Beacon Hill Civic Association Community Corner

Living in a Historic District – a Guide for Beacon Hill Homeowners

What is the difference between the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission and the Beacon Hill Civic Association?

The Beacon Hill Architectural Commission (BHAC) is a division of the City of Boston’s Environment Department and shares offices and staff with the Boston Landmarks Commission. As a branch of city government, it has regulatory authority.

The color of the famous purple windows or “Lavenders” of Beacon Hill was caused by the chemical reaction of manganese oxide to sunlight in the early- to mid-1800s.

The Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA) is a nonprofit neighborhood group of residents and property and business owners within the Beacon Hill Historic District. The BHCA is a volunteer organization that helps to preserve and enhance the quality of life on Beacon Hill through community building, civic engagement and historic preservation.

Is my Beacon Hill residence historic?

If your residence falls within the region bounded by Storrow Drive and Cambridge, Bowdoin, Beacon and Park Streets, you live within the Beacon Hill Historic District.

What is a Historic District?

A historic district is a neighborhood with historic, cultural, architectural, and/or aesthetic significance to a city, state, or region, or to the country as a whole. The Historic Beacon Hill District, the oldest historic district in Massachusetts, was created in 1955 by an act of the Massachusetts General Court. The act was designed to promote the educational, economic, and general welfare of the public by preserving and maintaining the Beacon Hill neighborhood as a landmark in the history of American architecture. The BHAC, with members appointed by Boston’s mayor and city council, works with homeowners to ensure that the neighborhood’s character is protected and preserved.

How does living in a Historic District affect me?

For homeowners on Beacon Hill, living in a historic district means that any change to the exterior of their properties must be reviewed by the BHAC. The Commission evaluates proposed changes according to criteria that include architectural continuity, physical impacts on the building and neighborhood, visibility from a public way, historical accuracy, and appropriateness for the building. These criteria are outlined in the Historic Beacon Hill District Architectural Guidelines, which are available from the Commission, or at

It is important to note that the Beacon Hill Civic Association’s Architecture Committee reviews all matters considered at the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission prior to any hearing on those matters, and they submit their written opinions to the BHAC prior to those hearings as well.

What do I do if I want to change the color of my front door?

Homeowners in the Historic District who wish to make exterior changes to their properties that will be visible from a public way must apply to the BHAC for approval. As the commission follows the Historic Beacon Hill District Architectural Guidelines, it may decline to issue a “Certificate of Appropriateness” for your proposed paint color. The members of the commission, who are knowledgeable about historic structures, do not make decisions arbitrarily. If your application is denied, you are encouraged to seek guidance from the commission in making an appropriate selection.

What steps should I take before I start a renovation project?

To obtain approval for exterior changes, property owners should visit the BHAC at Boston City Hall to obtain a copy of the Historic Beacon Hill District Architectural Guidelines and an application form. These are also available on the BHAC website as noted above. Interior changes do not require approval by the BHAC.

How can I learn about the history of a building on Beacon Hill?

The Boston Landmarks Commission has published a guide to researching historic homes that contains information on how to locate building and alteration permits, newspaper articles, maps and other print resources. Historic New England has a large collection of photographs, which can be seen by appointment and can often provide evidence of the earlier appearance of a building. In addition, the Boston Landmarks Commission may have survey information on properties on Beacon Hill.

What can I do to help preserve the Historic Beacon Hill neighborhood?

There are many ways to get involved. You can join the Beacon Hill Civic Association, which helps protect Beacon Hill’s residential character in a variety of ways, and take part in their many activities and committees. Also, the Boston Preservation Alliance is a citywide nonprofit organization that provides proactive, grassroots advocacy and educational programming on major issues affecting Boston’s historic buildings and communities.

Some important resources:

Beacon Hill Civic Association 617-227-1922

Boston Preservation Alliance 617 367-2458

Beacon Hill Architectural Commission 617-635-3850

Boston Landmarks Commission 617-635-3850

Historic New England 617-227-3956

Garlands & Greens, Wednesday, November 13th, 6-9 pm

It’s that time of year again as we get ready to decorate the 1,100 gas lamps all over Beacon Hill for the holidays. Garlands & Greens, a favorite neighborhood tradition, will take place on Wednesday, November 13th, at the Hampshire House. Now in its twenty-fourth year (and the 20th year of decorating the entire hill!), Tom Kershaw will once again be our gracious host for this annual event to raise funds for the garlands and bows to adorn the lampposts. Drinks, delicious hors d’oeuvres, holiday music, and fabulous prizes from our local businesses are sure to make this a special night. Get your tickets in advance at for this sell-out event and be a part of holiday decorating. $35 BHCA members, $40 non-members.

First Friday Coffee Hour will return in December!

First Friday Coffee Hour will return on December 6th. Make plans to stop by and bring a neighbor – learn what the BHCA is up to and how you can get involved- while enjoying coffee and donuts! At 74 Joy Street, 8-9am.

Join the BHCA

If you haven’t yet become a member of the BHCA, we invite you to join. Your input in quality of life issues on the Hill is important to us, and we rely on you our neighbors to bring your comments and concerns to our attention. By joining our membership, you add to the collective voice of the neighborhood and support our work in historic preservation, community development and civic engagement. Please call our office at 617-227-1922 or email the BHCA Executive Director at [email protected] with any questions, comments or concerns, or to become a member. 

Upcoming BHCA Meetings

Cambridge Street Committee, Wednesday, November 6, 6pm, 74 Joy Street

Zoning & Licensing Committee, Wednesday, November 6, 7pm, 74 Joy Street

Mark your calendar for these BHCA Events!

Beacon Hill Meet & Greet – November 4th at 75 Chestnut

First Friday Coffee Hour – December 6th at 74 Joy Street

Decorating Days – December 7th and 8th

48th Annual Beacon Hill Gala – February 8th at the Four Seasons Hotel

Visit the Beacon Hill Civic Association website or call the office (617-227-1922) for more information on any of these events.

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