment and continue to enlighten the Hospital’s Board of Managers to these vital issues. Urge them to change their decision to destroy our heritage and our past. The Hospital is a public charitable organization that enjoys tax-exempt status granted by the citizens of the community. The Board of Managers are the representatives of the citizens charged with the responsibility to do the will of the citizens. Write to them; they are duty bound to pay you heed.
We all need to ensure that the places that represent what America stands for are kept safe, firm and alive so that we can continue to learn from them, be enriched by them, and draw strength and inspiration from them. I firmly believe that the preservation of the Tappan House is part of the Hospital’s mission of providing quality care to the sick and injured. They just need to be reminded how it fits in.
I believe that the Tappan House is such an important symbol for Attleboro and Sturdy Memorial Hospital, that I urge them to do more than just restore the building. Clean up the grounds on which it sits. Prune the trees, install automatic sprinklers so the lawn is lush and green. Make the Tappan House the beacon for high quality care to the sick and injured.