[Note: this reproduction of the information in the Boston Landmarks Area Form may have typographical errors, and for technical matters, the reader may want to consult a copy of the original, which is available at the Boston Landmarks Commission or the Dorchester Historical Society]
The Lawrence Avenue Area is a roughly rectangular-shaped, primarily residential area encompassing 14.6 acres along the north1 and south sides of Lawrence Avenue between Blue Hill Avenue and Magnolia Street, and the north block on Intervale Avenue between Magnolia Street and Coleus Park. The area comprises predominantly multiple-family houses, with only a few commercial and institutional buildings, dating to the late 19th and early 20th centuries constructed in the Queen Anne, Classical Revival, and Colonial Revival styles with a small amount of late 20th century infill. The buildings in the area are generally set back from the street, on predominantly rectangular lots with narrow, grassy, front lawns and larger rear yards. The area also includes King School Park on Coleus Park, associated with Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, 77 Lawrence Avenue (Figure 1), which was constructed between 1971 and 1978.
The following descriptions are arranged alpha-numerically by street and include select buildings in the area as a representation of the resources in the area.
The building at 320 Blue Hill Avenue (1934) (Photo 2), on the northeast corner of Blue Hill and Lawrence avenues, is set on the edge of the sidewalk. It is a one-story, three-bay-by-six-bay, rectangular, masonry commercial building constructed in the Art Deco style. It has a flat roof with a limestone parapet and brick infill walls. The west (façade) elevation are divided by evenly space, fluted piers that project above the parapet with a stepped edge that wrap around to the two west-most bays on the south elevation. A chevron-patterned frieze runs between each pair at the base of the parapet and continues along the remainder of the south elevation. There are two primary storefront entrances in the north bay on the façade and recessed the west bay on the south elevation. Both have modern, aluminum-frame, fully-glazed doors with plateglass sidelights. Windows are replacement plateglass with aluminum frames, arranged singularly and in groups of three with concrete lintels and sills.
The building at 322-324 Blue Hill Avenue (1897) (Photo 3) spans two lots on the southeast corner of Blue Hill and Lawrence avenues and is set on the edge of the sidewalk to the west, but set back from Lawrence Avenue with a narrow concrete strip between the sidewalk and building. It is a three-story, five-bay-by-seven-bay, irregularly shaped, masonry, mixed-use, Classical Revival-style building. It has a flat roof with a heavy, bracketed, cast-iron cornice and buff brick walls. The first story of the north elevation is clad flush limestone. The storefronts on the east (façade) elevation have fluted pilasters that support a painted limestone cornice, which was partially removed at the south end. There are four entrances on the façade comprising two fully glazed, aluminum frame single-leaf doors, one in a recessed entry, and two solid metal slab, single-leaf doors. The two doors in the center have transoms in segmental arch openings. Four, three-story bay windows are evenly spaced on the north elevation facing Lawrence Avenue. There are entrances with modern replacement doors and limestone lintels in the base of the center two bay windows. A third entrance at 9 Lawrence Avenue, consists of a portico with Corinthian columns and pilasters supporting a flat-roof with a carved frieze and modern, paneled replacement door with rectangular transom. Fenestration consists of one-over-one, vinyl replacement sash with limestone lintels and continuous limestone sills. Continuous bands of carved limestone run along the bottom and top of the windows on the second story.
The building at 18 Coleus Park (1928) (Photo 4), on the east side of the street, is set back from the edge of the sidewalk with a raised lawn edged by a concrete retaining wall. An asphalt driveway runs to the north. The building is a two-story, two-bay-by-four-bay, rectangular, wood-frame, Colonial Revival-style, multi-family house. It has an asphalt shingle-clad, hip roof with flat wood cornice, wood shingle-clad walls, and a tall parged foundation. A two-story, hip-roof entry porch is on the south end of the east (façade) elevation with solid, wood-shingle clad knee walls and square posts. The primary entrance in the south bay of the façade is a modern replacement door covered by a fully glazed storm door with flat wood trim. A second identical entrance leads to the second level of the porch. Windows consist of one-over-one, double-hung, vinyl replacement sash arranged singularly, in pairs, and in groups of the three with flat wood trim.
