Fire Tower Beach House

A Manchester-by-the-Sea couple repurposes a 1943 fire control tower for beach house accommodations.



Photos by Lea St. Germain

“This is a vertical land yacht,” Sherry Kelly laughs as she walks towards the front door of the 165-foot tower that crowns the hill in Manchester-by-the-Sea. With a PhD in pharmaceuticals Kelly works on transplant issues in the biotech industry. Her husband, Brian Kelly, is president of the Kelly Automotive Group. The now-empty nesters were looking to downsize when this lot on Gale’s Point, including the tower, went up for sale.

“We were looking for a little beach house,” Brian says. “We saw this, and could not resist. It’s fun!”

The tower, a prominent landmark on the waterfront of Manchester-by-the-Sea, dates back to 1943, when it was built by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of the defense of Boston Harbor. Lining the coast from Eastport, Maine, to Corpus Christi, Texas, these fire control towers (fire as in armaments, not flames) sent the coordinates of enemy ships and submarines to nearby gun battery locations. This particular tower monitored arms in Nahant and Deer Island. Of the 36 towers between Halibut Point on Cape Ann and the southern end of Boston Harbor, this is the tallest. It was made even taller when a previous owner added a cupola to make it look more like a lighthouse.

When the Kellys bought the tower, the reinforced concrete structure was bare, with eleven 13-by-13-foot rooms stacked atop one another. With design help from the Beverly architectural firm Siemasko + Verbridge and building services provided by Windover Construction, also of Beverly, they transformed each of those 11 rooms into delightful guest accommodations. Sherry’s “land yacht” idea provided design inspiration: each room features the finishes, fittings, and motifs of a luxury vessel. This includes cleats as door handles, porthole windows and mirrors, bathroom doors labeled “Head,” teak and holly flooring polished to a high gloss, crisp blue and white upholstery, and built-in beds and seating.

Luxury nautical décor does not preempt comfort. The second-story living room’s gas fireplace and built-in sectional sofa provide friendly lounging space for a small crowd, lush carpeting softens the bedrooms and sitting rooms, and the fourth-floor bathroom is as sybaritic as any land-based spa bath. Personal touches are everywhere, as in the eighth-floor bar, built to resemble the stern of a power boat named Indian Princess, a reference to Sherry, whose full name, Scheherazade, means “Princess.”

Each room has a specific function.

“This really is like a beach house,” Sherry says. “There is something fun in every room.”

The first floor offers a snack bar and half bath for people running in from the beach while the fifth floor serves as a children’s bunk room. The aerie-like eleventh floor round room at the top of the tower is Sherry’s Champagne Room, outfitted with a silver champagne bucket, a peaked upholstered ceiling, and a glittering chandelier.

Stairs climb to the seventh floor; at the higher levels, ladders do the job. All but the top level’s rooms are square, and the ninth and eleventh floors have encircling outdoor decks. While the Kellys installed air-conditioning, plumbing, heating, and electrical systems, the structure itself is as strong as when it was built during World War II.

“We were up here in a big storm recently, when the wind was howling,” Sherry says. “There was no movement whatsoever.”

Once it was part of our national defenses. But now, it’s just plain fun.

Photos by Lea St. Germain