No. 273 Postcard: S. Leo’s Church and Rectory, postmarked 1909.

The Esmond Street Historic District is located in a residential neighborhood of Dorchester that lies east of Franklin Park and north of Harambee Park (historically known as Franklin Field). This neighborhood was primarily developed with single-family and multi-family frame homes between 1884 and 1910, coinciding with the construction and opening of the two parks in 1885 and 1898, respectively. The district was predominantly home to multi-generational, middle class American families, gradually absorbing Irish immigrants and first generation Irish-Americans in the early twentieth-century following the construction of St. Leo’s Roman Catholic Church in 1902. A pronounced shift in the demographics of the neighborhood occurred during the second and third decades of the twentieth century when the Esmond Street Historic District and its environs became home to a growing number of Jewish immigrant families, a population whose numbers swelled in Dorchester as families increasingly migrated out of the North and West Ends of Boston after 1918. Masonry apartment buildings were introduced to the district in the 1920s to meet the demand for additional residential housing for Jewish immigrants in already an established neighborhood. The district was home to a thriving Jewish community into the early 1960s. The Esmond Street Historic District is locally significant under National Register Criterion A in the area of Community Planning and Development for its association with the residential development of Dorchester and the integration of immigrant communities during the twentieth century. It is also locally significant under National Register Criterion C in the area of Architecture as a collection of well-preserved residential and religious buildings that reflect popular design aesthetics of the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival architectural styles. The period of significance for the Esmond Street Historic District begins in 1884 when the first buildings in the district were constructed and because of its continuous use ends in 1967, the fifty-year age requirement for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Narrative Statement of Significance (Provide at least one paragraph for each area of significance.)

The Development of Franklin Field North and the Esmond Street Historic District (1850-1910)

The Esmond Street Historic District lies within the Franklin Field North area of Dorchester in Boston, Massachusetts. The Franklin Field North area is roughly bounded by Talbot Avenue on the south, Blue Hill Avenue on the west, Glenway and Fowler streets on the north, and the railroad tracks of the original Boston & Providence line on the east. Dorchester was founded by English settlers in 1630 and remained an independent town until 1870 when it was annexed to the City of Boston. Dorchester began as a rural farming community with a network of roads connecting outlying farms and small villages that were located at the crossroads of these local highways. Two of these early local roads intersect with Esmond Street: Harvard Street to the

south, and Blue Hill Avenue to the north. Harvard Street is one of Dorchester’s oldest roads, dating to the seventeenth century; Blue Hill Avenue was laid out as the Brush Hill Turnpike in 1804. Dorchester remained largely rural, characterized by farms and country estates, until the mid nineteenth century when the Boston & Providence and Old Colony Railway lines were introduced to the neighborhood in 1835 and 1844, respectively. The Boston & Providence line (later the Boston, Hartford and Erie Railroad, the New York and New England Railroad, and the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad until 1968, now part of the MBTA’s commuter rail system) ran through the western portion of Dorchester while the Old Colony Railway line ran through the neighborhood’s eastern villages. These rail lines made Boston accessible to Dorchester commuters and initiated the transformation of the rural town into an early suburb for wealthy Bostonians. Large, single-family homes in proximity to rail station stops were constructed on established streets, while smaller house lots were developed close to the stations.

The Harvard Street station of the Boston and Providence line was located where the tracks intersect with Harvard Street, a short distance from Blue Hill Avenue. This proximity accounts for the houses that lined Harvard Street and Blue Hill Avenue in this area in 1850. (Fig. 1) Development of the area remained focused on these main roads until the 1870s when a small number of side streets near the intersection of Harvard Street and Blue Hill Avenue began to be laid out, subdivided and developed. These included present-day Vesta, Abbot, and Wales streets. (Fig. 2) By 1894 there was a definitive cluster of residential development between Harvard Street and Blue Hill Avenue along Vesta Road, Abbott, Wales, Bicknell, Gleason, and Glenway streets. (Fig. 3)

The boom in development of the neighborhood at the close of the nineteenth century was in part due to the electric streetcar lines introduced along Blue Hill Avenue in the 1890s, which made neighborhoods in proximity to that thoroughfare accessible to commuters at a lower cost than the steam railroad lines, an attribute attractive to developers. The concurrent development of neighboring parks added to the desirability of the area and served as a further spur to the growth of the neighborhood. Franklin Park, the 537 acre park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted was taking shape between 1885 and 1898, and Franklin Field, the 77 acre park that was the venue for recreational sports and later horse racing was officially designated a park in 1898. By 1900 the area north of Harvard Street was fully developed with single and multi-family frame houses occupied by businessmen who commuted to downtown Boston.1

