Letter to the Editor

Have fun –  and help preserve our historic Town!

Dear Editor:

Last fall, the Charlestown Preservation Society (CPS) launched a new Task Force entitled Protect Historic Charlestown (PHC). The mission of the Task Force is to help protect the historic character and the architecture of Charlestown in partnership with the City of Boston.

The team’s key goals are initially to focus on modification of zoning laws and review processes to create a more supportive environment for preserving and protecting historic properties. These may include removing shortcuts that facilitate the demolition of historic properties, or the modification of parking requirements to exempt single family residences from automatically receiving street parking. The long-term goal is to develop a sustainable approach to protecting our historic buildings that is consistent with our legacy as the oldest neighborhood in Boston.

Our first project, entitled “Know our Town,” aims to improve the inventory and documentation of our historic streets and properties. We are launching our new initiative on Saturday, May 14, and we will continue the work on Saturday, May 21st. May is Preservation Month in Boston. There will be lots of activities around the city, but the most critical in Charlestown is developing a street–by-street inventory of our oldest homes. The first step in this process is to take photographs and complete short descriptions of the external features of the houses on assigned streets.

We need interested residents, students, and business owners who are willing to spend a few hours supporting this important work. We’re asking volunteers to meet at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 14, at Memorial Hall at 14 Green St.

Coffee and donuts will be available for volunteers. After a brief training, pairs of volunteers will fan out on the streets of Charlestown to help complete the survey. All you need bring is a phone or digital camera to take pictures. We expect survey teams will spend two hours – or more, if they can.

While we know where some of the historic buildings in Charlestown are located, less than 10% of the homes in Charlestown are currently documented in the MACRIS database, the on-line database of the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC). This database provides historical information on building dates, current ownership, style, historic ownership, and other points of historical interest. We want it to include all the oldest houses in the neighborhood.

Why do we care? The smartest initial step in any building construction work or permit request is to review the proposed changes in the context of the neighborhood and the historic importance of the property. The Design Review Committee (“DRC”) within CPS is frequently struck with how little knowledge it can immediately access about our older homes.  This affects our ability to protect the properties and manage appeals before the Zoning Board.  When these homes become targets for demolition, the situation is even more imperiled and time-sensitive.

While we know that our long-term goals will take months (if not years), this is a chance to get us off on the right foot. So, please put your walking shoes on and join us in this very important first step!

Ellen Kitzis President, Charlestown Preservation Society

William Lamb, Chair CPS Design Review Committee

John Benson, Chair CPS Protect Historic Charlestown

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