Friday, April 29, 2011

Underneath it all: A Diamond in the Rough at 65 Pleasant Street

HBI's Jeff Gonyeau examines the new windows at the Anna Clapp Harris Smith house
One of our board members (who shall remain nameless) thinks that the Anna Clapp Harris Smith house is “terribly ugly.” While we disagree, we admit that, when we first came across the house, its appearance left something to be desired.

The Clapp House lost a lot of character in the 20th century: the exterior was covered in non-descript brown shingles; the windows were replaced with smaller 20th century aluminum framed windows; a Victorian period porch was installed that subsequently fell down; and the shutters, which once protected great historic windows, disappeared. While we knew this was a restoration waiting to happen, it wasn’t always easy to convince people that it was a treasure worth spending money on.

That all changed this month. Why? One word: Windows!

Here, take a look for yourself.

Anna Clapp Harris Smith house in the 1860s

Anna Clapp Harris Smith house in 2009, before HBI and North Bennet Street began work on the house

Anna Clapp Harris Smith house in 2011, with many of the 20th century alterations removed

Friday, April 22, 2011

It’s Not Easy Being Green: The Benefits and (Soft) Costs of LEED Certification

When approaching a rehabilitation project, project planners inevitably ask: will it be green? Often this question is actually asking: will the project be LEED certified? While the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program is based on well thought out principals, LEED certification requires more time, paperwork and money for both designers and contractors. Historic Boston is pursuing LEED silver certification for the Eustis Street Fire House project where we are witnessing firsthand the advantages and challenges of the program.

For a non-profit mission oriented organization like HBI, the expenses related to LEED are worth scrutinizing. The soft costs relating to LEED documentation typically add 3-5% to a construction project’s total development costs through time consuming planning and paperwork for architects and contractors. They must model energy usage and calculate “green points” that they hope the project will achieve during project planning, and then they must track products and reporting methods of delivery through documents provided by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC).

With preservation projects such as the Fire House, costs are particularly unpredictable because of the uncertainty of what will be found when we peel back layers of the building’s structural development. Already paying for resulting change orders stemming from this unpredictability, LEED documentation costs can make for a prohibitively expensive preservation project. At the Fire House, a small 2,520 square foot structure, costs related to LEED documentation are $35,000 (just for fees alone, and not including actual green building techniques or products). These costs raise the questions: If HBI can restore a structure and achieve the baseline LEED certifiable (but not certified) standards, and save tens of thousands of dollars through not undertaking LEED documentation, why complete an expensive certification process for no additional environmental benefit? Since LEED is an independent organization that created its own standards, is the program too nascent or arbitrary? Is it worth $35,000 of precious preservation project funds?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tracking Down Mr. Kittredge: Researching a Historic House

One of the only historic images we have of the Kittredge House- we hope to find others
While Alvah Kittredge’s name is connected to a house, a park, and a set of rowhouses in Roxbury, not much is known about him or his mansion at 10 Linwood Street. HBI, as the new owner of the Kittredge house, needs to better understand the building and its occupants in order to carry out well-informed preservation work there, and the best way to do that his through extensive research on the history and evolution of the house. Primary resources, such as insurance maps, city directories and building permits, provide a majority of the information about individual buildings and their owners. Photographs are possibly the most valuable resource and are sometimes the most difficult to find, as is the case for the Alvah Kittredge house.

Historic maps of Roxbury offer insights into the house’s numerous phases of alteration. Noted Boston architect Nathaniel Bradlee purchased the house in 1871 and made several changes to the wings on the south side, as you can see on the maps below.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Stuff-We-Find-in-Historic-Buildings #2: On Preservation and Pornography at the Hayden Building

This is the second in an occasional series that chronicles HBI’s growing collection of found items in the historic buildings where we work. We launched this series in February with a focus on the Roxbury Action Program’s years at the historic Alvah Kittredge House. This post looks at Chinatown’s Hayden Building.

When touring partners and colleagues around the Hayden Building, we find that we have a bit of explaining to do when we reach the second floor.  That’s where HBI keeps its porn collection.

Shhhh.  Don’t tell... Yes, you read that right.

You may remember Chinatown’s Lower Washington Street as Boston’s Combat Zone,  filled with peep-show parlors, rowdy bars, ladies “on the stroll” and faded vaudeville theaters screening porn flicks. For those of you who don’t remember how this area was well into the 1980s, then take a gander at this article from the Boston Globe, which describes a raucous, colorful world, clustered around La Grange street and the deteriorated, but still historic, Hayden Building.

That clues you in to the source of HBI’s unique little archive of commercial pornographic films, currently located on the empty second floor of the Hayden Building. According to Stanley Smith, longtime Executive Director of Historic Boston, the reels came from a theatre that was originally called Gordon’s Olympia, built in 1913 by renowned theatre architect Clarence Blackall (who also designed the Wang Theatre, the Colonial Theatre, the Tremont Temple and several other significant buildings in Boston). As the area became seedier, many fine theatres became porn palaces, and the Olympia, which was built for vaudeville, was ironically re-named The Pilgrim, a movie theatre that showed porn. 

We’ll let Stanley describe how he came by the reels in his own words: