Kissing Cousins

Based on some recent conversations, there appear to be a few popular misconceptions regarding MedHC and its role. Here, we’ll try to address the (very) common confusion between the Medford Historical Commission and the Medford Historical Society and Museum.

(1) The Medford Historical Society and Museum is a private archive and museum supported by member donations. They describe their mission as “to collect and preserve the history of this historic city, to correct the myths that had grown up over the years, to build a historical library, to collect the artifacts of local history, and to celebrate historical anniversaries. In 2013, [they] added “Museum” to [their] name to mark [their] organization as a keeper of the city’s material and historical archives and artifacts.”

(2) As for, us, the Medford Historical Commission, we are a board of 7 Medford residents, each appointed by the Mayor and, together, we are one of Medford’s many Boards & Commissions. We are “the official city body charged with the identification of properties and sites in the city of historical significance, and the principal advisor to the city on matters relating to historic preservation. The Commission is further charged with reviewing all requests for demolition of buildings constructed more than 75 years ago or that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places or the Massachusetts Register of Historic Places.” The Historical Commission was established under Section 8d of Chapter 40 of the Massachusetts General Laws and Chapter 48 of the Medford Municipal Ordinances.

Most of our neighboring towns and cities have a Historical Commission, or similar board, for demolition review and related oversight.

But wait, there’s more!! (3) The city of Medford also has a Historic District Commission. Like the Historical Commission, the District Commission is an official City Board.

The Medford Historic District Commission was established in 1985 under Section 4 of Chapter 40C of the Massachusetts General Laws and Chapter 48 of the Medford Municipal Ordinances. This commission is the official city body charged with administration of the city-designated Historic Districts. This Commission’s role is to ensure that any visible changes to properties within the Historic Districts enhances, rather than detracts from, the area’s historic character. The Commission can issue certificates of appropriateness, certificates of non-applicability, and certificates of hardship with respect to construction or alteration of buildings and structures within the historic districts. By preserving the historic character of the Historic Districts and Medford in general, the goal of the Commission is to sustain and improve the significance of Medford’s place in American history and to increase the cultural and monetary wealth of Medford residents. Carefully managing the appearance of historic neighborhoods has benefits for all property owners.” (As explained by the Historical Society and Museum (!!) in their effort to clarify our differences, now posted on their News page.)

Still confused? Fair enough – we are all involved in the work of sharing, preserving and protecting Medford’s history as best we can.

This is the second post in a series of Clarifications & Corrections. The first post in the series was “Pro-Active Preservation,” about our ongoing survey and inventory research; in that post we wanted to address the misconception that the HC *only* identifies historic properties when they are about to demolished.

Pro-Active Preservation

The same press release from City Hall that announced the city’s new permit database, also announced the introduction of BidNet, an online system for accepting applications for city jobs put to bid. This includes the Historical Commission’s survey of historical properties, a proactive measure to identify and research historical properties in Medford’s neighborhoods. This year, our applicants for the job – which is a survey of the Medford side of the Winter Hill neighborhood – will submit via BidNet.

Our ongoing survey project has been funded annually by a state grant, with matching funds from the city, and employs independent architectural historians to research and document the history of city’s houses, buildings and neighborhoods. These findings are then recorded in the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS), where the public can access them.

One of the only buildings in Medford’s Winter Hill that has already been researched is the Medford Street Fire Station at 52 Medford Street. Research done in 1974 suggested that the fire station “is of sufficient quality to merit consideration for reuse should it no longer serve as a fire station in the future.” In fact, it has been preserved as a residential building, and retains the “decorative moulded brickwork, modillioned cornice” and “well-executed granite retaining walls” the earlier researchers noticed. All of these beautiful exterior details are still visible on a quick stroll or drive by the fire station at 52 Medford Street. And, looking forward, we trust that our upcoming survey will identify and help preserve other early buildings from Medford’s Winter Hill past.

Medford Street Fire Station, built 1895. Renaissance Revival with 3-storey square bell tower. Image from the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS).

Based on some recent conversations, there appear to be a few popular misconceptions regarding MedHC and its role. Hopefully, this post can help address the misconception that the HC *only* identifies historic properties when they are about to demolished. Consider it the first in a series of Clarifications & Corrections.

Do they even have a *permit* for that?

The question has been asked a million times – online or over the back fence. And now, there’s an answer – in late July, the city announced an online permit application process AND SEARCHABLE DATABASE.

“The City’s Building Department launched an online permitting system through CitizenServe, offering all applicants for permits available in the Building Department to submit applications and documents online. To access the online system, visit www.medfordma.org/departments/building-department.”

That said, residents can also SEARCH the permit database! You do have to hit the “Apply for a Permit” button, but that takes you to a page where you can actually search for permits – including, of course, demo permits.

