(Courtesy the Boston Preservation Alliance.)
Which East Boston structures matter most to the community, and which are in greatest need of historic preservation? What commercial properties offer the greatest opportunities for redevelopment and reuse?
Those questions are a little easier to answer now that the Boston Preservation Alliance has released a draft of its report on historic preservation priorities for the neighborhood.
The report grew out of a series of one-on-one conversations and community workshops held last fall by the Alliance and Historic Boston Incorporated, in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and local groups including East Boston Main Streets.
Sarah D. Kelly, executive director of the Alliance, said residents pointed not to one or two significant buildings, but to a broad range of different types of structures that connected to different aspects of the community’s history. “That tells you something about the neighborhood,” she said. “It’s a neighborhood of diverse architectural styles and a variety of building types that signify a range of important events.”
To deal with the varied buildings and locations, the report identifies preservation opportunities in three categories, beginning with the one that elicited the largest number of response, religious properties. Under that heading, it highlights three sites: the Gothic-style First Presbyterian Church on London Street; the Temple Ohabei Shalom Cemetery and Chapel on Wordsworth Street, which was home to the first Jewish congregation in the state; and the former site of a synagogue at the corner of Paris and Gove streets called Ohel Jacob Hall, built in 1907, when the Jewish population of East Boston was around 5,000.
Other buildings of religious significance noted in the report include Our Saviours Lutheran Church, the St. Mary Star of the Sea Church, Our Lady of the Assumption, St. Lazarus Roman Catholic Church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Grace Federated Church, the Bates House in Monmouth Square, the Madonna, Queen of the Universe statue and shrine on Orient Avenue and the neighboring Don Orione Nursing Home.
Under public libraries, it lists the East Boston Branch Library on Meridian Street and the Orient Heights Branch Library on Barnes Avenue. The fates of both buildings are in question, as the city plans to build a large new branch library for the neighborhood at the northeast end of Bremen Street Park. Listed as an additional property of note in this section is a Webster Street home that reportedly served as a branch library until its closing in the 1950s.
The third category is a catch-all for a variety of sites and landmarks designated as unique East Boston features. Under that heading fall remnants and markers of Revolutionary War battles; historical pumps, pump stations and bath houses; the Boston, Revere Beach and Lynn Railroad Tunnel; the historic 9 Chelsea Street Clock.
The report also identifies more than 40 “additional properties and issues of note,” including the Woodbury Building at 191-201 Sumner Street, the Public Welfare Building on Maverick Street, the East Boston Post Office, the Wigglesworth Machinery Company building on Border Street, Brophy Memorial Park and the George Caledonia Building on Bennington Street.
Some sites and landmarks are easy to miss if you don’t know where to look, such as that street clock, or the remainder of cobblestones on Ida Street, but Kelly said those elements have a cumulative importance. “They don’t necessarily signify all that much on their own,” she said, “but in combination, they blend to help create the character of the neighborhood; they make it more distinctive.”
Accompanying the report is a Commercial Casebook chapter for the East Boston Main Streets district written by Historic Boston Incorporated. It identifies priorities for future development and preservation of historic commercial sites and will be compiled with similar chapters on each of the city’s Main Streets districts.
Properties identified as potential candidates for commercial redevelopment include the Public Welfare Building, the Italian American Veterans Post #6, First Presbyterian Church and several properties on Meridian Street: the East Boston Savings Bank, the four-story building at 75 Meridian, the commercial and residential block at 120 – 136 Meridian, , the East Boston Knights of Columbus Hall and the East Boston Branch Library.
The Alliance welcomes further input from community members on the draft report until the end of February. It will then close the comment period and complete the final draft, scheduled for release on March 15.
The Alliance will then circulate the report to key city and state agencies including the Boston Landmarks Commission, the Department of Neighborhood Development and the Massachusetts Historical Commission.
Email Jeremy C. Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)