By Dan Murphy
Bernard Borman, who served as president of the Beacon Hill Civic Association board of directors from 1971 to 1974 and spearheaded the successful campaign to save Park Plaza from redevelopment in the ‘70s, died at Massachusetts General Hospital on Dec. 13. He was 85.
Raised in Belleville, Ill., a small city located 17 miles east of St. Louis, Mr. Borman 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, Mr. Borman found work as an attorney at the now-defunct Boston firm of Lane & Altman Esqs. He was named a partner at the firm in 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.
Mr. Borman’s involvement with the Civic Association began in 1970 when he wrote 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.
Mr. 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 Mr. Borman at the helm of the Civic Association, the organization hired its first executive director and full-time secretary, as well as tripled its membership and increased 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 Beacon Hill Block Party. The organization also worked diligently to help transform an abandoned school building on Bowdoin Street into subsidized housing in 1974.
As for the Park Plaza redevelopment plan, Mr. Borman said under the guise of urban renewal, 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, was ultimately thwarted by a grassroots campaign led by Mr. Borman under the auspices of Park Plaza Civic Advisory Committee, which he chaired.
“There’s great strength in the truth,” Mr. Borman told this reporter in 2005. “If you keep telling the truth, you’re going to get somewhere.”
That same year, Mr. Borman received the 19th annual Beacon Award from the Civic Association for “his “significant and sustained” contribution to the community.”
“Over the years, Bernie contributed much of his time and considerable talent to the BHCA and the neighborhood as a whole,” wrote Suzanne Besser, president of the Civic Association board. “Just a few years ago he helped us write a ‘Vision for the Community,’ one that has and continues to guide us into the future. We will miss him, but his thoughtful insights and wise counsel will remain with us for years.”
Mr. Borman is survived by daughters Jennifer and Emily Spurrell, both of Cranston, R.I., as well as seven grandchildren.
A memorial for Mr. Borman will take place at the Harvard Club on Commonwealth Avenue on Sunday, Feb. 18, at 11:30 a.m.