Winter Hill Neighborhood Property Survey RFP Available 8/17

Outline of the Winter Hill Neighborhood. Oriented to the north.

In collaboration with the City of Medford Procurement Office, the Medford Historical Commission is pleased to announce that beginning on August 17, 2020, RFP 21-0191 for the Winter Hill Neighborhood Historic Property Survey will be available on the City’s online procurement platform. The following is our official announcement and how to get a hold of the documents:

LEGAL NOTICE

CITY OF MEDFORD

REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS

21-0191

Winter Hill Neighborhood

Historic Properties Survey

The City of Medford (City) is seeking proposals from qualified historic preservation consultants to undertake an intensive-level, neighborhood survey of cultural and architectural resources in the Winter Hill neighborhood of the City of Medford.

This project is being Electronically Bid (E-Bid).  Requests for Proposals will be available beginning Monday, August 17, 2020. Proposal Documents will be available online at:

https://www.bidnetdirect.com/massachusetts/cityofmedford.  All plan holders must have an active online account on http://www.bidnetdirect.com to acquire documents, receive project notifications, and to submit your technical and price proposal electronically.  

Proposers must meet the following minimum qualifications: a Bachelor’s degree in Historic Preservation, Architectural History, History, Art History, or a closely related field, plus at least two years full-time experience in an area relevant to the project; or a Master’s degree in any of the above mentioned areas.

All proposals shall be submitted online to http://www.BidNetDirect.com prior to September 17, 2020, at 2 p.m.   Hard copy proposals will not be accepted by BidNetDirect.com. or by the Awarding Authority.  You can register to become a proposer online at http://www.BidNetDirect.com.  For assistance, contact BidNetDirect.com at 800-835-4603.

Each Proposal shall be submitted in accordance with the Instructions within the RFP.   It is the responsibility of prospective proposers and or bidders to check http://www.BidNetDirect.com for new information via any addenda or modifications to this solicitation.  Addenda will be emailed to all Plan holders registered with BidNet.

Questions regarding this Request for Proposals must be written and submitted via BidNetDirect.com.

As noted above, all addenda shall be sent via BidNetDirect.com and emailed to registered Plan holders.

The City reserves the right to reject all proposals, in whole or in part, as determined to be in the best interests of the City and to waive minor informalities.

Shab Khan

Chief Procurement Officer

Additional information about the project area can be found online in the Survey Plan for South Medford at:

http://www.medfordhistoricalcommission.org/survey-plan/

August Agenda

We are still holding our monthly meetings on Zoom, and this month our meeting will start at 7:30 PM Monday, August 10th. Zoom info is in the agenda, below.

On the Agenda is a potential new initiative, in collaboration with Medford’s Community Preservation Coalition, to assist homeowners with preservation projects.

Also on the agenda are further discussions of the recent city council meeting (see video here), and concerns we share with the Building Department about review of permits for gut rehabs and demolitions.

Finally, our members will be joining the Historic District Commission for their public meeting at 6 PM, on Zoom. This public meeting will discuss a proposed Historic District to protect the Haskell-Cutter House. More on the home, and proposed district here.

“Gut Rehab” Concerns

If you’ve noticed an older property in your neighborhood that’s been *almost entirely* demolished in the renovation process and you’re wondering what’s up, you are not alone. Your Historical Commission has also been concerned about this trend in Medford development.

Below, see the full text of our recent letter to the Mayor on this issue –

A recent example on West Street, in the Hillside neighborhood.

Long story short, we’re worried that “the Building Department has rubber-stamped applications for building permits in a manner which has permitted property owners and developers to circumvent mandatory demolition review by the Historical Commission.”

If you have concerns as well, or examples from your neighborhood, please be in touch with us, or contact the mayor to support our letter!

July Agenda

There will be no new business discussed at our July meeting. But if you’d like to drop in to ask questions or share news, Zoom info is included in the agenda document.

If you’re looking for something more lively, be sure to check out the upcoming ONLINE program hosted by the West Medford Community Center this Sunday.

Preferably Preserved: 43 Pleasant Street

The Historical Commission held its third Zoom public meeting last night. The primary business was a decision regarding 43 Pleasant Street, a house built before 1850 and located in area now known as “Old Ship Street” on the National Register of Historic Places.

The commission found the house “preferably preserved.”

When a building is found to be “preferably preserved” an 18 month delay of demolition is imposed, to give the applicant time to consider sale, renovation, reuse, relocation and other alternatives to demolition. The applicant is invited to return to the Commission’s upcoming public meetings to present plans and alternatives, and to discuss the preservation concerns that their neighbors and the commission have. If a plan is developed that addresses the concerns of the public and the commission, a demolition delay may be lifted before the 18 month period.

Thanks to the Medford residents who wrote in, or attended in person, to voice their opinions for and against the preservation of this building.

