Group to survey LMA’s historic buildings

January 10, 2014
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LMA—The Boston Preservation Alliance will conduct a survey of the Longwood Medical and Academic Area’s (LMA) historic buildings, with Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) footing the bill as part of a deal over its upcoming demolition of a century-old structure.

Greg Galer, executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance (BPA), says the City needs to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to historic preservation—studying an area for historic buildings, then moving forward.

That is what he hopes comes out of the survey, which will update and expand existing records held by the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) and the Massachusetts Historical Commission. BLC Executive Director Ellen Lipsey was unavailable for comment.

As part of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the BLC and BCH over BCH’s century-old 55 Shattuck St. building, BPA is being paid $40,000 for the survey. An MOA is a document formally describing a relationship.

BCH plans to tear down the 55 Shattuck St. building, along with the historic Prouty Garden, and replace them with a new clinical building.

The Friends of Historic Mission Hill, which criticized the demolition of 55 Shattuck St., unsuccessfully petitioned BLC to landmark the building. According to the Friends of Historic Mission Hill, the building was originally a hospital for infants, starting in 1914, before being purchased in 1921 to become the headquarters for the Harvard School of Public Health, according to the statement. During the 1970s, it was purchased by BCH, becoming an administration building.

“My preference was to save the building. That would have been a lot of people’s preference. But sometimes that is not viable,” said Galer, noting that a balance needs to be struck between growth and preservation.

He said that a compromise was reached where the building was not landmarked by BLC, which would have prevented BCH from tearing it down, and having some preservation mitigation. Besides BPA’s survey, BCH will conduct its own historic building review for its campus and will also document the 55 Shattuck St. building before demolishing it.

Galer said he expects the BPA survey of the LMA won’t start for a few years, as the organization will not receive the money until BCH has its building permits for 55 Shattuck St. He said he hasn’t spent a lot of time looking specifically at the LMA, but that there is a wide variety of property, ranging from hospitals to commercial buildings to row houses.

“There is a little bit of everything,” said Galer.

He said space is “precious” in the LMA, and if the continued growth of the institutions is left unchecked, “you would lose any sense of neighborhood.” Galer said the edges of the LMA feel like a neighborhood, but those edges are being lost to institutions.

Galer said that preservation is “not about freezing the city in time, but about making better decisions.” He circled back to his motto of being proactive rather than reactive. Galer said if a survey of an area is already done, a potential buyer of a historic property would know the complexities involved before attempting to tear down or alter the building. He said he looks forward to talking to the new mayor, Martin Walsh, about this philosophy.

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