By Seth Daniel
The Charlestown Preservation Society (CPS) reported last week at its annual meeting that a historic property cataloguing effort last month by Protect Charlestown was a tremendous success and will be the baseline for working to protect more historic properties in the Town.
“The big thing we needed to do start documenting the homes we have in Charlestown that are historic,” said Ellen Kitzis of CPS. “Everyone is always so surprised that we have so many historic homes and we are not an historic district…There is a lot of frustration around the zoning process which is why the Protect Charlestown group is going around documenting these homes.”
The frustrations around that process surround many of the historic homes, such as on Solely Street and Oak Street, that were taken down in order to build newer developments. Though the CPS’s Design Review Committee (DRC) tried to slow down the development, there was little they could do to stop the tearing down of the old homes.
At that point last summer, the CPS decided it was time to begin looking into zoning changes and to talk with other neighborhoods, who it turned out, were having similar issues.
During two weekends in May, volunteers fanned out through Charlestown to find and catalog older, historic homes to create a database.
“We got more than 20 volunteers and the Committee had drafted a form that the volunteers used,” said Kitzis. “We blanketed the neighborhood for two Saturdays. We thought we would never find them all, but we had enough volunteers that we catalogued 347 homes. That information will inform our database…It’s important because when the houses come before the DRC for review, half the time we don’t know anything about them. Most of the time, we have to start from ground zero.”
Sometimes starting from scratch takes time, and many times it can be too late, she said, once the historical significance is realized.
Some of the things they documented were when the house was built, who the architect was, any architecturally significant aspects, whether or not someone famous slept there and other such notes about the history of the place.
With the information in place, the hope is that the CPS can push for more zoning protections absent instituting an official historic district – which some are hesitant to do for the fact that in some neighborhoods it can be overbearing or burdensome to private property owners.
Others, however, on the DRC aren’t so sure that having a unique historic district that is tailored to Charlestown might not be a bad path to explore.
The meeting was also noteworthy in that CPS awarded its annual Preservation Award to the Charlestown Working Theatre for its efforts to preserve the old Engine 32 firehouse.
In addition, CPS welcomed David Carlson, deputy director of urban design at the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).