Esmond Street was included the development boom of the late nineteenth century. The street was laid out in two stages. The southern portion of present-day Esmond Street (from Harvard Street to just south of the fork with Bradshaw Street) was a private way called Sanborn Avenue established in the early 1880s.2 (Fig. 3) Sanborn Avenue extended to the southern boundaries of a large parcel of undivided land owned by Charlotte Bradstreet.3 The Bradstreet home is still extant, though much altered, located outside of the district at 20 Charlotte Street. The house, formerly owned by Benjamin Bangs, Charlotte’s father, appears on the 1850 Whiting Map of Dorchester (Fig. 2). Streets were laid out through the Bradstreet property in 1896; these included Esmond (from Blue Hill Avenue to the fork with Bradshaw Street), Charlotte, and Bradshaw streets. In 1899 Esmond Street was extended across Bradshaw Street and Sanborn Avenue making a continuous public way from Blue Hill Avenue to Harvard Street.

Thomas W. and Amelia D. Bicknell (for whom neighboring Bicknell Street was named) were responsible for much of the nineteenth century development of Sanborn Avenue and the Esmond Street Historic District, though only a fraction of their development remains today. The Bicknells were natives of Rhode Island who moved to the neighborhood by 1876. Thomas Bicknell was a prominent Rhode Island historian and educator; he was a teacher, editor and publisher of educational books and journals. From 1875-1893 he served as the founder, editor and publisher of the New England Journal of Education. The Bicknell estate encompassed approximately 6 acres with a house located near the corner of Harvard Street and present-day Esmond Street. The house appears on the 1850 Whiting map of Dorchester as the home of R. Pierce and the 1874 Map as property of the Mt. Bowdoin Association. (Figs. 1 & 2) The Bicknells subdivided and built several houses on their estate which extended across both sides of present-day Esmond Street beginning in the late 1880s. Builder E.F. Moulton constructed at least three houses along present-day Esmond and Harvard streets for the Bicknells in 1888.4 The Bicknells owned five houses in addition to their own by 1894. Three of these houses were single family dwellings and two were designed for two-family occupancy. The Amelia D. Bicknell Houses, 80 an 88  Esmond Street are all that remain from this development today. These houses were designed as single-family dwellings and share Queen Anne characteristics including gable-front facades with front porches and cross-gable rooflines. The Caroline E. Mowry House, 99 Esmond Street also dates to this early period of development. The Mowry family received permission for a permit to build a stable on the street in 1884, so the house likely dates to this period.5 The house received Colonial Revival additions in the 1930s, however the original form and massing are visible and closely resemble the Amelia D. Bicknell Houses.

The qualities of the homes in the Esmond Street historic District during the late nineteenth century are captured in two contemporary accounts written a decade apart. Both emphasize the modern amenities of each of the houses it describes as well as their attractive and convenient location. The first advertises a newly built home on present-day Esmond Street in 1887:

Will sell a new house on Sanborn avenue near Harvard street; this house is thoroughly built, containing all modern improvements, including electric bells, speaking tubes, etc; is delightfully situated on high ground overlooking the valley with the Blue Hills in the distance; refined neighborhood; near steam and horse cars and retired enough to be away from noise and dust…6

The second account comes from tenants of one of the Amelia D. Bicknell House, 80 Esmond Street. The Bicknells retained ownership of most of their properties, renting them out until 1899 when Thomas returned to Rhode Island shortly after the death of his wife. The tenants of 80 Esmond Street in 1897 were a Boston University Fraternity.

