Thursday, December 30, 2010

We Resolve....

We in the history business often take the long view and, by nature, rarely pause to note the passage of another 12 month rotation. But let’s be honest: no one has quite the same thoughts on New Year’s Eve as on any other night of the year. It’s time to take stock and plan our year.

By now you know that HBI did well in 2010. Our five projects underway are valued at more than $6 million in development, and our pipeline is bursting with another $8 million in prospects and growing…. But there’s no rest for the weary, so we’ve set our sights on new resolutions for 2011:

1. To finish what we start. Our projects at the Harris Clapp Smith House, the Golden Building, and All Saints Ashmont in Dorchester will be completed this year. The Eustis Street Fire House in Roxbury won’t be considered complete until we move into it in June. And, while we hope to have stabilized the 1836 Alvah Kittredge House in Roxbury, the job there won’t be completed until the building is fully restored and activated for new uses.

2. To make Boston better. Certainly HBI’s new “place” in Roxbury and a location closer to the neighborhoods we serve will make us better this year, but our work through the Historic Neighborhood Centers initiative will push harder on revitalization in Boston’s neighborhood commercial districts and drive transformative projects like the Roslindale MBTA Substation where HBI’s work can re-activate a landmark and expand the local economic base.

3. To expand our resources. To do all the projects we’d like over the next three to five years, HBI needs an equity pool of nearly $5 million. We will expand our investment fund this year through a strategic fundraising effort in honor of our 50th anniversary. But resources are more than money. HBI as an organization will grow by expanding the capacities of its staff and board, and we will look to attract more neighborhood stakeholders to the cause of preservation through their direct engagement with project planning and investments.

4. To be a good partner. HBI’s partners are resources too, but they deserve special attention because they bring a special ingredient – good will – to our work today and, we hope, for many years to come. We built the base of a solid partnership with the North Bennet Street School in 2010 with the “Handmade Houses” revolving fund for early building preservation in Boston. That will grow this year, but we expect this to be the model for our new engagements with others across many sectors.

We wish you a happy and healthy New Year in 2011. Now, let’s get to work.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Congratulations to The SWITCH, Hyde Park!

Congratulations to Pat Tierney of The SWITCH, Hyde Park, for winning the City of Boston’s annual “Deck the Windows” contest. Tierney, who owns the Logan Square commercial block, is working with Historic Boston to develop a larger plan for the building, which also houses the historic Everett Square Theatre. In recent months, Tierney has renovated the space that now features the award-winning holiday window design. To activate this long-vacant storefront, Tierney came up with the idea to operate it as a “pop-up” store, where small businesses, non-profit organizations or individuals could rent out the space for a day, a week, a month, or more. The pop-up store space can be used to sell merchandise or to hold events.

The contest, which is held city-wide each December, brings attention to Main Street district businesses by showcasing storefronts decorated for the holidays and inviting residents to vote on their favorites.

Please join Historic Boston in congratulating Pat Tierney for a winning window- and for a winning business idea for her historic building! Visit The SWITCH’s website for more information about the space, including how to rent the store. For more information about the contest, see the City’s website or this article by the Boston Globe.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

East Boston Preservation Priority Plan

In spite of the cold, more than 20 East Boston residents and business owners gathered at the Central Square Social Center to discuss what was important to them about their neighborhood. The meeting, convened by the Neighborhood Preservation Partnership (a collaboration of Historic Boston Incorporated and the Boston Preservation Alliance), was the last of several meetings held in East Boston to determine the historic preservation priorities for this unique Boston neighborhood.  

Friday, December 10, 2010

Show and Tell: HBI tours Friends and Colleagues around Boston projects

As a non-profit real estate development organization, one of the most engaging ways to tell the story of Historic Boston Inc is to gather people together and simply show them projects that are underway. Last week, HBI did just that by inviting about 45 friends and partners to visit five preservation projects underway in Boston’s neighborhoods.

The tour kicked off in Chinatown at the Hayden Building (1875). There, tour participants heard about plans to redevelop the building and were able to explore the upper stories of the Boston Landmark, which is H.H. Richardson’s only remaining commercial building in the city.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Breaking Down Barriers: Accessibility and the Rehabilitation of Older Buildings

While gearing up to begin construction on the 1890s commercial building at 1510-1514 Dorchester Avenue, HBI experienced first-hand the challenges inherent in balancing the need for undertaking substantial building improvements and providing accessibility in a distressed older building. HBI’s project team applied for a variance to the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board (AAB) in August that would permit our façade rehabilitation project to go forward without a providing a lift or elevator to the second floor. However, the AAB members made it known that they believed providing vertical access to the second floor could and should be accomplished, and requested that HBI and the building owner pursue it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Thanksgiving Dinner We Wish We Could Have

Welcome to HBI’s Virtual and Progressive Thanksgiving Dinner!

