Medford’s current Demo Review process is not likely to be a surprise or an exceptional burden for homeowners or developers.
Most Massachusetts communities, from Boston to Woburn and beyond have a demo review process similar to that in the City of Medford. A property owner would be hard pressed to “leave Medford” and buy a property nearby that does not need to follow this, or a similar process, before being demolished. Similarly, a developer – someone whose business it is to redevelop properties – would not likely buy in Medford, Arlington, Woburn, etc and not know that older buildings will be subject to a demo review process by the town or city.
The Historical Commission’s goal is NOT to fully restore houses to their historic state – we are not here to recreate Sturbridge Village or Plimoth Plantation in the heart of Medford. Nor are we, personally or professionally anti-development – the commission includes historians, archivists and homeowners, as well as architects, folks in real estate, and building preservationists. You can read our bios here.
If we’re not planning to turn Medford into a history theme park, what are we up to?
The Medford Historical Commission, like most Historical Commissions in towns and cities across Massachusetts, is part of city government. Our procedures were put in place to allow the community to bring their preservation concerns to our public meetings, with developers present. During these discussions, we increase public knowledge about the historic uses of our buildings, neighborhoods and residences, about the city’s past residents, and about the past design and construction of the buildings in our city. And, finally, for buildings deemed both “historically significant” AND “preferably preserved” – a multi-step, public process – we discourage demolition in favor of designs that preserve the historic character.
Monthly Meetings – Our meetings are the second Monday of the month, and they were traditionally held in Room 201 in City Hall; like most of Medford’s city boards and commissions, we’ve been holding Zoom meetings since May 2020. The public is always welcome to listen in or speak up!!
Agendas & Minutes – Our agendas are posted in City Hall, and in the Transcript, and we try to post them on Facebook and here on the website.
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.
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.
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.