43 Pleasant Street

At our June meeting on Monday the Historical Commission will determine whether the house at 43 Pleasant Street is preferably preserved, and in need of a delay of demolition.

At our May meeting, an application for demo permission was submitted by the owners of 43 Pleasant St in East Medford. This property falls within the boundaries of the Old Ship Street – our shipbuilding district – which is on the register of National Historic Places. However, this designation (unlike the Local Historic District designation) does not protect buildings in the area from demolition.

It does mean that the building has already been determined to be “historically significant.” Thus, our June meeting will proceed to the second step of the process, and we will determine whether or not the building is preferably preserved.

A copy of our surveyors’ Form B with a history of the building and its inhabitants is here.

The meeting will be Mon June 9 and full Zoom instructions are below –

The meeting will be held remotely via Zoom and to view and participate in this hearing please use the following:

Access this meeting via Zoom remote videoconferencing:
Join Zoom Meeting: https://zoom.us/j/94922681587

Call in via phone:
One tap mobile: +19292056099,,94922681587# US
Dial in: +1 929 205 6099 US Meeting ID: 949 2268 1587

Access livestream:
The meeting will also be live streamed at https://medford.vod.castus.tv/vod/index.php/@live:ch3.
To participate while watching the livestream, questions and comments may be emailed during the hearing to HistoricalCommission@Medford-MA.gov. For information regarding this hearing, please visit www.medfordhistoricalcommission.org. Comments may be submitted prior to the meeting in writing to HistoricalCommission@Medford-MA.gov.

Public Comment, Please!

With your input, we want to make the restoration of Thomas Brooks Park and the Old Slave Wall a beautiful and meaningful addition to Medford’s historic landmarks.

MHC is seeking your comments in advance of our upcoming Zoom public meeting, which will be held on June 2, 2020. [Edited to add – this meeting has been held, but we still welcome your comments as the planning process continues! historicalcommission@medford-ma.gov]

Project Overview

The Medford Historical Commission was awarded a generous grant from the Medford Community Preservation Commission to hire a consultant to develop a master plan for Thomas Brooks Park. This six-acre wooded landscape is located in West Medford, on Grove Street, and bordered by the Lowell Branch of the MBTA Commuter Rail tracks. It is currently a passive recreation area, and has a rich history that is greatly obscured. This project seeks to bring to light that history and implement select improvements over multiple years. 

The Brooks Family and The Old Slave Wall

Thomas Brooks Park is one of the few remaining sites associated with the Brooks Family, a lineage which has existed in Medford for more than three centuries. The namesake of the parcel erected his house in the eighteenth century behind a well-crafted brick and sandstone wall. This wall is attributed to a slave named Pompeii, who utilized clay from the grounds to craft the masonry necessary to divide Grove Street from Brooks’ private driveway. The wall is important to preserve as one of two extant period reminders of the lives and work of enslaved people in our community. Maintenance of the wall is, in fact, a condition set by the Brooks’ heirs upon their donation of the parcel to the City, in 1924, for use as a parkland. The family later donated Playstead Park, portions of Oak Grove Cemetery and, finally, their West Medford estates. The Shepherd Brooks manor is likewise a city landmark and is managed in partnership with the Medford-Brooks Estate Land Trust (M-BELT). 

Present Conditions

Currently, the park is hardly noticeable to motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians. Debris, overgrown trees, and brush restrict access to the green space. The fence along the Commuter Rail line is damaged in several places. Visitors desiring to view the Old Slave Wall and its marker must stand in the roadway and risk injury from oncoming traffic. In order to address these issues, the Commission is working to review existing conditions, work with the neighbors and develop a master plan for the parcel in order to restore this important historic landscape. The plan will encompass the entire parcel and focus schematic efforts on the development of access to the wall, its condition, care and maintenance. The Commission intends to seek Community Preservation funds for this work with additional efforts to follow in subsequent years.

Plans and Designs

To date, our consultant has made excellent progress on preliminary designs.

Hedlund Design Group, LLC, a landscape architecture firm from Arlington, MA, was selected for their expertise in municipal parks and culturally sensitive locations. The team includes nationally recognized individuals who provide additional relevant knowledge in the fields of masonry and archaeology. The team has been hard at work, developing a concept for the park. A public meeting was held in November 2019 and they have taken critical feedback and implemented it within the latest proposal.

Documents for Your Review – DRAFTS

We would appreciate all written comments to be sent in no later than June 1, 2020. Comments can be emailed to HistoricalCommission@Medford-MA.gov or via hard copy to the Medford Historical Commission, c/o Denis MacDougal, Room 205, in Medford City Hall.

If you have any questions in regard to this project, please do not hesitate to contact us at HistoricalCommission@Medford-MA.gov.

Topic: Medford Historical Commission’s Zoom Meeting
Time: Jun 2, 2020 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting
https://zoom.us/j/93589556215

Meeting ID: 935 8955 6215