Downtown Historic Building Imperiled

One of the most historic structures in downtown Nantucket has been declared unfit for human habitation, and is set to be formally condemned by the Board of Health at its June 17 meeting.

The former home of the hard-luck whaleship captain George Pollard at 46 Centre Street was built in 1760. It’s where Pollard called home after returning to the island following not one but two catastrophic whaling voyages in the Pacific, including the ill-fated journey as captain of the doomed Essex, rammed and sunk by a sperm whale in 1820. That tale became the basis of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and Pollard would later meet Melville on Nantucket. Years later, the building became the Pitman House inn, and more recently was a well-remembered gift shop called The Seven Seas Gifts as well as an art gallery.

But the historic building at the corner of Centre and Broad streets has been unoccupied and in disrepair for more than a year now, and town agencies took action yesterday following an emergency inspection. Citing serious fire and electrical issues, the Health Department declared the building unfit for human habitation, and the town’s wiring inspector posted a violation notice and “stop work” order on the front door.

Vanessa Noel Ginley, who has owned the building with her mother Emma Ginley since 2002, said Friday that she is working to address the issues with the structure. They had recently put the property up for sale at $4.9 million, but in February took the building off the market. Vanessa Ginley said a notice regarding the issues with the building had been presented to her former tenant, who did not pass it along to her. The building was previously occupied by the Samuel Owen Gallery, which now occupies a space just down the street.

“The whole thing seems very silly and very stupid,” Ginley said. “Our old tenant moved out and abandoned the property without saying anything. This was in the middle of the pandemic.”

Lee Milazzo, the owner of the Samuel Owen Gallery, rented the Seven Seas building from the Ginleys from 2014 to 2019. Milazzo said he marveled at the history of building, and wished his business could have remained operating in the space.

“The building was not without its issues. There was always something that needed to be repaired but unbeknownst to us the building’s utilities were in such disrepair that the town of Nantucket deemed the structure uninhabitable,” Milazzo said in an e-mail. “We were devastated to learn that we would no longer be able to operate our gallery out of the space. We had planned to be there as long as possible but our fate was out of our hands. We were fortunate enough to find a new space right next door that we now call home.”

Mary Bergman, executive director of the Nantucket Preservation Trust, said she had not yet seen the specifics of the issues identified by the town departments at 46 Centre Street, but responded in general terms about the situation:

“Some of the most important historic preservation work is the day-to-day maintenance of a building,” Bergman said. “Nantucket’s more than 800 pre-Civil War era structures have endured for centuries. Careful stewardship is needed to ensure they are here for future generations to experience.”

Ginley said she was unsure of her family’s plans for the building moving forward.

“I don’t know but I love the building,” she said. “It’s a historical, beautiful building. I think it should be something wonderful for Nantucket and the islanders and people visiting the island. Now that they (the tenants) are out, I can refocus.”

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