Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Beacon Hill’s Charles Street Meeting House—History with Functionality

Guest Blogger, Mirko Kruse is a senior at Boston College majoring in Economics.  He is currently a Marketing Assistant at Argopoint LLC, and Chairperson for the Quality of Student Life Committee at Boston College. 

Take a casual stroll through Boston’s neighborhoods and you are likely to discover Boston’s rich, layered history tucked away somewhere amongst the high rises, sports bars and local shops and businesses.  Boston is a living scrapbook, with each block a reminder to the bustling crowds of locals, businessmen and students that Boston goes back…way back.   Perhaps no other city in America has integrated its history into the workings of a modern functioning city more so than Boston.  And there is no better example of this than Beacon Hill’s Charles Street Meeting House. 
The Charles Street Meeting House was completed in 1807 for the Third Baptist Church.  It was built along what was then the bank of the Charles River—long before the Back Bay began to be filled in—so that baptisms could be conveniently performed.  In 1836 the church’s segregationist seating arrangements, which kept blacks confined to the gallery, were challenged by a white abolitionist, Timothy Gilbert, who invited black friends to sit with him in his pew.  Gilbert was expelled from the church and he, along with fellow abolitionists, would go on to found the first racially integrated church in America, the First Free Baptist Church in Boston.  In subsequent years, the Third Baptist Church would change their position on slavery and the Charles Street Meeting House prior to the Civil War would become a locus for abolitionist activity.  Harriet Tubman, William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth, Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglass all spoke there.  The Church would undergo a series of transformations, first into the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1876 and then into the Charles Street Meeting House Society in 1939.  Conservation efforts began in 1949, although the structure would remain fully functional as a Universalist experimental church until 1979. 

The Alvah Kittredge House Restoration Breaksground!

On June 18th HBI celebrated the long awaited start of construction at the 1836 Alvah Kittredge House in Roxbury.  A crowd of more than 75 friends and neighbors braved the evening’s rainy weather and enjoyed a barbeque, tours of the Kittredge House and good company on Linwood Street and in the adjacent Kittredge Park.

Reverend Evan Hines of Eliot Congregational Church led off a speaking program that included Mayor Thomas M. Menino and HBI President Matthew Kiefer.  With the Kittredge House as backdrop, Mayor Menino recalled the long road to HBI’s $3.8 million restoration.  Vacant for twenty years and falling further and further into disrepair, the Kittredge House will be restored to its Greek Revival period grandeur, and transformed into five two-bedroom apartments, two of which will be designated affordable units.

The Mayor celebrated the preservation of “an architectural treasure,” and commended HBI for reaching this important milestone, calling the project “an investment in Highland Park, and an investment in the City of Boston.”  

Geoffrey Caraboolad, CEO of Metric Construction Corporation was acknowledged for his significant financial contribution to the Kittredge House project. The Highland Park neighborhood was congratulated for its advocacy and enthusiasm for preservation, and the many donors to the Trilogy Fund for Historic Boston – the capital campaign that has made the Hayden Building and the Kittredge House possible – were thanked for their generosity.

Regardless of the clouds that loomed that evening, the sun was definitely shining on Linwood Street.  Stay tuned here and click Follow by Email for construction updates and news about the Kittredge House’s progress.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A New Life for Historic Brook Farm

Inspired by the original Brook Farm community (1841-47) and by the natural beauty of the site, a group of local citizens is working with Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation
(DCR) to launch “New Brook Farm,” a community farm growing organic vegetables and fruits on the original site in West Roxbury.   It will also offer educational programs for all ages focusing on the history of Brook Farm, food systems, urban home gardening, food preparation and preservation.  Guest blogger and member of the New Brook Farm organization, Bill Tuttle, describes the project, which includes the historic Print Shop.   

With support from HBI, New Brook Farm, Inc. is seeking designation as the historic curator of the Print Shop and surrounding landscape at the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Brook Farm Historic Site inWest Roxbury.

A National Historic Landmark, Brook Farm was the site of an influential utopian community from 1841 to 1847 with close ties to the New England Transcendentalist movement.  The site subsequently served as the Roxbury alms house, as a training camp in the Civil War, and for more than a century as a Lutheran orphanage.  The 148-acre DCR site includes fields, wooded areas, and wetlands. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Finding Alvah Kittredge

The most elusive story of recent HBI projects is that of the original occupant of the Alvah Kittredge Housein Roxbury’s Highland Park: Alvah Kittredge himself.  We know from Kittredge genealogies that he was born in 1798 in New Hampshire and came from humble beginnings. We know he was a Roxbury Alderman and one of the founders of Forest Hills Cemetery from public records.  We know he was a cabinet maker and entrepreneur from furniture with his label that still occasionally is listed at auctions.  We know he was a devout orthodox Congregationalist and helped found the Eliot Congregational Church on Walnut Street in Roxbury from a sermon given from the church at his death in 1876.  We know he had several children, one of whom was responsible for Bombay India’s first horse-drawn rail cars.  And we know he is buried at Forest Hills near the other founders of the historic garden-style cemetery.

But it’s been nagging us that we don’t know what Alvah Kittredge looked like.  We had no knowledge of existing photos, paintings or sketches of this seemingly prominent man in any local archives.  But, as some might say -- especially in this case --  “the Lord works in mysterious ways!”   Pastor Evan Hines at the Eliot Congregational Church invited us to spend a Saturday morning at his church, one that HBI has worked with many times in the past, to talk about preservation plans.  We asked him about archives for his church, founded with the help of Alvah Kittredge in 1834.  He showed us a wall of record books and publications in his office and encouraged us to come back to peruse them.   On a tour of the building, though, we found more boxes and a stack of framed photos and asked if we might quickly sift through them.  Sure enough, there was Deacon Alvah Kittredge in not one but two photos. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Supreme Court denies Boardwalk appeal. With the Kittredge groundbreaking later this month, HBI eagerly awaits the IRS’s next move.

In the wake of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals’ Boardwalk decision, which denied the allocation of federal historic tax credits to the project’s corporate investor, a chilling effect descended over the historic tax credit market.  The deal structure utilized in Boardwalk, which was consistent with industry practice, focused almost exclusively on the transfer of tax credits while shielding the investor from any meaningful risk associated with the outcome of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall rehab project.  Boardwalk, then, sent a strong signal that this type of deal would face heavy IRS scrutiny, as opposed to a transaction that created a more substantial and legitimate project partnership between the developer and investor.  Unfortunately, while Boardwalk gave an indication of what type of transaction structure would not pass muster, it provided little in the way of a clear set of rules for the industry to follow in structuring project partnerships moving forward.  As a result, investors, including the large corporations that have regularly invested in historic tax credits, are wary and have been reluctant to reenter the historic tax credit market as they wait for the questions raised by Boardwalk to be answered.