We won’t wait until year-end to express our gratitude for the professional guidance and good will of so many project partners and friends who helped us launch construction on several important preservation projects in 2010. Instead, the dedicated Staff and Board of Historic Boston Inc. will host the best dinner-you-wish-you-could-have so we can give thanks! Here’s the menu:


Parish of All Saints, Ashmont (1892), Dorchester
All Saints Vestry & Building Committee, Fr. Michael Godderz, John G. Waite Associates, Program Manager Jennifer Mecca, Julie L. Sloane Stained Glass Restoration and a very generous Anonymous friend.

Appetizer Course

Anna Clapp Harris Smith House (1804), 65 Pleasant Street, Dorchester
North Bennet Street School Preservation Carpentry Program, History Improved, Sara Chase, City of Boston (Inspectional Services Department, Boston Landmarks Commission, City of Boston Archeology Lab), the 1772 Foundation, Mrs. Dorothy Hudson, Dorchester Historical Society, Mohawk Masonry Services, Essex Restoration, Building Initiatives, Shawmut Construction and Structures North.

Main Course

Eustis Street Fire House (1859), Dudley Square, Roxbury
Building Initiatives, LLC, Bergmeyer Associates, Inc., Structures North, R. W. Sullivan Engineering, Fitzmeyer & Tocci, GEI Consultants, Inc., H.W. Moore, Lee Kennedy Company, North Bennet Street School, Tremont Preservation Services, MacRostie Historic Advisors, Boston Fire Historical Society, The Victorian Society in America, Goulston & Storrs, Appleby & Wyman Insurance, Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, Nolan, Sheehan, Patten, City of Boston (Mayor Thomas M. Menino, the Department of Neighborhood Development, the Boston Landmarks Commission, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, and the Boston Department of Public Works), Representative Byron Rushing, Dudley Square Main Streets, Massachusetts Historical Commission, Massachusetts Department of Revenue, UMASS Amherst Archaeological Services, Barbara Donohue Archaeology Services, George B. Henderson Foundation and the Edward Ingersoll Browne Fund.

Dessert Course

1510-1514 Dorchester Avenue (1890’s), Fields Corner
Stephen and Debbie Golden, Amory Architects, Kevin Piccinin and K&B Construction, Fields Corner Main Street, Inc., Viet-AID, Historic Neighborhood Centers Advisory Committee Members, Alan Issokson, Dorchester Historical Society, Boston Main Streets, City of Boston (Mayor Thomas M. Menino and the Department of Neighborhood Development) and the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board.

After Dinner Drinks & Conversation

Roslindale Substation (1911), Roslindale Village: Roslindale Village Main Streets, the Boston Redevelopment Authority; Alvah Kittredge House (1836), Roxbury: Structures North, Amory Architects, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Tremont Preservation Services, Michael Mawn, AM Fogarty, the Boston Preservation Alliance; and the National Trust for Historic Preservation; Hayden Building (1875), Chinatown: CUBE Architects, Marc Truant and Associates, Structures North, and RW Sullivan. Everett Square Theater (1915), Hyde Park: Hyde Park Main Streets, Patricia Tierney, Bergmeyer Associates, and the Edward Ingersoll Browne Fund. Finally, for all of the above: Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Getting a little bit closer to heaven?

Scaffolding pinned up against the exteriors of buildings is a pretty common sight around Boston, but on the inside? Sometimes that’s what it takes to get a close look at high-up architectural features inside soaring interior spaces like those found in many houses of worship.

Starting this summer, John G. Waite Associates Architects (JGWA) began working on completing a historic structures report for The Parish of All Saints, Ashmont, in Dorchester. This important church is the first religious building designed by Ralph Adams Cram and Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, whose collective work greatly influenced church design in America in the first half of the 20th century by breathing new life into the Gothic Revival style. Funded by an anonymous foundation, HBI is helping the congregation manage the preparation of an historic structures report that will document the history and evolution of this building, which became a stylistic and literal model for many churches across the country.  The report will also include an existing conditions analysis and a prioritized scope of work that will lay the groundwork for critical repairs to this National Register listed building.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

At Last! Construction Begins at Eustis Street Fire House

On a sunny, spring-like day last week, men in hard hats with heavy equipment rolled up to the Eustis Street Fire House to begin the process of bringing new life (and light) to the long neglected historic building .