We have one of the prettiest homes in Dorchester, a house of 12 large rooms and three large halls, all heated by a furnace. On the outside the house is surrounded by an elegant piazza, made all the more charming by vines growing up before it. Back of the house are three large apple trees…and in front large maple trees. Eleven members of the chapter have taken up their abode in this paradise…electric and steam cars pass within a three minutes’ walk of the house and excellent roads extend from the college to the chapterhouse… 7

The contributions to the development of the neighborhood by the Bicknell family extended beyond the subdivision and residential development of their estate. They were also instrumental in founding the Harvard Congregational Church several streets away on Gleason Street (no longer extant) in 1887. Thomas Bicknell was the president of the Harvard Congregational Society, formed with an aim to build a congregational church in the neighborhood. Reporting on pending erection of the church, the Boston Globe emphasized the pronounced expansion of residential development in the immediate neighborhood:

The growth of Dorchester during the past ten years has been remarkable. No portion of this fair section has developed more rapidly and more satisfactorily in the character of the incoming population than that west of Franklin Park and Blue Hill avenue. More than 300 families now reside in this section of the city with no convenient place to worship.8

The Bicknell development and the laying out of streets through Charlotte Bradstreet’s property beginning in 1896 spawned additional residential construction in the Esmond Street Historic District in the mid-late 1890s. The Jessie M. Lent House, 95 Esmond Street  (1895), E.W.  

Chapman House, 84 Esmond Street  (1896), Benjamin F. Underhill House, 72 Esmond Street (1897), Catholic Charities Haitian Multi-Service Center,12 Bicknell Street  (1898), Elizabeth  Byrne House, 68 Bradshaw Street (1899), St. Leo’s rectory, 177 Harvard Street (1899), and the William H. Bennet House,76 Esmond Street (1900) reflect this period of development in the district. These houses represent a variety of styles including Queen Anne, Shingle Style, and Colonial Revival. They were designed by local builders active in the late nineteenth century in Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, and Quincy. The 1900 census reveals that the residents of the Esmond Street Historic district and near-by streets at that time were typically from multi-generational New England families and of upper middle class economic status. They owned their homes, were employed as merchants, lawyers, salesmen, architects, and similar white-collar professions and employed household servants. While most families in the district were of New England heritage, a small number of households were of Irish heritage, immigrants as well as first generation Irish-Americans.

A notable change to the district occurred shortly after the turn of the twentieth century when the Rev. Peter Ronan of St. Peter’s Church on Bowdoin Street (BOS.5686) purchased the Bicknell property at the corner of Harvard and Esmond streets for the construction of a church that would serve a new parish recently divided from St. Peter’s. The Bicknell house was used for services until the church building was completed.9 The ground-breaking for the new church occurred in the spring of 1902, and the design of the building, then considered a chapel of St. Peter’s, with accompanying drawing was detailed in the local newspapers (Fig.4):

St. Peter’s chapel will be colonial in style, and was designed by Charles J. Bateman, formerly city architect, and at present acting as assistant architect for the city….The main entrance will consist of three wide doors, and on the front will be four colonial pillars. There will be five memorial windows on each side of the chapel and in the two wings there will be four more…a rosette window of stained glass will be placed over the entrance…the seating capacity of the entire edifice will be about 1200.10

Architect, Charles Bateman, was born in Cambridge and studied at M.I.T. He began practicing architecture in Boston in 1876 and was appointed Boston city architect in 1883 and 1888. As city architect, he designed civic buildings in several Boston neighborhoods including the Codman Square Branch Library (BOS.6127) in Dorchester. Following this position he became a prolific designer of buildings for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, including churches and parochial school buildings, making him a natural choice for the design of St. Leo’s. He also designed many residential buildings in Boston neighborhoods and near-by suburbs.11

St. Leo’s was dedicated on November 27, 1902. It stood adjacent to the Bicknell House which served as a parish hall until the 1950s when it was demolished. (Fig. 5) It was lauded as, “one of the most attractively designed and fitted chapels in Boston.”12 The church complex has grown over the years to encompass the full block of Harvard Street between Esmond and Bicknell streets. This was initiated by 1910 by which time the Roman Catholic Archdiocese had purchased the two-family house at 177 Harvard Street (St. Leo’s Rectory) for use as a rectory. By 1920, the house at 12 Bicknell Street (Catholic Charities Haitian Multi-Service Center)  served as the parish Rectory and the former rectory building served as a rental property.

The introduction of St. Leo’s church attracted many Irish and Irish-American families to the Esmond Street Historic District and the vicinity. Between 1900 and 1910, five new families of Irish heritage owned properties in the district. There were also many Irish and Irish-American families living on Esmond Street outside of the district as well as on Wales, Harvard, and Charlotte streets in 1910.13 (Fig. 6) Most of the residents in the district who were of Irish heritage were second generation families employed in upper-middle class professions, or who were supported on their own income.

