Buzzards Bay Landmark in Danger of Demolition

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Currently threatened with demolition, the Radome in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, has served as a navigational landmark since the Cold War era.Steve Melo

Any sailor who's ever voyaged up the west side of Buzzards Bay or into Padanaram in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, knows the distinctive structure on Round Hill point; it's undoubtedly the most prominent landmark. "The martini glass," as some locals refer to it, isn't just some whimsical structure with mere sentimental value. Just pick up NOAA Chart 13230 or 13229, and you'll see it referred to as Radome. It has national, and perhaps even international historical significance, and now it's in real danger of being torn down by the new owner of the property, Boston venture capitalist James Bevilacqua, who reportedly paid $8.5 million for the property on which the tower sits.

The base of the structure was originally built as a water tank around 1920, on the 240-acre estate of the late Colonel Edward Howland Robinson Green-son of Hetty Green, the infamous "Witch of Wall Street". By 1924, Green invited scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to make Round Hill a center for experimenting with transmitting radio waves. The MIT connection eventually led to top-secret experiments during World War II and into the Cold War era, and it was MIT that added the giant antenna, now referred to as the radar dome.

The property was sold to a religious order in 1964, then to the town of Dartmouth in 1968; the late philanthapist Gratia "Topsy" Montgomery bought it in 1970. Montgomery's house was actually built partially within a World War II gun placement, and that building, too, is conceivably in danger of demolition.

Green's opulent mansion has long since been converted into condominiums, and a number of other condos and luxury homes have been built on the property. But the tower has always survived, and rightly so. Dartmouth harbormaster Steve Melo points out that the tower serves as a vital reference point to those lost or stranded offshore. He said that he's used it as a landmark at least a dozen times in the past three years to help guide people safely into the harbor who were lost or disoriented.

As word has spread about the potential demise of the tower, Melo has been receiving frantic requests from hordes of local sailors asking him to save it. "I only know a few people who want to see it torn down," said Melo. "The person who paid too much money for the property, the engineer who'll get paid to demolish the tower and build a McMansion, and the attorney who's been hired to see that it all happens."

On April 2, the builder of the proposed home went before the Dartmouth Historic Commission as a first step in obtaining a demolition permit. The commission denied his request, and voted 7 to 0 in favor of the tower's significance. A public hearing is set for April 30 at 7:00 p.m. in Room 103 in Dartmouth Town Hall. All interested parties, especially all sailors who cruise Buzzards Bay, are urged to attend and discuss ideas to preserve the tower.

For now, the historic commission's vote has bought the radar dome six months. If there's no solution after that deadline, then who knows? Sailors may have to use a McMansion to guide them on their way to the Cape Cod Canal.