The first order of business: electricity! Like most people, the NStar personnel , there to dig the trench that will bring power to the structure, were intrigued by the history of the fire house and plans for its future. So when they discovered a layer of cobblestones in the street, which would make their work a lot more difficult, they cheerfully offered to stockpile them for us for future use - perhaps to incorporate into our new walkway. (To see how Eustis Street looked when it was paved with cobblestones, see the historic image at the bottom of this blog post).

It has taken much more time and effort to start rehabilitation of the fire house than anyone expected. But with the help of a committed and creative team that patiently helped us navigate through every unimaginable obstacle, we’ve arrived. We look forward to sharing lots of updates and photos on our progress in the months to come as we work our way toward a spring ribbon-cutting celebration.

Monday, November 1, 2010

New Life for an Old House in Dorchester

Historic Boston and the North Bennet Street School Preservation Carpentry program were thrilled to receive a visit from Boston Neighborhood Network (BNN) news last month at the Anna Clapp Harris Smith House at 65 Pleasant Street in Dorchester. Check out the video below for more information about the house and the goals of the project.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Boston Welcomes New National Trust President

While Stephanie Meeks declared herself to be on a listening tour to Boston on October 1st, she gave the distinct impression of someone who recognizes preservation as a community revitalization tool for urban neighborhoods.

As the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s new president, Stephanie visited HBI’s project underway at the Eustis Street Fire House in Roxbury’s Dudley Square, toured the South End’s Washington Gateway, and Dorchester’s Upham’s Corner to see the work of Boston’s Main Street programs where the Boston Preservation Alliance, HBI and the City of Boston have collaborated on preservation strategies over the past two years through the Trust-funded Partners in the Field grants.

Over coffee, Stephanie questioned HBI, BPA, City and Trust staff about the tools and resources needed to make preservation and preservationists more effective in Boston. She is looking to understand the places where the National Trust can play a unique role. Some of the things she is exploring include a national revolving fund that provides capital and capacity for preservation projects, and ways to bolster and expand the role of the well-heeled National Main Street program.

Stephanie noted that more Americans now live in urban communities than in rural. We are impressed with her clear understanding of the importance of community based preservation programs and projects to urban communities, and equally impressed with her interest in diversifying the pool of people and partners engaged in that work.

HBI looks forward to a long and fruitful partnership with Stephanie and her colleagues at the National Trust.

For more information about Ms. Meeks, please take a look at this video interview.

Friday, October 22, 2010

MIT's Sustainability Lab and Historic Boston Present a Carbon Calculator

In April, we blogged about a project of the 1772 Foundation and MIT’s newly formed Sustainability Lab to measure and compare the carbon outputs of new construction with historic rehabilitation. Historic Boston’s project at 65 Pleasant Street was the test case that was used to build a dynamic carbon impacts model in Excel that might be used by policy makers and green building planners going forward.

The purpose of the model was to compare the carbon impacts of preserving an existing building versus demolishing that structure in favor of building a new, highly efficient green building of the same size. Too often, energy efficiency is examined in the static context of energy consumption per year and the associated carbon impacts. Certainly a highly efficient, newly constructed building requires far less energy to operate than the 204 year old house at 65 Pleasant Street. However, energy consumption does not account for the myriad carbon impacts of sourcing, processing and assembling the raw materials necessary to create a new green building. This model allows users to examine buildings over time with a comprehensive view of not simply operations, but also construction and maintenance.

The webinar (linked in three sections below) explains more about the specific mechanics and potential adjustments that can be made to the model and whether it is truly greened to build new or preserve the old. The question remains, how can this tool be best applied to project planning and public policy? We’d enjoy your feedback, left in comments or directly via email (

MIT/HBI Carbon Calculator Webinar, Part 1
MIT/HBI Carbon Calculator Webinar, Part 2
MIT/HBI Carbon Calculator Webinar, Part 3

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Boston Preservation Alliance Convenes Religious Properties Workshop

Join the Boston Preservation Alliance for a workshop on the preservation of Religious Properties for Boston congregations with historic buildings on Saturday, November 13, 2010 at Roxbury Presbyterian Church from 8:30 to 3:30 p.m. Designed to help congregations and their leadership with stewardship of their historic religious buildings, this workshop provides guidance on assessments, prioritization of repairs and restoration, building management and fundraising. For registration, details and directions, click here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Browne Fund Supports HBI Projects in Roxbury, Dorchester and Hyde Park

Historic Boston is pleased to report that the Edward Ingersoll Browne Fund for the City of Boston announced $110,000 in grants this week for HBI preservation projects in Dudley Square, Fields Corner/Dorchester, and Hyde Park.