Changing Demographics in Franklin Field North and Esmond Street Historic District 1910-1967

The second and third decades of the twentieth centuries brought substantial change in the demographics of the Franklin Field North neighborhood, as it did to much of Dorchester. The Franklin Field North neighborhood gradually transitioned from one that was a combination of multi-generational American families and first and second generation Irish families, to one that was home to a thriving Jewish immigrant community. The vast majority of Jewish immigrants to Boston came from Russia, fleeing state-sanctioned repression of their faith and culture under the Russian Tsar in the late 1880s and early 1900s, though many also came from Poland, Germany, and Austria.14 These immigrants initially settled in the North End, then moved into the West End between 1895 and 1905 which remained the largest Jewish district in Boston until about 1910.15 Typically, these immigrants arrived as skilled tradesmen. Many found employment in Boston’s textile and shoe industries, often beginning as peddlers and accumulating enough capital to open their own small businesses.16 Beginning the 1890s and continuing through 1917, many of the Jewish immigrants who had become successful in their trades began moving to less dense areas of the city like Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan, which were just beginning to blossom into attractive streetcar suburbs.17

While the Esmond Street Historic District and adjacent side streets did not absorb these upwardly-mobile Jewish immigrants in the first decade of the twentieth century, there were signs of change in the vicinity beginning in 1912 with the construction of the first synagogue in Dorchester just a few blocks north on Fowler Street. The Temple Beth El (no longer extant) was constructed at a not insignificant cost of $45,000, raised by Dorchester’s Jewish residents who had clearly achieved financial security. As increasing numbers of Jewish immigrants moved into Dorchester and Roxbury, apartment buildings and multi-family houses were constructed on vacant lots in established neighborhoods to accommodate the demand for housing. Neighboring Bicknell Street saw the construction of its first masonry apartment house, 30-32 Bicknell Street, constructed by a Russian Jewish immigrant in 1913. The builder was Samuel Rubenstein, a Russian Jewish house builder who immigrated to the United States in 1905.18 Several years later, Esmond Street (outside the district) was also experiencing the introduction of new housing types to accommodate rising numbers of Jewish immigrants moving into the neighborhood. The first masonry apartment building on the street was constructed just down the road at 43 Esmond Street in 1915 by Louis Labovitz from designs by a prominent architectural firm of Jewish architects, the Silverman Engineering Company.19 Labovitz, a Russian Jewish builder immigrated to the United States in 1891. He resided in the building through his death in 1941. Two frame triple-deckers were also constructed on Esmond Street in 1915 at 17 and 21 Esmond Street also by Jewish immigrants.20 The 1918 Bromley Atlas shows many Jewish property owners at the northern end of Esmond Street as well as on neighboring streets.

What originated as a small movement of the more elite Jewish population out of the North and West Ends became a mass exodus by 1918; in 1920 approximately 44,000 Jews were living in Dorchester and Upper Roxbury.21 However, this second wave of Jewish immigrants moving into Dorchester differed from their predecessors as the population was typically working class. At this time, many of the more affluent Jewish settlers of Dorchester began to move to Boston’s outlying suburbs of Brookline and Newton. However, the working class Jewish population of Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan continued to thrive in the second quarter of the twentieth century, increasing their numbers to 77,000 by the early 1930s.

Due to the proximity to St. Leo’s Roman Catholic Church, demographic changes in the Esmond Street Historic district were slower to emerge than in other parts of the immediate neighborhood.

In regard to the influx of Jews, as far as it affects our Catholic population, I should say that our increase is practically untouched by them. Moreover, the Christians are being accustomed to living in the same houses with the Jews and seem to get along peaceably. 22

