The man who served as president of the Beacon Hill Civic Association from 1971 to 1974 was on hand for the group’s annual meeting at Hampshire House to receive the 19th annual Beacon Award for his “significant and sustained” contribution to the community.
“It was a different time,” Bernie Borman said upon learning of the accolade. “I have to take the [award] as evidence from another era, and I’m just happy that people remember it.”
Borman, now nearly 83, was raised in Belleville, Ill., a small city located 17 miles east of St. Louis, and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Illinois in 1954. He then served as an officer in the U.S. Army in Korea after the truce before enrolling at Harvard Law School.
Upon earning his law degree in 1959, Borman found work as an attorney at the now-defunct Boston firm of Lane & Altman Esqs.
“When I started, it was a five-man firm, where everyone shared all the duties,” Borman said. “But as the firm evolved and grew, specialization crept in.”
He was named a partner at the firm and 1967 and focused largely on commercial leases and other real estate documents for the last 30 years of his career until his retirement in 2003.
Borman’s involvement with the Civic Association began in 1970 when he penned an article for the Beacon Hill News at the request of its publisher, in which he pointed to the group’s upcoming election as an ideal opportunity to engage residents in neighborhood activities.
Borman was soon enlisted to head up the Civic Association, based largely on his tenure with the Greater Boston Junior Chamber of Commerce from 1960 to 1967, during which time he served respectively as both the group’s president and vice president.
With Borman at the helm of the Civic Association, the organization hired its first executive director and full-time secretary, as well as tripling its membership and increasing revenues10-fold.
During this time, the Civic Association began publishing a regular newsletter and introduced community events, like pancake breakfasts and the Charles Street Fair – the precursor to today’s Block Party. The group also worked diligently to help transform an abandoned school building on Bowdoin Street into subsidized housing in 1974.
Borman’s most memorable achievement, however, probably remains spearheading a successful campaign to save Park Plaza from redevelopment in the mid-‘70s.
Under the guise of urban renewal, Borman said the city had given a developer an option on 40 acres of prime real estate, which, in reality, it had no jurisdiction over. The initial proposal included plans to build six skyscrapers the height of the Prudential Center that would sit atop an eight-story garage on Boylston Street, facing the Boston Common and the Public Garden. In 1977, the developer, who had garnered support for the project from citywide, was ultimately thwarted by a grassroots campaign led by Borman.
“There’s great strength in the truth,” Borman said. “If you keep telling the truth, you’re going to get somewhere.”
In the ‘90s, Borman also penned more than 100 restaurant reviews for Toni Norton’s Beacon Hill newspaper. He said passersby would stop him on the street to request that he review a particular restaurant or ask for a recommendation.
“At that time, I had more notoriety from [the reviews] than from all my civic work,” Borman said.
Today, Borman reminds his neighbors that they too are responsible for preserving Beacon Hill and its rich heritage. “We’re caretakers in a way, and we’re suppose to leave this neighborhood better than we found it,” Borman said.