The Browne Fund designated $75,000 to the Eustis Street Fire House for the preservation of exterior decorative elements of the building including the richly carved brackets and eaves of the building, the sandstone window surrounds and restoration of the firehouse door. It also includes re-creation of the 19th century “Torrent Six” sign that identified the early volunteer fire brigade that occupied the firehouse.

Monday, October 4, 2010

BRA Designates HBI and Roslindale Main Street for the Roslindale Substation

Last week, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) granted Historic Boston Incorporated and Roslindale Main Street interim designation for redevelopment of the Roslindale Substation, a 1911 industrial building located in the center of Roslindale Square. The Substation, vacant since the 1980s, is currently owned by the BRA. The two non-profit organizations, who worked together in 2002 to create a feasibility study for the building, will come together again to determine a viable use for the complex building.

In 2008, the BRA sought proposals from private developers, which resulted in several strong submissions with creative re-use ideas for the substation. The troubled economy, however, changed the credit markets and the viability of these proposals. The BRA withdrew the last round of RFP submissions because none were financially feasible.

As non-profit development organizations, Historic Boston and Roslindale Main Street have access to resources unavailable to private developers and don’t require the same fee structure that many for-profit developers need in order to complete small but complicated projects like the Roslindale Substation. Both organizations are committed to putting together a great project that will preserve the historic Substation building and provide uses that will serve the vibrant Roslindale community.

Overlooking Adams Park in Roslindale Square, the Roslindale Substation was built as an electrical power conversion and transmission station, constructed as part of the Boston Elevated Railway's rapid transit system in 1911. Designed in the Neo-Classical Revival style by the Stone and Webster Engineering Corporation and architect Robert S. Peabody, the Substation converted alternating electric current (AC) transmitted from a new South Boston Power Station via underground cables into direct current (DC) for use by local trolley cars. With advanced technology for the day, this system generated and distributed additional power at lower costs. The construction of the substation in 1911 also marks a time when Roslindale was expanding and becoming a very popular suburban residential and commercial neighborhood. The electric trolley car system helped to spur on that development and settlement.

For more information about Historic Boston’s lasting interest in the Roslindale Substation, please read more here.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Commercial Casebook Selections from St. Marks Area Main Street District

Last week, we introduced St. Mark’s Main Street district on the blog, where HBI has been working to compile information for our growing Commercial Casebook. Today we share some of the buildings that are included in the St. Mark’s Main Street district chapter.

Through HBI’s work in St. Mark’s, we discovered that the district’s historic buildings reflect three broad categories of building types. There’s an impressive assembly of late 19th and early 20th century three story mixed-use buildings that emulate the Boston three-decker, housing retail businesses on the first floor and residences above. There are many one-story early 20th century cast stone commercial/industrial blocks that house retail operations. And there are several prominentinstitutional and religious buildings concentrated mostly near Peabody Square that developed to support the late 19th and early 20th century development of the St. Mark’s area. While there are several very significant and well known historic structures in St. Mark’s, HBI chose to look at buildings that are threatened, underutilized or whose rehabilitation might prove a catalyst for broader economic revitalization.

Here at Historic Boston, we often look towards the contextual buildings that make up our city’s architectural fabric. Some may question the significance of these buildings and many are surprised that an organization that focuses on historic preservation would ever take a second look at some of the buildings found in the Commercial Casebook. However, HBI feels that a rehabilitation that focuses on uncovering some of the lost or altered architectural features, paired with a strong, thoughtful plan for the building, can produce district- changing results.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Commercial Casebook: Profile of St. Mark's Area Main Street

As the project manager for Neighborhood Field Services, Shelby Graham is compiling what we refer to as the "Commercial Casebook", which identifies pivotal historic resources in Boston's neighborhood commercial districts whose preservation will contribute to their neighborhood's character and future economic growth. Shelby also seeks to build relationships with neighborhood representatives and property owners, giving them a link to HBI should they wish to pursue a redevelopment project or need technical support. After a year of this work, HBI has created a valuable compendium of historic commercial buildings in Boston's neighborhood commercial centers, which we hope will be useful to policy makers, property owners, local organizations and city-wide preservation leaders going forward.