The William Phipps House, 22-24 Lawrence Avenue (1886) (Photo 5), on the north side of the street, is set back from the edge of the sidewalk with a narrow grassy lawn along the front and a concrete driveway on the west side. The wood-frame, Queen Anne-style house is two-and-one-half stories tall, five bays wide, four bays deep with an irregularly shaped plan. The asphalt shingle-clad, cross-hip roof has gable roof dormers on the north, east, and west slopes, a gambrel-roof dormer on the south slope, and a brick chimney at the ridge. The first story of the house is clad in brick and the upper stories have vinyl siding. A three-story tower with a conical-roof is in the southwest corner and a two-story bay window is in the center of the south (façade) elevation. Two story porches are attached to the north and south ends of the east elevation. There are three entrances on the façade; two in the west end and one in the east end. Each entrance has a paneled replacement door. Windows are one-over-one, double-hung, vinyl replacement sash. Window and door openings on the first story have brick lintels.
The Saint Hugh Roman Catholic Rectory, 26 Lawrence Avenue (BOS.15313, 1889-1894) (Photo 6), on the north side of the street, is set back from the sidewalk with a narrow grassy lawn lined with boxed shrubs and a chain link fence along the perimeter of the property. A concrete driveway runs along the east side of the house. The building is a two-and-one-half-story, two-bay-by-three-bay, roughly rectangular, wood-frame, Colonial Revival-style house. The slate shingle-clad, hip roof has a denticulated cornice, gable and round-arch dormers each slope, a large, gambrel-roof dormer on the south slope, and a brick chimney on the north slope. There is a large, two-story addition on the north (rear) elevation. An enclosed porch is attached to the second story of the east elevation supported by square posts. A two-story, round bay window is at the east end of the south (façade) elevation. The primary entrance is not visible enclosed in a porch with a flat-roof portico with lattice brackets and a denticulated cornice supported by round Doric columns. Windows are one-over-one, double-hung, aluminum replacement sash.
The building at 40-42 Lawrence Avenue (1910-1918) (Photo 7), on the north side of the street, is set back from the sidewalk with a narrow grassy lawn surrounded by a chain link fence with foundation plantings of shrubs and deciduous trees. The building is a four-story, five-bay-by-seven-bay, roughly rectangular, masonry, Classical Revival-style apartment building. It has a flat roof with a galvanized metal cornice with dentil frieze, regularly set brackets extending through the frieze, and intermediary modillion blocks, brick walls, and a stone foundation. The south (façade) elevation is exposed brick with four-story, semi-hexagonal bay windows on the west and east ends and the secondary elevations are painted brick. Spandrel panels between the second and third and third and fourth stories feature plain, slightly recessed panel designs articulated in the face brick work. The main entrance is centered on the facade, set at grade slightly below the level of the first story. The slightly recessed entrance has a cast stone surround with Ionic pilasters on paneled pedestals, plain frieze, and cornice. The entrance is fitted with a partially glazed, metal replacement door with metal frame, half-length sidelights, and three-part transom. Window openings on the first story of the facade have cast stone sills and lintels with flared, raised voussoirs at each end and a keystone. Second and fourth-story openings have plain cast stone lintels and sills. The third-story openings have flared lintels with keystones and plain sills. Windows are one-over-one, double-hung, aluminum sash in varying sizes.
