Guarded carefully by two armed members of the Colonial Charlestown Militia, Mayor Martin Walsh and Abraham Lincoln Post President Joe Zuffante took the podium at Memorial Hall Monday afternoon to highlight more than $11 million given out citywide this year for historic preservation under the new Community Preservation Act process – including a $500,000 grant given to help restore stately old Memorial Hall.
“The CPA Committee has been phenomenal,” said Zuffante, who with several partners has taken the Hall from completely derelict to well on its way to being restored completely. “I can’t thank everyone enough. Memorial Hall has been a foster child. The building has been wallowing in disrepair. We’re going to bring this building back to the way it should be…It’s been an amazing journey. I’m the president now, but I’m standing on the shoulders of many who came before me.”
The Abraham Lincoln Post has united with the Charlestown Preservation Society (CPS) to form the Friends of Memorial Hall, which has spearheaded the fundraising efforts to restore Memorial Hall.
With preservations advocates from Charlestown to Hyde Park in attendance – including former Senate President Billy Bulger and his wife, Mary – Mayor Walsh said he was extremely grateful to be able to oversee the distribution of these kinds of funds.
The CPA is meant for three specific investment purposes, including affordable housing, historic preservation and open space. Walsh said that many times in the City Budget, funds are devoted to affordable housing and open space. However, it’s really only in the CPA where preservation dollars can be counted upon.
“We have made historic investments in affordable housing and open space in our City budget,” he said. “The one area, quite honestly, that didn’t have support in the public realm was historic preservation. That’s why this ballot question in 2016 was so important. When I ask how these folks made it work, they said they often had to rely on philanthropic organizations, that someone would find their project worthwhile. It was a process of clumping a bunch of checks together to get something done. It’s not to say that still doesn’t happen, but having the CPA, they really have money that they can rely on and know there are opportunities there.”
State Rep. Dan Ryan said, “I congratulate the Abe Lincoln Post and the Preservation Society for their successful application to the Community Preservation Act program. This is a great state program that Boston voters overwhelmingly voted to opt into. The budget passed in the House this week reflects the popularity of this program statewide. Matching funds from the State were increased dramatically for FY’20. I thank the Mayor’s Office, Councilor Edwards and the City’s CPA office for their attentiveness to Charlestown projects in this round of funding.”
Mayor Walsh also said that he was proud that money went to restore a place like Memorial Hall that was so full of history and so neglected in the past.
“The generation that fought in the Revolution for our freedom built this Hall,” he said. “The people who fought in the Civil War for our country cherished this place. As mayor, I’m proud to preserve this cherished legacy…This is what historic preservation is all about, and what the CPA is all about.”
It is a long stride from where the Hall was just two or three years ago. Long neglected and, at one time, in nefarious hands, few in the Town even knew the status and history of the Hall. With the Town now fully on the side of restoration, Monday’s citywide event drew great attention to the long history of the Hall and the great efforts made to preserve it.
Julie Hall of the Historical Society and Amanda Zettel of the CPS both said they have fielded calls from WCVB’s ‘Chronicle’ news magazine that is looking to do a feature on Memorial Hall – all of which could draw more attention to fundraising from philanthropic organizations.
The Community Preservation Fund is capitalized primarily by a one percent property tax-based surcharge on residential and business property tax bills that began in July 2017. Mayor Walsh and the City’s Community Preservation Committee (CPC) most recently recommended 56 projects from all three categories, totaling more than $34 million, for inclusion in the fall funding round for the Community Preservation Act (CPA). The projects were approved by the City Council last month.
“Through investment, policy, and collective will we can maintain the walkable, human-scaled streetscapes that define our neighborhoods, give us a sense of place and identity, and draw millions of visitors, residents, and businesses to our city,” said Alison Frazee, assistant director of the Boston Preservation Alliance. “The Community Preservation Act makes this work possible. As the first and only major funding source for historic preservation in the city, we are thrilled to see money going in the door of transformational projects like Memorial Hall.”
The Friends of Memorial Hall are planning a large gala to help raise more money for restoration of the Hall on May 18, 6 p.m. in the Hall. Memorial Hall was originally built by Revolutionary War veteran Samuel Dexter in 1791. After the Civil War, the Abe Lincoln Post members tore out the second floor living quarters and replaced it with a spring-loaded dance hall/function hall.