In 1920 the majority of families living in the district were of Irish descent, though Jewish immigrant families were living in the district in the Jeremiah P. Driscoll House, 70 Esmond Street, a two-family house constructed in 1915 on a vacant lot in the district likely with an eye towards the new demand for multi-family houses in the neighborhood, and in the E.W. Chapman  House, 84 Esmond Street, which were both properties closer in proximity to Blue Hill Avenue and further from the church. (Fig.7) These immigrant families owned their houses and their own small businesses.23 However, in the ensuing decade the Franklin Field North neighborhood and the Esmond Street Historic District continued to absorb greater numbers of Russian Jewish immigrants. A testament to the growing Jewish population, religious schools and synagogues were constructed nearby over the next decade. The Beth El Hebrew School was erected on the corner of Bradshaw and Glenway streets between 1918 and 1920 (no longer extant). The Chai Odom Synogogue, located a short distance from Esmond Street at 103 Nightingale Street was built in 1922 (BOS.6624). The Harvard Congregational Church built in 1888 on Gleason Street near the corner of Harvard Street with the leadership of the Bicknell family, was replaced by the Congregation Adath Beni Israel in 1928 (no longer extant).24 As the Jewish population in the neighborhood grew between 1920 and 1930, so did the number of businesses that served them: kosher butcher shops, bakeries, grocery stores and fruit shops lined Blue Hill Avenue and Harvard Street. One remembrance of a resident growing up in the neighborhood at this time recalled, “Up Harvard Street way, by 1930 Loring’s Drug Store had become Trachtenberg’s, as also had Harring & Teele’s at Harvard and Washington….the length of Harvard Street down to Franklin Field had become dominantly Jewish.”25

The visible manifestation of this demographic change within the Esmond Street Historic District came with the demolition of several nineteenth century houses in the district and their replacement with large, Colonial Revival brick apartment buildings in the mid-late 1920s. While the apartment buildings were a departure from the smaller-scale Queen Anne dwellings on the street, their finely detailed facades with Classically-inspired entries and fenestration, stone cornices, patterned brick and/or inset stone panels projected a high-class quality that suited the neighborhood in style, if not in scale. Free-standing on their lots with space between neighboring buildings, with inset porches and balconies providing private outdoor space for apartment-dwellers, these buildings reflected their suburban setting, distinguishing them from the small, densely situated, tenement buildings in the downtown neighborhoods.

The first apartment building constructed in the district was the Annie Weinfield Apartments, 91  Esmond Street built in 1925. The building replaced a house developed by the Bicknells in the late nineteenth century which was home to first generation Irish-Americans in 1920. With seventeen units, the building was significantly larger than any other residential building on Esmond Street. The Annie Weinfield Apartments were constructed for Joseph and Annie Weinfield both of Russian Jewish heritage, by Silverman, Brown, and Heenan, the later iteration of the Silverman Engineering Company who designed the first masonry apartment building on the street at 41 Esmond Street a decade earlier.26 The Weinfields resided in the building with people of shared backgrounds. The 1930 census reveals the building was home to Jewish immigrants from Russia, Latvia, and Lithuania who emigrated to the United states in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through about 1914, as well as to first-generation Russian-Americans. Several of these families owned their own small businesses in the dry goods, jewelry, and grocery sectors. Others were trained professionals, salesmen, tailors, and teachers.

The closing years of the 1920s saw the expansion of new accommodations for Jewish residents within the Esmond Street Historic District. More nineteenth century houses developed by the Bicknell family were demolished and replaced by two large-scale and one small-scale apartment buildings all developed by owners, builders, and architects who were part of Boston’s immigrant Jewish community. (Fig.8) The Benjamin Elfman Apartments, 85 Esmond Street were constructed adjacent to the Annie Weinfield Apartments in 1928. This twenty-unit building was owned and built by Benjamin Elfman from the designs of the architectural firm of Winebaum and Wexler. Elfman was a Jewish builder who emigrated from Lithuania in 1889.27 In addition to developing the building, he also resided in it. The architects responsible for the design of the building were the architectural firm of Winebaum an Wexler. Arthur Winebaum, immigrated from Russia in 1908. His partner David Wexler was also part of the Jewish community; his parents immigrated from Russia to Fall River in 1890. Both men resided in Brookline.28 Winebaum and Wexler began their partnership as architects and civil engineers in the early 1920s when they had an office on School Street in Boston. Beginning in 1925 they worked out of an office on Cornhill Street in Boston. The firm was most active in the 1920s through the early 1940s when David Wexler died. They designed numerous buildings in Boston, Brookline, and Newton. Their work was primarily residential and included single and two-family houses, triple-deckers, as well as apartment buildings.29

The Abraham Marks Apartments, 183-185 Harvard Street on the corner of Esmond Street was also constructed in 1928. The twenty-eight-unit apartment building is the largest in the district.