Over the summer, Shelby worked with St. Mark’s Area Main Streets in south Dorchester to pull together information about the district for Commercial Casebook and found a very interesting neighborhood with a range of different building types from distinct periods.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Building a Foundation at 65 Pleasant Street

Editor's Note: This week's blog post comes to us from Ward Hamilton, of Olde Mohawk Masonry and Historic Restoration. Mr. Hamilton is the principal of the firm and has performed many masonry preservation projects throughout New England.  Olde Mohawk has been working on stabilizing the foundation of 65 Pleasant Street over the past few weeks. Below, he shares a bit of his experience with the project.

The photos below show the work being done on the foundation wall- including a "before picture" of the foundation dangerously bulging in the basement, and the "after" picture of the repaired foundation.

When it comes to rebuilding a section of collapsed foundation wall, post and beam structures pose challenges that modern, stick-framed structures do not. With stick-framed houses, floor joists span the tops of the foundation walls and the walls of the building sit on those joists; support the joist, support the house above. Pretty straight forward, right?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Keeping Track of Boston's Historic Buildings: the Roslindale Substation

Historic Boston keeps track of at-risk historic buildings in Boston, even if the time isn’t right for their preservation. In 1980, HBI published the first Preservation Revolving Fund Casebook to identify a group of buildings that were both historically significant and threatened by demolition, neglect, or development. While some of those buildings have succumbed to development pressures, happily, many of the buildings that we have identified over the years have been rehabilitated or are in the process of being redeveloped (including the Eustis Street Fire House, which was included in the 1985 Casebook). Regardless of their fate, Historic Boston has been closely watching certain historic buildings for decades, and often gets involved when there is a need.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Remembering the Spanish American War in Roxbury. Do You?

As we earlier blogged, Historic Boston is not the first group to reuse a Boston fire house. In fact, we aren’t even the first group to reuse THIS fire house at Eustis Street. During the first few decades of the 20th century, the Eustis Street Fire House was occupied by a different group of public servants: Spanish American War Veterans.

As firefighting technology advanced quickly in the last decades of the 19th century, fire houses built to house handheld equipment were modified with stables to accommodate horse-pulled trucks. However, as bigger and more automated equipment came into use, the tiny fire houses of an earlier era could not house the new machines. New, larger fire stations were built and the smaller fire houses were left vacant or reused. In 1916, Ladder 4 in Roxbury moved to the new station on Dudley Street. It was at this time that the City leased the Eustis Street Fire House to a Spanish American War Veteran post.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Q&A with Susan O’Connor of the Timothy Smith Network

Editor’s Note: Historic Boston is thrilled that the Timothy Smith Network will be joining us at the Eustis Street Fire House as our first floor tenants. This week, we took the opportunity to get to know the organization a bit better by speaking with their Executive Director, Susan O’Connor.

Historic Boston: Who was Timothy Smith, and how was the Network formed?

Timothy Smith Network: It is fitting that the Timothy Smith Network is moving into Dudley Square because Timothy Smith, who was a wealthy Roxbury merchant, made his fortune in Dudley Square in the late 19th century. He resided in Roxbury for most of his adult life, was a life trustee of Roxbury Latin School, a member of the Boston Athenaeum, and a deacon at Eliot Congregational Church. When he and his wife, Mary Ellen, both died in 1918 their last will and testament specified that the proceeds of their bequest be utilized to benefit the highest number of residents of the “old” City of Roxbury which at the beginning of the twentieth century included parts of Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill, and the South End, along with the present day Roxbury. Although the Smiths could not have imagined technology centers named in Mr. Smith’s honor, their foresight set the stage for a quiet revolution that would occur in Roxbury eighty-seven years later.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Moving forward through the past

Editor’s note: The following post was contributed by Brian Willet, principal at History Improved, a construction company specializing in renovation, revitalization and preservation of historic structures. History Improved has recently conducted selective demolition to help HBI and the North Bennet Street School identify structural issues and learn more about the way 65 Pleasant Street has changed over time.

Stories of old houses often talk about hidden treasures; whether it’s gold buried in the backyard or money hidden in the stairs during the Great Depression. Most “treasures” found in old houses are not nearly so glamorous. Many times a prior owner has simply lost an item. When she was eight, my wife found a gold and amethyst broach while walking through a plowed field at her family’s farm; a lost piece of family history, perhaps? Sometimes it’s everyday objects that have no value, but now connect us to the past, such as finding someone’s family photo that was slipped into a wall. Discovering these objects seem to erase time, connecting us with the past. Finding everyday objects of former residents extends their life to the present and allows us to imagine living in the past.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Update on the Eustis Street Fire House

After a terrific groundbreaking ceremony at the historic Eustis Street Fire House in May, you may wonder: where’s the construction? Historic Boston Incorporated is ready to go, but some land access issues related to our abutter, Harrison Supply Company, have prevented the closing on our loans and financing. HBI is working with the owners of Harrison Supply’s site and the City of Boston to secure an easement for access over 300 square feet of land along the side of the fire house that will allow us a secondary egress from the rear of the fire house once preserved. We also need temporary construction period easements for the period of construction. These are all being resolved with representatives of Harrison Supply and their bank.

