The former Rectory and Convent for St. James Parish were built in the late 1800s within in the midst of growth and expansion of St. James Parish – at the time the only English speaking Catholic Church in the city. The convent was surplusessed in the 1970s, while the Rectory housed priests until quite recently. When Dan Botwinik, president of Cougar Capital first saw the interior of the former Rectory he was beguiled by the original fireplaces and wood work and acted quickly to purchase the building. Renovation was possible, in part, because of the use of Historic Tax Credits, the first such project that the team tackled, with the requisite learning curve. Then, in the midst of renovating the building into four-apartment units they were contacted by the broker for the Convent across the street. Applying lessons learned at the Rectory, the team undertook the significantly more challenging project. The Convent had been unoccupied for some time, with previous attempts to renovate stymied by environmental issues (now resolved). As a result of age and neglect the building needed major structural work to secure the building at the roof and at the foundation. Once these issues were solved the new units were constructed with original floors, fireplaces, doors and a reconstruction of a grand 6ft wide plaster medallion in the former atrium space.
In both buildings original exterior details were retained – including access through the grand front entrances, a key concern of the National Park Service review.
In a city full of history - and historians - Donna Seger’s Streets of Salem blog has risen to the top as an accessible online resource for a range and depth of information about Salem’s history, filtered through an intelligent, well-researched world-view. Posts range from passionate, persuasive essays to joyful celebrations of ephemera – and are written not as a lofty professor, but as if she can’t help but share her excitement, anger or delight about information she has discovered. Her educational efforts provide an important basis for preservation’s power – it is the stories and our individual and collective love of place that precede any preservation work.
A side note – Donna restarted the Preservation Award program about 15 years ago after it had gone dormant for a time – so this award is a particularly meaningful one.
As part of Salem Alliance for the Environment’s work to protect the health and efficient use of resources in Salem they have been advocating, researching and pushing for understanding, accurate reporting, and repair of natural gas leaks throughout Salem. While preservation often focuses on the visible – and what is “pretty” it is an honor to recognize the equally important efforts to maintain and repair the unseen aspects of our historic city. With infrastructure of all kinds surpassing 100 years of service there continues to be a need for information gathering, decision-making and prioritization of funds and efforts to ensure our current resources remain serviceable. This principle is applicable to preservation at any level. SAFE’s work is motivated by environmental concerns, with life and health concerns the driving force. A lesson to all preservationists that we would all be well served to consider how sustainability, functionality and resource management are connected to the care and viability of our historic cities.
We do not take lightly Salem’s claim to four centuries of architecture. However, the architecture from the most recent century is often less loved than it deserves. Not so in this project renovating 90 Washington Street that restored this 72 year-old “youngster” of an international style building. The minimal architectural styling meant that restoration design and construction needed to carefully maintain and emphasize the simple lines and materials. This was done with repointing, window restorations and storefront simplification. The rear of the building was added onto, creating an example of how new and not-so old can work in harmony to contribute to Salem’s architectural heritage. The renovation work allowed for a lively tenant, the City of Salem, to use the interior spaces and for the three store fronts to add vibrant activity to Washington Street.
There is a high bar when it comes to evaluating a nomination for an exterior paint job. Painting is a necessary maintenance item for many homes and it can be done without much consideration. The work done at 254 Lafayette Street exceeded this high standard and sets an excellent example for an exterior renovation. Where layers of paint once hid trim details it is now removed, where unimaginative beiges covered all surfaces indiscriminately, careful consideration has now been made to showcase different materials and designs. The overall effect is a celebration of the Victorian style of the house, flaunting all the decoration and delight that the building possesses. For this building in the Lafayette historic district it is notable that the owners approached the Historic Commission with a well-thought out paint scheme in place, seeking to showcase the building style, not trying to skirt by with the minimum effort. The high bar for a quality paint job is only met when true care and effort is made to celebrate the building.
The Classical-revival style Mary and Michael Donahue House was originally constructed in 1870, with the storefront added in 1900 and the full 3rd floor in 1912. Little changed in the next 100 years and when Ben Carlson, a builder and local landlord, purchased the building in 2018 the storefront remained a notable feature of the run-down looking building – though it had been used as a residential space for many years. Mr. Carlson recognized that the once run-down building was ideally suited, both in location and layout, to provide middle income condos close to downtown. Originally, he proposed a new, altered storefront – while restoring the upper windows and repairing the wood cladding. At the urging of the Historic Commission the owner devised a plan to retain and restore the existing wooden storefront. To accommodate the need for ventilation and access for the first story unit, a new wood window was approved for the building elevation that overlooks a small corner park. The result is a restoration project that truly respects the building’s evolution from residential to commercial and back, with the option of future commercial use as the building, and Essex Street, evolve.
