Highland Park, Boston’s newest Architectural Preserve

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

44 Years
Highland Park Water Tower

A 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 ​​the appointment did not receive wider support from the neighborhood, so the appointment effort stalled. Interest rekindled periodically over the following decades. In 2018, after several years of outreach in the neighborhood that resulted in a petition that showed significant support for the Architectural Preservation District, a group of neighborhood supporters from the Highland Park Neighborhood Coalition Preservation Committee resumed a petition to the BLC. A Working Committee was formed, consisting of 6 residents and 5 Landmarks Commissioners. Remarkably, Ernest (Randy) Coston, one of the first to sign the 1978 petition, was a member of the Working Committee who, 44 ​​years later, finally completed the nomination effort!

Reaching the Community
Highland Park community photo with elected officials in front of the Highland Park water tower

In addition to reviewing, revising and expanding the work report on Highland Park prepared by a consultant, the Working Committee also played an important outreach role. The committee has made it a priority to reach as many Highland Park residents as possible, including those who do not have access to the internet or speak a language other than English. To this end, in addition to using e-mail and social media, the Committee has printed thousands of paper brochures in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole and Somali and distributed them throughout the neighbourhood. Community outreach events were held both virtually using Zoom and face-to-face in the community (outdoors due to the Covid pandemic).

A Unique Region

It was clear that Highland Park would be a unique site when the Working Committee began developing the guidelines and decided to roll out the standards-based template in other areas of Boston. The Working Committee wanted to start with a blank slate and write completely specific guidelines. They wanted to avoid strict regulations that could be financially burdensome for a community with mixed income levels. They also wanted to acknowledge that change is part of Highland Park’s history and guidelines should allow for some degree of flexibility. After careful deliberation, the Working Committee created a set of guidelines that they felt were right for the District. The draft working report was made publicly available in February 2022, starting a 60-day period for public review and comment before a public hearing. After reviewing public feedback, the study report was reviewed 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 definition also received enthusiastic support from Mayor Wu and the City Council, and received full approval on June 29, 2022. .

About Yayla Park
Courtesy of Elliot Square, Late 1800s Photo History New England

The Highland Park neighborhood is also known as Fort Hill or Roxbury Highlands. The area is historically significant to the social and cultural history of the Indigenous 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 texture of many residential styles mixed with places of worship and some workplaces. The past activities of all these people are evident in the landscapes, buildings, and improvements they have shaped: Native Americans who have occupied the area for thousands of years; early colonial settlers; and later immigrants from across Europe and more recently from Africa, Central America, the Caribbean and elsewhere.

Highland Park ACD is also architecturally significant as a collection of styles and building types that illustrates the development of Roxbury from an agricultural settlement to a trendy nineteenth-century streetcar suburb of Boston and finally a dense urban neighborhood. Buildings in the area are over 250 years old and provide an almost comprehensive cross-section of architectural styles and genres found in Boston.

Some historical highlights:
  • Boston, including Roxbury, is the traditional homeland of the Massachusetts people who are still here. Indigenous people have been in the area for at least 12,500 years. The Highland Park area was a cultural and transportation hub for the people of Massachusetts.
  • In 1630, members of the Massachusetts Bay Company set up small farms on rugged but fertile highlands, relocating Roxbury near what would later become John Eliot Square.
  • Roxbury was strategically important in the American Revolution. During the Siege of Boston (1775-1776), two forts in the Roxbury Highlands were critical to the defeat of the British invading Boston.
  • In the nineteenth century, development in Highland Park accelerated as the development of public transportation increased connectivity with downtown Boston. The neighborhood began to turn into a trendy suburb.
  • In 1864, 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 nineteenth century, and was also a vocal social reformer who advocated Irish famine relief, justice to Native Americans, and educational opportunities for the formerly enslaved.
  • Highland Park is also home to Roxbury Alms House, St. Luke’s Convalescent Home, Norfolk Settlement House, and other early philanthropic initiatives.
  • In the late nineteenth century, large numbers of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Italy, Latvia and Scandinavian countries, as well as Canada’s Maritime provinces, moved to the region. Many were drawn to industrial jobs in Lower Roxbury. From the late nineteenth century until the 1950s, Roxbury was also home to a large Jewish community stretching south to Mattapan.
  • The mid-twentieth century saw an increase in the Black population as residents migrated to the area from both South America and the West Indies. Between 1950 and 1960, Roxbury became the center of the Black community in Boston.
  • Roxbury’s Latino population also increased in the postwar years, beginning with immigration from Puerto Rico in the late 1950s and 60s, alongside immigrants from the Dominican Republic in the 1950s.
  • In the 1960s, Roxbury became a center of grassroots activism and community organizing to combat inequality in housing, education and employment, and systematic discrimination in the form of withdrawal and reinvestment. Currently, Highland Park has seen a vital Black community emerge, with its own community-style educational institutions such as Paige Academy (founded by Dr. Angela Paige Cook and Reverend Joe Cook) as well as mutual aid initiatives such as the Highland Park 400. Survival Garden.
  • Founded by George Morrison and Lloyd King, the Roxbury Program of Action (RAP) provided a number of services to the community, including rehabilitation of properties for residential and commercial use.
  • Renowned filmmaker Henry Hampton owned 88 Lambert Avenue and made significant contributions to American culture while running Blackside, Inc., the largest Black-owned film production company of its time. Blackside, Inc. produced more than 65 Civil Rights documentaries, including Hampton’s Peabody and Emmy-winning series “Eyes on the Prize,” covering the Civil Rights movement from 1954 to the mid-1980s.
  • In 1989 the Highland Park neighborhood was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Roxbury Highlands Historic Site. It has remained relatively stable since the area was listed, but there has been some significant destruction.
  • Today, Highland Park is a vibrant and diverse neighborhood that residents are proud to call home. Community and civic engagement is extremely valuable, and Highland Park residents can become involved in community life by participating in a network of organizations that are actively involved in community building and problem solving.
  • With the new Highland Park Architectural Conservation District (ACD), residents can now also serve as Highland Park ACD Commissioners or provide public feedback to help the Commission make decisions!

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