By the middle 1920s, Catholics in St. Leo’s Parish, even those on the few streets surrounding the church, could no longer resist the Jewish demand for housing. The parish church did not move, but its parishioners eventually did. Laying aside plans for a new church, the modest Catholic population that remained in St. Leo’s Parish continued to worship in the frame church now located in a Jewish neighborhood.32

As further evidence of the thriving Jewish community, many of the single family homes in the district were altered to accommodate more Jewish residents, either with the addition of extra rooms as were added to the Caroline E. Mowry House, 99 Esmond Street in the 1930s, or with the conversion of single-family residences to multi-family dwellings in 1940s, changes undwent in the Jeremiah P. Driscoll House, 70 Esmond Street, the Benjamin F. Underhil House, 72  Esmond Street, the William H. Bennett House, 76 Esmond Street, Amelia D. Bicknell House, 80 Esmond Street, Jessie M. Lent House, 95 Esmond Street. The Esmond Street Historic District continued to thrive as home to a vibrant middle-class Jewish community into the 1960s.

The Architectural Styles of the Esmond Street Historic District

The buildings in the Esmond Street Historic District predominantly represent the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival architectural styles as these were popular design aesthetics during the two most productive building periods in the district: the late 1880s/1890s and the 1920s. The Queen Anne architectural style was popular in the United States for a brief period from about 1880­1900 with diminishing popularity into the first decade of the twentieth century. Notable features of the Queen Anne style include steeply pitched roof shapes, often with dominant front-facing gables, asymmetrical façades and massing, often with a front porch that extends along sidewalls, and interrupted surface walls either by use of varying materials, or with structural elements such as towers, bays, overhangs, wall projections, and cutaway bay windows. Many Queen Anne Houses also display spindlework ornamentation on porches and gables. The Jessie M. Lent House, 95 Esmond Street and the William H. Bennett House, 76 Esmond Street both constructed as single-family homes in 1895 and 1900, respectively, are the district’s most elaborate examples of the Queen Anne style. Though both have been altered over the decades to accommodate conversion to multi-family houses, the original asymmetrical and rambling massing of each is clearly recognizable. This massing combined with corner towers and wraparound porches are identifying stylistic characteristics. The Amelia D. Bicknell Houses, 80 and 84 Esmond Street display many of the same Queen Anne elements though at a smaller scale, such as full-width and wrap-around porches, steeply pitched roofs with dominant front-facing gables, and asymmetrical massing with projecting bays. Some spindlework remains on the cross-gable dormer of the Ameilia D. Bicknell House, 80 Esmond Street. 

The Queen Anne Style was gradually supplanted in popularity by the Colonial Revival, which was also emerging at the close of the nineteenth century. The Colonial Revival style was immensely popular in the United States through the mid twentieth century. It was the dominant architectural vocabulary of apartment house buildings in Dorchester in the first three decades of the twentieth century. While early interest in the colonial past was triggered by the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876, the 1893 Worlds Columbian Exposition in Chicago cemented the enthusiasm for reviving its relics in the minds of the nation. The occasion marked the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America, and presented visitors with innumerable opportunities to experience the colonial past. Colonial Architecture was on exhibit in many of the State buildings erected at the fair; their decorative interiors, commemorative displays, and historical exhibitions flooded the fair grounds.33 Massachusetts recreated the John Hancock House, built on Beacon Hill in 1737 and demolished in 1863. This colonial celebration coincided with mass immigration to the United States from Europe in the 1880s and 1890s which fueled a desire to underscore and impart American values. Reviving elements of the colonial past was reassuring at a time of great change.

Colonial Revival architecture began as loose interpretations of colonial period buildings, but took a more serious turn in the early twentieth century when publications like The American Architect and Building News began publishing measured drawings of colonial buildings and the White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs printed photographs of colonial precedents.34 The single-most defining characteristic that was reproduced in the revival movement is an emphasis on the door surround of the main entrance, which often features pilasters or slender columns supporting a pediment or entablature as seen in the Georgian-style, or a fanlight above the door as seen in the Federal-style. Other characteristic elements of the revival style include elaborate cornices, symmetrical fenestration arrangement, light colored brick, bay windows, multi-pane double-hung sash windows commonly featured in pairs, and in urban examples, bowed fronts, which allowed for increased light to reach apartments in buildings erected on deep, narrow lots. 35

