Preserving Boston's neighborhood landmarks
When the bulldozer took a grinding run at the triple-decker house, neighbors charged into the street hollering ''You must have the wrong building,'' says Pat Canavan.Skip to next paragraph
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As coordinator of the new Boston Neighborhood Preservation Program (BNPP), Ms. Canavan makes sure that the neighbors are heard.
Now that many ''capital H'' historic landmarks have been saved, she says, it is ''time to move out into the neighborhoods'' with preservation.
The BNPP, which began this spring, works closely with neighborhood groups like the one in the Highland Park section of West Roxbury that stopped the bulldozer in its caterpillar track. Its goal is to save buildings that, although they probably did not shelter plotters of the American Revolution, are very important to a neighborhood's character. All of BNPP's targeted buildings are at least 40 years old and of historical or social value to their neighborhoods. And most have fallen victim to arsonists and vandals.
Jointly proposed by the Boston Landmarks Commission, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Boston Preservation Alliance, BNPP is funded through the Permanent Charity Fund of Boston. The fund is ''the way large corporations take care of their charitable giving,'' says Ms. Canavan, who as a consultant to the Landmarks Commission maintains her office in City Hall.
Concentrating in low- and moderate-income areas, the BNPP finds new uses for old buildings that will spur community development while avoiding displacement of neighborhood residents. Working with developers, the BNPP presents plans to the city which ensure that ''the city's interest complements that of the community,'' Ms. Canavan says.
Since the passage of the Economic Recovery Act of 1981, corporate interest in preservation has grown significantly. Since October the Massachusetts Historical Commission has received as many applications for historic designation as in the previous 12 months. Under the federal act, developers can take a 25 percent tax credit for investments in historic structures. Then, upon sale of their historic buildings, their capital gains tax is reduced.
But some observers are concerned that the edge these tax incentives gave to preservation efforts may now be lost, as the Reagan administration seeks to eliminate the Historic Preservation Fund. This would make no federal money available for preservation efforts.
Among Boston projects that are directly threatened by such a cutoff is the planned development of Commonwealth Pier as a national center for marketing high technology.
In joining the fight to restore federal funding of preservation, Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas (D) says preservation brings urban revitalization, economic growth, and energy conservation.Pat Weslowski, executive director of the Massachusetts Historical Commission, agrees, citing the renovation of the Charlestown Navy Yard as a ''good example of lots of different groups working together'' in a preservation effort that has generated jobs and private investment.