Sadly, it’s a little more complicated than we’d like, but with the active participation of the BRA and DND, we’re getting closer and would like to assure everyone that it is only a matter of time before we get beyond these legal matters and underway on site. Our goal is to start in September. Anyone should feel free to call Lisa Lewis here at HBI (617 227 4679) with questions or concerns. Thank you, as always, for your ongoing support.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Downtown Crossing’s Silver Lining

Every cloud has a silver lining. When Historic Boston lost a major tenant from the Old Corner Bookstore retail space a few months ago, we were obviously very disappointed. The money that HBI earns from its properties supports the organization’s operations and projects. HBI is also committed to helping Downtown Crossing thrive in this otherwise lean economy. We’ve taken this less-than-ideal situation and turned into a positive outcome for us, for Downtown Crossing, for a few of our partners. With prospects for a new retail tenant few; HBI opened the Old Corner’s doors to the students of the North Bennet Street School for their annual student exhibit.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Genesis of a Revival: Suffolk University’s Modern Theater

Seven years ago, structural engineer John Wathne attached a video camera to his son’s toy remote truck and let ‘er rip across the second floor of the Modern Theater on Washington Street in Boston’s Theatre District. He wasn’t certain the floor would hold him. Wathne had been hired by Historic Boston to assess the structural integrity of a long abandoned building that had been open to the elements for decades and was now facing demolition due to public safety concerns. But how did this 1876 building, which contains Boston’s first purpose-built movie theater, get to this point? Let’s back up.

In 1876, architectural firm Levi Newcomb and Son designed the five story Ruskinian Gothic structure, known as the Dobson Building. The brownstone warehouse was home to a carpet showroom until 1913 when Boston philanthropist George R. White hired renowned theater architect, Clarence Blackall, to insert a theater into the first floor. Blackall designed a three story, 800 seat auditorium for the viewing of “high class photo plays” and adorned the exterior with a marble faced arched entry. The theater, which later became known as the Mayflower, showed movies into the early 1980s (though mostly in the adult category starting in the 1960s). As Boston’s Theater district fell into decline, so did the Mayflower. The building fell out of use and sat vacant for more than 20 years.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Congratulations, Chrystal!

Historic Boston congratulates board member Chrystal Kornegay for her recent selection to participate in the NeighborWorks "Achieving Excellence in Community Development" program in collaboration with Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Kornegay, who is the CEO of Urban Edge, a community development corporation (CDC) based in Boston's Jamaica Plain and Roxbury neighborhoods, will be one of 49 leaders from across the country that will participate in the program. For more information, see the article in Banker and Tradesman.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Rising from the Ashes: Recycled Fire Houses around Boston

For obvious reasons, the Eustis Street Fire House is very special to Historic Boston. As the oldest extant fire house in the city of Boston and one of the few that was built to house human powered fire equipment, it is significant historically. It is the oldest remaining building in Roxbury's Dudley Square and together with the adjacent Eliot Burying Ground and nearby 1870 Owen Nawn Factory, form a historic district that anchors the northern section of the business district. With all it’s well-preserved architectural detail, we think it’s one of the most distinctive (and attractive!) buildings in the city.

So, we began to wonder about the fate of other historic fire houses in Boston and discovered many that have taken on new uses over the years. Clearly Boston is as dedicated to re-using its old fire houses as it was to building them. Once you start looking, for these fire houses, you realize that they are EVERYWHERE! We have profiled a few of these re-used fire houses below. Take a look and soon you too will be spotting fire houses everywhere you look!

Harvard Avenue, Allston

The village of Allston began to experience considerable growth in the 1870s and soon needed the necessary municipal infrastructure, such as a post office and a fire house. The first fire house, constructed of wood, was built in 1876. It was replaced by this more substantial yellow brick fire house in 1890, and was occupied by Chemical Engine Company 6. In 1914, the building’s front façade was altered when the fire department added a second apparatus door.

