Historic New England to Explore ‘Reimagining’ Otis House

Historic New England is taking a fresh look at the Otis House to explore options for the next chapter in the history of this Charles Bulfinch-designed National Historic Landmark at 141 Cambridge St.

“We definitely want to create an engaging visitor experience and also enhance our working relationship with other neighborhood organizations,” said Susanna Crampton, public relations officer for Historic New England. “We’d like to be a resource and a partner – that’s sort of how we’re defining our reimagining.”

Otis House at 141 Cambridge St.

Historic England has hired NADAAA, a Boston-based architecture and urban design firm, to help them develop a vision for the Otis House (built in 1796), as well as two row houses on Lynde Street (built circa 1840).

 “Beyond its importance for Boston, Otis House represents something for New England more broadly as it embodies a piece of urban fabric in all its facets: its architecture, interiors, furniture, and artifacts all tell a story that extends the social importance of a dynamic community that is always in a state of transformation,” said NADAAA principal designer Nader Tehrani stated in a press release.  “The diversity that is embedded in the site is an important reminder of who we are today, how we interpret our history, and moreover, how we allow this special institution to tell new stories to future generations. We strongly believe that the combination of strategic planning, creative programming, and thoughtful transformations will bring a renewed sense of relevance to this historic jewel.”

Of the new vision for Otis House, Crampton said, “The biggest thing is we’re excited to be working with a forward-looking, creative firm that’s very imaginative but at the same time, understands the house’s history, so that combination will help define what the future is for Historic New England’s Otis House. We’re really just taking a look at what’s out there. It’s a general outline about some ideas. We’d like to be more active members of the community and reimagine what Otis House can be.”

Historic New England already works with myriad neighborhood groups, including the Beacon Hill Civic Association, House Museum Alliance of Downtown Boston, Old West Church, Massachusetts Cultural Council, Boston Preservation Alliance, and Boston Public Schools to “provide historical, cultural, and educational outreach to the public,” according to Historic New England’s website,  and would like to engage other neighboring organizations, such as Museum of African American History, Vilna Shul, and the West End Museum, as well as the West End Branch of the Boston Public Library, as stakeholders in helping them develop their vision for Otis House.

The new vision for Otis House will also take into account several major development projects planned for the immediate area, including Mass General Hospital’s expansion plan, as well as the proposed redevelopment of the state-owned Charles F. Hurley Building and the West End Branch Library, respectively.

“It’s interesting that all these other projects are getting underway soon, and what we want to know is how can we change and how we can be a resource for these types of projects when it comes to preservation,” said Crampton.

The vision for Otis House is also now in its conceptual stages, meaning that everything is still on the table in the eyes of Historic New England.

“We don’t want to take anything off the table, and we want to look at all our opportunities…but we definitely want it to be creative and visionary,” said Crampton. “We don’t have a lot of specifics. We’re just announcing that we’re really looking forward to taking a new look at Otis House.”

Meanwhile, the vision for the future of Otis House comes on the heels of Historic England’s “The New England Plan” – a self-described “strategic agenda” released last July which outlines the organization’s core initiatives for 2021 through 2025. “Following the development and adoption of a new strategic plan at Historic New England, we’ve launched a reimagining of the Otis House complex to better advance our mission in the twenty-first century. We’re excited about NADAAA’s understanding of the context and potential of Otis House, how it could become an exciting, fully civic gateway visitor experience for Historic New England, and play a meaningful role in the vitality of the neighborhood,” said Historic New England President and CEO Vin Cipolla in a press release.

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