Beacon Hill Civic Association Community Corner

Please Give to the BHCA Annual Appeal!

Our 2021 Annual Appeal letter has been sent to all our members. We depend on your generosity to continue our important work. To make a donation, please visit bhcivic.org, or call our office at 617-227-1922 with any questions, or to become a member. 

The Lavenders of Beacon Hill: The color of the famous purple windows or
“Lavenders” of Beacon Hill (left) was caused by the chemical reaction of manganese oxide in the glass to sunlight exposure when the panes were installed in the early- to mid-1800’s.The BHCA logo above uses a graphic image of a “Lavender” to symbolize the rich architectural
fabric of Beacon Hill that the BHCA strives to preserve and protect.

Living in a Historic District – A Guide for 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 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 https://www.boston.gov/historic-district/historic-beacon-hill-district.

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 www.bhcivic.org

Boston Preservation Alliance 617 367-2458 www.bostonpreservation.org

Beacon Hill Architectural Commission 617-635-3850 www.boston.gov/historic-district/historic-beacon-hill-district

Boston Landmarks Commission 617-635-3850 www.boston.gov/departments/landmarks-commission

Historic New England 617-227-3956 www.historicnewengland.org

Upcoming BHCA Meetings

Architecture Committee – Monday, March 15th, time TBA

Events Committee – Tuesday, March 23rd, 6pm

Streets & Sidewalks Committee – Tuesday, April 6th, time TBA

Zoning & Licensing – Wednesday, April 7th, 7pm

Mark your calendar for these BHCA Events!

Young Friends Social – March 31st

Beacon Hill Meet & Greet – April 5th

Visit the Beacon Hill Civic Association website www.bhcivic.org or call the office (617-227-1922) for joining instructions or more information on any of these meetings and events.

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