Beautiful Historic Home: Atop Prospect Hill, a House with a Turret—and a Murder Story
James and Dina Traniello inherited the family home, restoring the exterior and learning a gruesome story about one of its original inhabitants—a young woman who was murdered while away at college.
The Somerville Historic Preservation Commission held its Historic Preservation Awards cermony in May, and this summer Somerville Patch will feature the homes and properties that won awards.
Somerville writer Marian Berkowitz interviewed the winners to create profiles of the historic Somerville properties and the people who care for them.
Today, Berkowitz writes about James and Dina Traniello, who live in a house with a turret at the top of Prospect Hill. The late 19th-century home has been in the Traniello family since 1946, and it was once home to a young woman who was murdered during her senior year at Smith College.
Here's Berkowitz's story:
Near the top of Prospect Hill is Boston Street where I meet James and Dina Traniello, who recently earned a 2012 Preservation Award from the City’s Historic Preservation Commission. Their house is a towering Queen Anne home with a turret, perched on possibly the highest point of this Prospect Hill neighborhood, so high that the background appears to be totally blue sky. Unsure of the current entrance I notice on the very left side of the front porch an old screen door inscribed with a large "T", a clue that just perhaps this home has belonged to the Traniello's for at least a couple of generations. Given no answer at this entrance I wander around to the side where the Traniello’s greet me in their driveway, and point out the first unique feature of the property -- a porte-cochere, a covering over the driveway that extends from the side of the house -- and a reminder of the days when horse drawn carriages pulled up to discharge passengers as near as possible to their doorway.
The historic house is known as the Jenny Marden House, based upon the first owner when it was built in 1892 by Frank Webster Marden, a Boston oil merchant, for his wife Jenny. It is said that the Mardens were a prominent Somerville family with a daughter who attended Smith College, but was tragically murdered during her senior year by a former boyfriend. Hundreds of people attended the daughter’s wake in the house, but the Marden family did not remain for very long thereafter, and Mr. Traniello’s family was a second generation owner. His parents bought the house in 1946 after it had already been carved up into 3 apartments, a common practice in large single-family homes during wartime or hard economic times. His family occupied one of the three units and they did not see anything special about the house. While he and his wife Dina raised their own children in a nearby suburb, his parents lived in the same apartment until they passed on a few years ago. Now that their children have grown-up, they have decided to move back to Somerville and call this their home.
The Traniellos knew the exterior needed a lot of work, so they began by removing the artificial siding. They were pleasantly surprised to find the underlying original wood siding was still in relatively good shape, although certain details of the turret and the trim were missing. They conferred with the Preservation Commission and its Staff and restored everything with the utmost respect for the prior architectural detail, including the half cove style trim on the 3rd story and the porte-cochere pedestals using much of the original stone. They painted the siding a historic medium green color, with brick red for the upper level siding and Lennox tan for the trim. Complimenting this beautiful house is a gorgeous, copper beech tree that is possibly as old as the house. Mr. Traniello no longer looks at the house as he did as a child, rather appreciating it now both for its historic architectural charm and as a special family heirloom.