We were really, truly blown away by the turn out for our 2019 Annual Meeting on Friday! Thank you to all who joined us at Old Town Hall, and congratulations to the nine deserving Preservation Award winners, who we'll share with you over the next week and a half.
First of all, we want to extend a warm welcome to this year's new board members! We are so excited to be the beneficiaries of your talent and passion over the next few years:
Caroline Watson-Felt is a lifelong Salem resident with a passion for history, Caroline’s first job after graduating high school was with the Salem Partnership where she supported the creation and launch of both the Essex National Heritage Commission as well as Salem Main Streets. She moved on to the Mayor’s Office for the City of Salem followed by the Office of Special Events and Conferences at Salem State. Her diverse professional experience includes serving as a local nonprofit board leader, community and employee engagement manager, marketer, event-planner, VIP talent handler, local actor and director. A volunteer for Salem Main Streets, Grace Episcopal Church, Go Out Loud, Salem Theatre Company, and various political campaigns, Caroline, who knits when it’s cold and swims when it’s warm, enjoys live music, theatre, long coastal drives and beach walks with her wife, son and dog. She is excited to bring her skills, passion, and voice to Historic Salem.
Anya Wilczynski is currently a program manager at Essex Heritage, the regional non-profit encompassing Essex County. Previously, she was the operations manager of Historic Salem. Her background is in historic preservation but her true passion is for organizational development and growth. She lives in Salem, in the Point neighborhood.
Paul Wright works as an Energy Analyst throughout eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, helping builders and homeowners design and build sustainable homes and to meet energy code requirements. He has extensive experience in retrofitting existing buildings to be more energy efficient; both as an insulation installer as well as working as an energy auditor in the Mass Save program. He completed the Masters of Design Studies in Historic Preservation program at the Boston Architectural College in 2015. Paul was raised in central and metro west Massachusetts, and moved to Salem in 2013 shortly after college. He was initially drawn to Salem because of its thriving public history scene, working briefly at Pioneer Village and Old Town Hall, and then as a tour guide at the Phillips and Gedney house museums. He currently resides in the Gallows Hill neighborhood. In his free time, he enjoys skateboarding and has been excitedly involved in plans for upgrading the Ryan Brennan Memorial Skatepark in Gallows Hill Park.
Congratulations and welcome, Caroline, Anya, and Paul!
For several months we have been reporting on a zoning overlay district that is being considered by the City Council. At all public meetings and in written comment we have been clear on two issues:
1 – We want to see historic schools, churches and other large civic buildings reused (and they would be great for housing).
2 – We want any new construction on these neighborhood sites to suit the surrounding neighborhood.
In early January the planning department submitted a re-draft of the ordinance, in response to public comment, that allowed for flexibility in reuse of existing buildings and a limited ability for buildings to be expanded in a way that met the character of the surrounding neighborhood. We were pleased to support this version of the ordinance at the January 9th meeting, as did most members of the community who also commented.
Unfortunately, the ordinance has again been redrafted. This is a result of Planning Board recommendations made on January 17th. The redraft allows for new construction, including additions, on the historic sites that could be up to 55 feet tall. It also allows for very high density. For example, it could allow up to 40 residential units at 5 Broad Street (the former Senior Center), over 150 units at the St. James Church site on Federal Street, and over 140 units at Immaculate Conception on Hawthorne Blvd. Many of the properties eligible for this overlay zoning are in residential neighborhoods, yet the allowed zoning would be similar to that allowed in the downtown district (B5 zoning) which is the densest and tallest zoning in the City.
At the next meeting of the City Council on Wednesday, February 14th, the City Council will either vote on the Ordinance or refer it to Committee for further revisions.
It is Historic Salem’s position that this Ordinance should not be passed in its current state. Allowing such extreme new construction does not meet the intent that the ordinance “allow for reuse..but minimize impacts to surrounding neighborhoods.”
Because we support the reuse of historic schools and churches we would like the ordinance to be referred to Committee so it can be adjusted to allow for new construction consistent with the character of the neighborhood surrounding each unique site. The January 9th version of the ordinance, that we supported, allowed for new construction that followed the underlying zoning of the neighborhood. This is how new construction is handled in the best practices model ordinance published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Salem is full of examples of churches and schools reused without additions or large new buildings. We view the historic buildings in our city as benefits (cost savings include the ability to reuse exterior walls, foundations, roofs while avoiding the monetary and environmental costs of demolition) not as detriments. People want to live in these interesting buildings embedded in the community. We do not think developers will need to be convinced to take on these projects by allowing excessive new construction.
