When Joel Pierce stepped down as a member of the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission (BHAC) this month after serving for nearly three decades in the role, he left behind a long and enduring legacy as a stalwart who always put the historic integrity of the neighborhood above all else.
“On the Architectural Commission, we like to think that we preserve the neighborhood but without unduly restricting the rights of [property an business owners],” said Pierce, whose tenure as the Beacon Hill Civic Association’s nominee to the commission began in 1993.
An attorney by profession who retired two years ago, Pierce joined the Civic Association in 1979, a year after he and his wife settled in the neighborhood, and he would go on to chair the organization’s board of directors for one year circa 1983.
From Pierce’s perspective, the Architectural Commission and the Civic Association complement each other well when it comes to safeguarding the character of Beacon Hill.
“The Civic Association is largely supportive of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Pierce said. “They’ve done their own research, check out the agendas in advance and look at [the application sites].”
Rob Whitney, chair of the Civic Association’s board of directors, is a fellow attorney who has known Pierce professionally for more than 20 years and credits Pierce for him joining the organization more than a decade ago.
Around 15 years ago, Whitney attended an Architectural Commission hearing and spoke as a neighborhood resident in opposition to a gate that had been installed in Holmes Alley located near the Museum of African American History between Russell Street and Smith Court, and which prevented public access to the site. The historical alleyway, Whitney said, dates back more than 200 years and once served as part of the Underground Railroad. The commission, chaired by Pierce at the time, ruled against the gate, and afterwards, a Civic Association member broached Whitney about joining the organization’s board, which he soon did.
“Joel is very active on Beacon Hill and always looks out for the good of [the neighborhood], as well as preserving its historic nature,” said Whitney, who went on to describe Pierce as one of the “guiding lights” of both the neighborhood and the Civic Association. “We’ll certainly miss him on the Architectural Commission.”
Miguel Rosales, of the Architectural Commission’s, wrote, “I am very grateful to former BHAC Chair and Commissioner Joel Pierce for all his years of dedication to the preservation of the Beacon Hill Historic District. I have enjoyed working with him as he was fully committed to helping preserve the architectural integrity of the neighborhood. During his long tenure at the Commission he was always thoughtful, insightful and caring. I wish him all the best on his future endeavors.”
During Pierce’s tenure, the Architectural Commission handed down countless determinations on residences and businesses on Beacon Hill while its purview also extended to other matters, such as street furniture; newspaper boxes (which Pierce said are now “somewhat obsolete,” with the downturn of print media in recent years); and sidewalk curb-cut ramps, as well as other accessibility issues.
“The Architectural Commission’s work has changed in one sense, but on the other hand, it’s an historic district, so not all that much,” Pierce said. “Paint color is an ongoing concern, as is the accepted palette of colors accepted by the Architectural Commission. Most are content to stay within [those parameters], but every once in a while, somebody tries to do something different.”