Annual CPS House Tour Set for Saturday

September 22, 2016
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By Seth Daniel

Seven diverse Charlestown homes will be featured this coming Saturday, Sept. 24, in the Charlestown Preservation Society’s (CPS) popular House Tour.

This year the homes on the tour – which are not revealed until the day of the tour – will feature examples of newer homes, older homes with a modern twist and traditionally preserved homes – in addition to featuring St. John’s Church, which is celebrating its 175th Anniversary.

Ellen Kitzis, president of CPS, said the ticket sales are going great and they expect to bring many people from the Town and a lot of people from out of town too.

“Half of our pre-sales are from outside of Charlestown,” said Kitzis. “We have people from Concord and Lincoln and other neighborhoods in Boston too. They’re now coming in from the suburban communities to take a look at our Town…We expect around 500 people on the tour. That’ up substantially from 2012 when we had 300 people. The sponsorships we have with Caldwell Banker and Hammond has expanded our reach to other communities. That’s good because it brings so much positive publicity to our Town.”

In particular, CPS said they were trying to show examples of the fruits of preservation, particularly when they are trying to fight against the demolition of historic homes and buildings in Charlestown, which does not have a Landmarks District like other historic neighborhoods in Boston.

“We will have a home on Soley Street and there are wonderful homes along Soley Street that are wonderfully preserved,” she said. “Yet other people are reading down homes on the same street. That’s whey the fundraiser is so focused this year on what we’ve been talking about – re-defining zoning laws and talking about the value of preserving architectural characteristics in a neighborhood. We also want to stress what it is to be a family-oriented neighborhood and not just a condo neighborhood. The House Tour is one of our most visible programs and a main funding source for our efforts…We often forget we are the oldest neighborhood in the city.”

The Tour began in 1971 when it was put together in three months and went off spectacularly. It was a bi-annual event and got bigger and better every time it was held.

Part of the magic of the tour is choosing new homes and showing the variety of styles in the neighborhood.

Amanda Zettl, head of the House Selection Committee, said they would be showcasing as much about the homes as they would about the people living in them. She said there would be a wide variety of family living situations and how those families have made their historic homes fit their living situations.

“All the homes are really well preserved and have been kept in the traditional layout except for opening a doorway or closing a doorway,” she said. “One home has an original oven in the fireplace. They decided to keep it in the character of the home. They could have easily blown it out, but they decided it was important to keep it…One home added an additional story to the house, but they did it in a way that it is set back and can’t be seen from the street so that the historic character of the cobble-stone street is preserved.”

She added that it is a tough decision to allow strangers to tour one’s home, but she said there are many different motivations to put a home on the Tour.

“One woman wanted to show you can live in Charlestown with older kids,” she said. “She has kids in high school and wanted people to see that they don’t have to move to the suburbs when kids grow up. They have made the Charlestown lifestyle work for them. Another couple is committed to preservation and wanted to do something to help us raise money. Another woman, who is an executive at Wayfair, wanted to use the opportunity to show off the work she and her husband have done by themselves. They renovated the house themselves. They scraped the plaster off the ceiling for hours and hours  and re-plastered it afterward. They are excited to be at a point where they could finally open it up.”

Charlestown’s David Hennessey will have his Monument Square home on the Tour, and he said he is excited to show how preservation can give a window into the past, as his home is a single-family home that is uniquely preserved.

“Our house is a big house,” he said. “Because of what happened in the historic period of Charlestown, about all the big homes were cut into rooming houses. I think its exciting for people to see what it was like to have a single-family home with 17 people living in it and servants too.”

Added Kitzis, “Our population now is about 16,000, but it was 40,000 people at its height. A lot of homes we live in today were designed for many, many, many more people with multiple generations. There wasn’t the idea of everyone having a room of their own. It was many people in the same space and eight or nine kids in the home.”

Another great feature of the tour is for visitors to see how homeowners have creatively brought homes into the modern era, such as emphasizing kitchens in homes where kitchens were built as an afterthought.

“Kitchens weren’t for families to use,” said Kitzis. “They were for servants to use. Now, the kitchen is a major part of the home and a place where people and families gather and spend time. It’s interesting to see how people have worked around the limitations of kitchen space in old homes…People use every bit of their house.”

Finally, the gathering place this year for the start of the tour is at Memorial Hall on Green Street, a building that is one of the oldest in the Town, but also one that has hit hard times.

“It’s one of the oldest buildings in Charlestown still standing, originally built in 1792,” said Kitzis, who noted that there is a significant preservation effort now being entered into for the old Hall.

Other highlights include:

  • An original 1903 Steinway piano that is prominent in one home.
  • An exceptional collection of Asian art will be on display in another home.
  • A shuttle bus will run between the various homes.
  • An industrial warehouse from 1969 that has been converted into a family home and commercial space.