If you agree please consider writing to the City Councilors. Councillor contact information can be found on the city website.
Here are some possible messages. We encourage you to customize them. (And don't miss the links at the bottom of the post that give more information about the ordinance and HSI’s position)
Sample Letter 1
To City Councillors:
I am writing to ask that you not take action on the Municipal and Religious Adaptive Reuse Overlay District Ordinance until it has been revised to reflect that new construction comply with the provisions of the underlying zoning. Please take the time to get this Ordinance right as it will affect many properties and neighborhoods across the City.
Sample Letter 2
To City Councillors:
I am writing about the Municipal and Religious Adaptive Reuse Overlay District Ordinance because I support the reuse of historic buildings, and specifically the three former school buildings currently being considered for reuse. However, in its current form, the Ordinance should not be passed.
The Planning Board’s recommendations for large 5-story 55-foot high new construction should not be accepted. The dimensional recommendations are completely out of scale with many of the neighborhoods where these buildings are located, and the dimensions do not represent the wishes of the many residents who have spoken at the public hearings.
The density that would be allowed for new construction is 15 times (or more) that allowed in the underlying neighborhood zoning and is too high. Further, the definition of eligibility as presently written is so broad that many potential sites could be included that are not consistent with the intent of the ordinance. At a minimum, eligibility should be limited to buildings currently in municipal and religious ownership and use, not just use.
Zoning is complex and long lasting. Please take a few more weeks to develop this ordinance so that it does not create years of unintended consequences.
Our Letter to the City Councillors - January 22, 2019
Memo to City Councillors from Planning Department incl. Planning Board Recommendations - January 29, 2019
Previous Draft of Overly District Ordinance - January 8, 2019
Original HSI Preservation Alert about the overlay district (December 5, 2018)
Update #1 about the overlay district (January 17, 2019)
Has a preservation effort, large or small, caught your eye or earned your admiration? Historic Salem is looking for more cherished home renovations, hand-crafted fences, breweries, civic buildings, lifelong preservation advocates, or even lighthouses to recognize with a 2019 Preservation Award. Completed projects in any neighborhood in Salem are eligible for nomination. Nominated properties can be private, public, or non-profit; residential or commercial; hand-crafted or urban-scaled.
We encourage you to look around your neighborhood and city for projects worthy of recognition, projects that celebrate the art of preservation.
Awards will be presented at Historic Salem’s Annual Meeting on the evening of May 3, 2019. This free event, open to the public, will highlight our city’s preservation successes and challenges and celebrate the historic resources of Salem, which are the key to the city’s identity, quality of life, and economic vitality. A reception for the Preservation Award winners will be held after the awards ceremony.
Nomination forms are now available on our website.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." – Margaret Mead
Happy New Year everyone! We're very excited to celebrate Historic Salem, Inc.'s 75th Anniversary in 2019.
The founding of Historic Salem, Inc. in 1944 was bound up in the fortunes of two of Salem's most historically significant homes. The Witch House, home of Salem Witch Trials Judge Jonathan Corwin, and the Cook House, the last Salem Home of renowned navigator Nathaniel Bowditch (now known as the Bowditch House), were both at risk of being demolished to accommodate the widening of North & Essex Streets. Recognizing the gravity of the potential loss of these buildings, a group of concerned citizens gathered in Salem's City Council Chamber on April 28, 1944 to find a solution.
At the meeting, Warren Butler, Chair of the Salem Planning Board, and Boston Architect Gordon Robb proposed moving the historic houses away from the street in order to preserve them and still allow for the planned widening of the roads. Mayor Edward Coffey assembled an Executive Committee tasked with raising the money to put this preservation plan into action.
The Executive Committee was incorporated as Historic Salem, Inc. in June of 1944, with a purpose and mission "to preserve historic sites, buildings and objects and to work for the education of the community in the true value of the same." George Benson was elected HSI's first president, Warren Butler its first vice president, and Salem City Treasurer Arthur Brennan its first treasurer and secretary. In the following years, the Witch House and the Bowditch House were both successfully relocated and restored.
Today, the Witch House is a historic house museum owned and operated by the City of Salem. The house interprets the Salem Witch Trials and the early modern cosmology of Salem's seventeenth-century inhabitants. It is a major contributor to the city's local tourism economy, seeing about 50,000 visitors a year, most in October. The Bowditch House serves as the headquarters of Historic Salem, Inc. Nathaniel Bowditch artifacts and informational museum panels are on view for the benefit of Salem residents and visitors alike.
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