On April 5, 1916, Ladder Company 14 was reorganized at this firehouse. Ladder 14 had been in service at Fort Hill Square, Downtown from January 30, 1893 to April 23, 1915. Engine 41 and Ladder 14 remained at this firehouse until June 15, 1977 when the companies moved to a new firehouse at 460 Cambridge Street in the Union Square section of Allston. The firehouse at 16 Harvard Avenue was closed on that date.

The building was sold and converted into office space and retail uses on the first floor.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Rounding out Roslindale Village

Last week, we shared a few of the buildings that had been selected for HBI's Commercial Casebook in Roslindale Village (the week before, we told you a bit about the history of Roslindale Village). Today we have the balance of the Roslindale Casebook Chapter. HBI believes that  if the following buildings were rehabilitated or rethought, that they could could strengthen the economic viability of the commercial district.

Through conversations with neighborhood stakeholders, tours of the district, and a lot of research into the history of Roslindale’s built environment, Historic Boston identified the following properties to list in our Commercial Casebook, along with some information about the buildings’ significance.

Parkway Building: The Parkway Building is a two story building located on the corner of Washington and Poplar Streets, with the primary façade facing on Washington Street. The distinctive parapet features decorative panels separated by bold piers topped by ziggurats. Building permits show that the Parkway Building replaced a 1 ½ story wood stable building that was razed after two horses fell through the floor in the middle of the night. The building was developed by John Basile of Basile Realty Company, a local contractor that developed several commercial and residential parcels in Roslindale (including the commercial building at 4196 Washington Street, on the corner of Basile Street). He hired Maurice Levy, a relatively unknown Boston architect who also designed residential homes in Jamaica Plain’s Woodbourne neighborhood. Levy designed an underground extension in the rear to accommodate plans to build bowling alleys in the basement of the building. The first floor has always contained commercial retail uses, such as pizza shops, bakeries and hair salons, while the second floor was used for office space. The attractive Art Deco commercial block is a significant character defining feature for the commercial district.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Party at 65 Pleasant Street!

There was a party at the Anna Harris Smith house on Wednesday night. Over 60 neighbors, friends, and representatives of the North Bennet Street School, the Animal Rescue League, the Dorchester Historical Society and Historic Boston Incorporated mingled on the lawn of 65 Pleasant Street on a balmy summer evening. Many explored the house, peaking into its several rooms and examining period details like Federal style mantles and fireplaces, all while experiencing the tilting floors and those lovely crooked walls.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Selected Properties from the Roslindale Village Commercial Casebook

Last week, we told you a bit about the history of Roslindale Village and introduced Historic Boston’s Commercial Casebook. This week we’re presenting a summary of Roslindale Village’s most historic buildings that, if rehabilitated or rethought, could strengthen the economic viability of the commercial district.

Through conversations with neighborhood stakeholders, tours of the district, and a lot of research into the history of Roslindale’s built environment, Historic Boston identified the following properties to list in our Commercial Casebook, along with some information about the buildings’ significance.
Roslindale Substation: Located in the middle of Roslindale Square, the Roslindale Substation is an electrical power conversion and transmission station, constructed as part of the Boston Elevated Railway's rapid transit system in 1911. Designed in the Neo-Classical style by architect Robert S. Peabody, the Substation converted alternating electric current (AC) transmitted from a new South Boston Power Station via underground cables into direct current (DC) for use by local trolley cars. The construction of the substation in 1911 also marks a time when Roslindale was expanding and becoming a very popular residential and commercial neighborhood. The electric trolley car system helped to spur on that development and settlement. Today, the Substation is owned by the City of Boston and is awaiting redevelopment. Once rehabilitated and with the establishment of a new use, the Substation will be an anchor for the district and activate this section of Washington Street across from Adams Park.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Historic Boston's Commercial Casebook: Profile on Roslindale Village

While Historic Boston’s Jeffrey Gonyeau is currently working on projects in the Fields Corner and Hyde Park commercial districts with HBI’s Historic Neighborhood Centers program, Shelby Graham is working her way around the city as the project manager for Neighborhood Field Services, compiling information about historic resources in 17 other neighborhood commercial districts.  With the goal of identifying places whose preservation will contribute to their neighborhood’s economic strength, Shelby also seeks to build relationships with neighborhood representatives and property owners, giving them a link to HBI should they wish to pursue a redevelopment project or need technical support. After a year of this work, HBI has built a lot of good will and support for preservation as a part of Main Street activity in Boston, while creating a valuable database of pivotal historic commercial buildings in Boston’s neighborhood commercial centers. This will be useful to policy makers, property owners, local organizations and city-wide preservation leaders going forward.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Behind the Scenes at the Anna Clapp Harris Smith House

How often do you get to see the inside of many privately held historic houses, particularly before they’ve been restored? Here’s your chance. The public is welcome to join us at 6:30 PM on June 23rd as Historic Boston Incorporated and the North Bennet Street School host an open house at the Anna Clapp Harris Smith home at 65 Pleasant Street to present the history or the site, preservation plans underway, and a sneak peak inside the house to see building elements that mark the earliest period of house (1804).