In the Esmond Street Historic District, the Colonial Revival style was applied to single and two-family houses constructed in the late-nineteenth century and early twentieth century, St. Leo’s Church, and brick apartment buildings of the 1920s, reflecting the style’s long period of popularity and the diversity of building types to which it was applied. The Benjamin F.  Underhill House, 72 Esmond Street, built as a single-family house in 1897, incorporates slender columns supporting its wide front porch, side lights flanking the second floor balcony entrance, a bay window, and a pedimented dormer with paired windows. The Catholic Charities Haitian Multi-Services Center, 12 Bicknell Street, built as a single-family house in 1898 shares many of these features as well as a finely-detailed denticulated cornice and pedimented dormer with a keyed tripartite round-arched window. The Jeramiah P. Driscoll House, 70 Esmond Street,  constructed as a two-family house in 1915 also continued many of these trends more than a decade later with slender columns on its porch and balcony as well as in its front dormer. This house also displays canted bays on its façade and bay windows on secondary elevations typical of the Colonial Revival. St. Leo’s Church, 96 Esmond Street constructed in 1902 exemplifies the Colonial Revival as applied to a religious building with its classically-inspired entry supported by Ionic columns and Doric pilasters, as well as corner pilasters terminating corners of the façade. The Abraham Marks Apartments, 183-185 Harvard Street, constructed in 1928 is the most ornate example of the Colonial Revival apartment buildings in the district with contrasting stone classical details, notably the Corinthian pilasters framing the entries, lintels with urns and swags in relief, keyed lintels, molded watertable, third-floor lintel course and cornice.

Summary of Activity in the District post-1967

The thriving Jewish community that defined the Esmond Street Historic District from the 1920s through the late 1950s began its decline in the 1960s as the neighborhood demographics changed once again. This reflected a larger trend in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan as a whole. Beginning in the mid-twentieth century, African-Americans began settling in Dorchester and Roxbury, many making their way north from the southern United States during a period known as the Great Migration. As African-Americans move in, Jewish residents began to follow their predecessors into the Boston suburbs of Brookline and Newton. In 1950, about 70,000 Jews resided in the Dorchester.36 However, between 1950 and 1960, the Jewish population of Dorchester shrank from 70,000 to 47,000. The trend continued over the next decade: in 1970 there were 16,000 Jewish residents of Dorchester, and by the end of the decade only several hundred remained.37 The Jewish population of the Esmond Street Historic district gradually diminished between 1955 and 1965. The 1955 City Directory shows nearly every building and apartment in the Esmond Street Historic District was occupied by families with Jewish surnames at that time. In 1965, the City Directory indicates that the Esmond Street Historic District was still home to many families with Jewish surnames, however, there were signs of change in the number of vacancies reported in several apartments in the district as well as evidence of surnames that are not Jewish. By 1968 the pastor of St. Leo’s parish reported, “The parish geography is predominantly black.”38

A sign of the declining Jewish population in the Franklin Field North neighborhood as a whole, the Beth El synagogue on Fowler Street closed in 1967, its congregation moving to Newton. The building was vacant beginning in the 1980s and was razed in 1998. The congregation of the Chai Odom Synagogue moved out of its Nightingale Street building in 1968, and the Beth El

Hebrew School formerly on the corner of Gleason and Bradshaw streets was demolished sometime between 1971-1978. By 1970, only a very small number of families with Jewish surnames were listed in the City Directory in the Esmond Street Historic District. St. Leo’s church and the buildings that comprised the complex became the institutional focus of Boston’s Haitian community in the early 1970s through 2006 when the property was purchased by the Bethel Tabernacle Pentecostal Church, its current owners. Prior to the complex’s purchase by the Bethel Tabernacle Pentecostal Church, the fate of the site was uncertain, with demolition of the buildings and development of the site with an affordable housing complex under consideration.39

In 2015, the Cruz Development Corporation, current owner of the Harry Brooker Apartments,  92-94 Esmond Street, renovated the building for continued use as affordable housing units using historic tax credits. The renovation aimed to address issues of deferred maintenance on the building’s exterior and interior. Work included the replacement of non-historic doors and windows, repointing and repair of brickwork, repair of concrete stairs, slabs, and curbs, and drywall, replacement of rotted wood and non-historic interior fixtures and finishes, and repair and replacement of flooring. All work met the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties.


Posted on

April 9, 2020