Highland Park is Boston’s newest architectural conservation district

After receiving approval from the Boston Landmarks Commission, Mayor Wu, and City Council, the Highland Park neighborhood of Roxbury became Boston’s newest Architectural Preservation District on June 29, 2022! The purpose of the Architectural Conservation District designation is to allow members of the Highland Park community to have a voice in shaping their neighborhood, and to protect and enhance the unique heritage of the Highland Park neighborhood.

44 years of creation
Highland Park Water Tower

The petition to designate Highland Park as an architectural conservation district was first submitted to the Boston Landmarks Commission in 1978. At the time, the idea of ​​designation lacked broader neighborhood support, so the designation effort stalled. Interest was revived periodically over the following decades. In 2018, after several years of raising awareness in the neighborhood that culminated in a signature drive that showed strong support for the Architectural Preservation District, a group of neighborhood supporters from the Highland Park Neighborhood Coalition Preservation Committee revived the petition demand. at the BLC. A study committee was formed of 6 neighborhood residents and 5 landmark commissioners. Remarkably, one of the original signers of the 1978 petition, Ernest (Randy) Coston, was a member of the study committee that finally completed the designation effort 44 years later!

Reach out to the community
Photo of the Highland Park community with elected officials in front of the Highland Park water tower

In addition to reviewing, revising and adding to the Highland Park study report produced by a consultant, the study committee also undertook the important task of community outreach. The committee has made it a priority to reach as many Highland Park residents as possible, including those who may not have internet access or who speak a language other than English. To this end, in addition to using email and social media, the Committee printed thousands of paper flyers in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole and Somali and distributed them throughout the neighborhood. Community outreach events were held both virtually using Zoom and in-person in the community (outdoors due to the Covid pandemic).

A unique neighborhood

It was clear that Highland Park would be a unique district when the study committee began developing the guidelines and they decided to cast the model based on standards from other Boston districts. The study committee wanted to start from scratch and write fully personalized guidelines. They wanted to avoid strict regulations that could be financially burdensome for a mixed-income community. They also wanted to recognize that the change was part of Highland Park’s history and that the guidelines should allow for a degree of flexibility. After extensive deliberation, the review committee produced a set of guidelines it deemed appropriate for the district. The draft study report was publicly released in February 2022, opening a 60-day period for public review and comment before a public hearing. After reviewing public comments, the study report was revised and republished for a second public hearing. Hearing the strong support expressed by community members, the Boston Landmarks Commission voted unanimously in favor of the district on May 10, 2022. The designation also received enthusiastic support from Mayor Wu and the City Council, receiving full approval June 29, 2022. .

About Highland Park
Elliot Square, late 1800s Photo courtesy of Historic New England

The Highland Park area is also known as Fort Hill or Roxbury Highlands. The district is historically significant with respect to the social and cultural history of the native population, the people of Roxbury, the city of Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the United States. Rather than representing a single identity or group, representatives of many different social groups produced a rich fabric of many dwelling styles intermingled with places of worship and a few places of business. The past activities of all these people are clearly identified in the landscapes, buildings and improvements they fashioned: the Native Americans who occupied the area for thousands of years; the first settlers; and later immigrants from all over Europe and more recently from Africa, Central America, the Caribbean and other places.

The Highland Park ACD is also architecturally significant as a collection of building styles and types that demonstrate Roxbury’s development from an agricultural settlement to a fashionable 19th-century streetcar suburb of Boston, and finally to a dense urban district. Buildings in the neighborhood span over 250 years and offer a nearly complete array of architectural styles and types found in Boston.

Some historical highlights:
  • Boston, including Roxbury, is the traditional homeland of the people of Massachusetts, who are still there. Native people have been in the area for at least 12,500 years. The Highland Park area was a cultural and transportation center for the people of Massachusetts.
  • In 1630, members of the Massachusetts Bay Company settled Roxbury near what would later become John Eliot Square, establishing small farms in the hilly but fertile uplands.
  • Roxbury was of strategic importance in the American Revolution. During the Siege of Boston (1775-1776), the two forts in the Roxbury Highlands were essential to the defeat of the British, who had occupied Boston.
  • In the 19th century, the development of Highland Park accelerated as the development of mass transit increased the connection to downtown Boston. The neighborhood began to transform into a fashionable suburb.
  • In 1864 the prominent abolitionist and newspaper publisher William Lloyd Garrison moved to Highland Park, living at 125 Highland Street until his death.
  • Highland Park was also home to author Edward Everett Hale. Hale was one of the most prominent Unitarian ministers of the second half of the 19th century, and was also a vocal social reformer, advocating for Irish famine relief, fairness to Native Americans, and educational opportunities for the former slaves.
  • Highland Park also hosted the first philanthropic ventures at institutions such as Roxbury Alms House, St. Luke’s Convalescent Home, Norfolk Settlement House and many others.
  • At the end of the 19th century, a large number of immigrants settled in the region from Ireland, Germany, Italy, Latvia and Scandinavian countries, as well as from the maritime provinces of Canada. Many were drawn to the industrial jobs in Lower Roxbury. From the late 19th century to the 1950s, Roxbury was also home to a large Jewish community which extended south to Mattapan.
  • The mid-20th century saw an increase in the black population as residents migrated to the region from both the southern United States and the West Indies. Between 1950 and 1960, Roxbury became the center of Boston’s black community.
  • Roxbury’s Latino population also grew in the postwar decades, beginning with the arrival of immigrants from the Dominican Republic in the 1950s, as well as immigration from Puerto Rico in the late 1950s and 1960.
  • In the 1960s, Roxbury became a center of grassroots activism and community organizing to address inequalities in housing, education and employment and systemic discrimination in the form of divestment and redlining. During this time, Highland Park saw the emergence of a vital black community with its own community educational institutions like Paige Academy (founded by Dr Angela Paige Cook and Reverend Joe Cook), as well as initiatives to mutual aid like the Highland Park 400. Survival garden.
  • The Roxbury Action Program (RAP), founded by George Morrison and Lloyd King, has provided many services to the community including the rehabilitation of residential and commercial properties.
  • Famed filmmaker Henry Hampton owned 88 Lambert Avenue and made a substantial contribution to American culture while heading Blackside, Inc., the largest black-owned film production company of his time. Blackside, Inc. has produced more than 65 civil rights documentaries, including Hampton’s Peabody and Emmy award-winning series “Eyes on the Prize,” covering the civil rights movement from 1954 through the mid-1980s.
  • In 1989, the Highland Park area was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Roxbury Highlands Historic District. Since the listing of the district, it has remained relatively stable, but there have been some notable demolitions.
  • Today, Highland Park is a vibrant and diverse neighborhood that residents are proud to call home. Community and civic engagement is highly valued, and residents of Highland Park can get involved in community life by joining a network of organizations actively engaged in community development and problem solving.
  • With the new Highland Park Architectural Conservation District (ACD), neighborhood residents can now also serve as Highland Park ACD Commissioners or assist in Commission decision-making by providing public feedback!