Friday, June 4, 2010

Anticipating the Future in Allston

HBI received several calls last week from neighbors to the Palestinian Cultural Center for Peace and Yousef Mosque at 41 Quint Avenue in Allston. The newest owner of the property, Anwar Faisal, has been making significant landscape changes to the south side of the property with dirt and fill meant to re-grade the sloping landscape for parking. Wasn’t there something that could be done to stop it? Known historically as the Allston Congregational Church, this beautiful 1891 Richardsonian Romanesque church building was home to a vibrant congregation for more than 100 years until 2003 when its shrinking membership decided to sell the church to another religious denomination.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

MyDotTour: Connecting Fields Corner Youth—and Us!—with their Neighborhood’s Past

Historic Boston is excited to be partnering with mytown, Inc. and several Dorchester-based organizations to develop MyDotTour—a program of youth-led historic walking tours of Fields Corner, one of HBI’s Historic Neighborhood Centers program districts.

MyDotTour’s local partners also include the Dorchester Environmental Health Coalition, the Dorchester Historical Society, Dotwell, Fields Corner Main Street, Inc., and the Vietnamese-American Civic Association. MyDotTour represents the first time that such a variety of organizations in Fields Corner with varying missions has come together to work on a project, and it will be the first successful attempt to develop a tour program like this in Dorchester.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Block Party Kicks off Rehabilitation of New HBI Home in Roxbury

Historic Boston Incorporated kicked off construction at the Eustis Street Fire House last Saturday with a festive “Revival” for 200 neighbors and friends on Eustis Street in Roxbury. It was a long awaited celebration of local history and Dudley Square’s revitalization. By most estimates, it was also a triumph of patience and dedication.

The distinctive brick building on Eustis Street in Roxbury, built in 1859, was in peril from years of neglect. Twenty years ago, HBI was instrumental in installing large wooden supports to keep the walls from falling down. Over the years, many have hoped that the building would be redeveloped with a new use, but no one was sure what to do with the small building.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Vision Thing: 1510-1514 Dorchester Avenue Project

If we’ve learned anything from HBI’s Historic Neighborhood Centers program so far, it is that commercial property owners often need some special convincing before embarking on a preservation-based improvement project.

By late summer, HBI will begin construction at 1510-1514 Dorchester Avenue in Fields Corner, and the building’s unattractive bronze-color corrugated metal siding is at the top of the list of things to go.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


HBI’s paper and electronic files for the Eustis Street Fire House are thick with 31 years of efforts to save the building: a 1981 Boston Landmarks Commission study report that placed the fire house in the Eustis Architectural Conservation District; the 1979 HBI Casebook calling the Fire House one the most threatened places in the city; a 1991 letter that pleads with the City’s Public Facilities Department (PFD) to remove a half-fallen ell so as not to destabilize the whole building; a 1992 proposal to PFD from HBI with elaborate architectural drawings to restore the building with three housing units and a retail space that was never acted upon; and there’s a whole set of engineering specs and drawings from HBI to PFD for a wooden bracing system meant to arrest the building’s precarious lean toward the Eliot Burying Ground which, this time, was acted upon by the City (click on slideshow below for letters, casebook entries, old photographs, and more).

No matter. In the world of historic preservation, patience is a virtue. In their incremental ways, these efforts – along with many others from Roxbury’s concerned neighbors and friends – are culminating with victory. We launch the rehabilitation of the Eustis Street Fire House on Saturday, May 15th at noon.

Friday, May 7, 2010

May is Preservation Month!

What makes a place important to you? A personal experience? A family memory? An interesting story? A place of beauty or familiarity?

If you take a look at the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s website, you can see images of people holding white signs in front of places from across the country, all of them telling that world that “This Place Matters." The photographs, individually and collectively, are poignant reminders of the range of places and stories that make up the human experience. In this industry, too often we honor photos of historic buildings --the “before” and “after” shots – as static representations of architecture and style. This campaign does something different: it spotlights places through the eyes of the people who care about them.