The William Phipps House, 44-46 Lawrence Avenue (ca. 1886) (Photo 8), on the north side of the street, is set back from the street with a grassy lawn between the house and sidewalk irregularly divided by concrete walkways and surrounded by a chain link fence. An asphalt driveway runs along the east end of the property. The house is a two-and-one-half-story, three-bay-wide, roughly rectangular, wood-frame, Queen Anne-style house with two-story ell on the north elevation and a large two-story addition at the north end of the east elevation. It has an asphalt shingle-clad, hip roof with a wide deep over hanging eves and a denticulated cornice, hip-roof dormers on the west, south, and east slopes, and a three-story tower with a conical roof is in the southwest corner. The walls on the main block of the house and addition are clad in wood clapboards with a flat band of wood trim running between the first and second stories. The first story of the tower is clad in flush vertical boards with patterned wood shingles on the second and third stories. The foundation is stone. A one-story, hip roof porch extends across the south (façade) elevation and wraps around the east elevation. The primary entrance is off-center on the façade beneath the porch and consist of a pair of partially glazed, wood panel doors covered by modern aluminum storms. Windows in the main block are one-over-one, double-hung vinyl replacement sash and six-over-six, double-hung vinyl sash in the addition. A decorative round-arch window is in the second story on the west elevation.
The Sarah F. Pierce House, 45 Lawrence Avenue (1873-1889) (Photo 9), at the southwest corner of Normandy Street and Lawrence Avenue, has a grassy lawn that wraps around the west, north, and east sides of the house and edged by a chain link fence. An asphalt driveway runs along the south side of the property. The house is a two-and-one-half-story, three-bay-by-three-bay, T-shaped, wood-frame, Queen Anne-style building with a two-story addition on the south (rear) elevation. The asphalt shingle-clad, cross-gable roof has a peaked gable on the north (façade) elevation and clipped gables on the east and west elevations. Shed roof dormers are on the east and west slopes and a tall brick chimneys are at the edge of the east and south slopes. The walls are clad in vinyl and rest on a parged foundation. A one-story, hip roof porch supported by turned posts with elaborate brackets wraps around the north end of the east and west elevation and across the façade. A two-story porch is attached to the south elevation of the addition. The primary entrance is in the east elevation beneath the porch and consists of a partially glazed, wood panel door covered by a modern aluminum screen door. Windows are one-over-one, double-hung, vinyl sash in varying sizes.
The apartment building at 55 Lawrence Avenue (1931) (Photo 10), on the southwest corner of Lawrence Avenue and Fernboro Street, is set close to the edge of the sidewalk with a narrow mulched planting bed lined with mature topiary and a chain link fence along the sidewalk. The building is a four-story, three-bay-by-four-bay, rectangular, masonry apartment building with Art Deco detailing. It has a flat roof with a brick parapet with concrete coping on the north (façade) and east elevations. The walls are red brick with a vertical stretcher course rising four stories on either side of the center bay. The building lacks ornamentation except for patterned brick detailing along the top of the west elevation and concrete panels with chevron and fluted motifs. This panels are also at the top of the façade on the west end and appear to have been mirrored on the east end. The primary entrance is in the center of the façade and consist of a partially glazed, wood door flanked by full-height sidelights with pilasters. Windows are one-over-one, wood replacement sash with some aluminum replacements sash arranged singularly, in pairs, and in groups of three.
The building at 67 Lawrence Avenue (1908) (Photo 11), on the south side of the street, is set close to the street with grassy lawns to the east and west sides and a chain link fence edging the perimeter of the property. The building is a three-story, two-bay-by-five-bay, roughly rectangular, wood-frame, Victorian Eclectic triple decker tenement. It has a flat roof with a wide, bracketed and denticulated wood cornice, clapboard and wood shingle-clad walls with wide corner boards, and a granite block foundation. Bracketed and denticulated wood cornices also runs between the first and second and second and third stories. Three-story bay windows are in the east end of the north (façade) elevation and in the center of the east elevation. A three-story entry porch is in the west end of the façade with round Doric columns. Each level has a denticulated entablature with low porch railings with turned balusters. A secondary, three-story porch is at the south (rear) elevation. The primary entrance is beneath the porch at the west end of the façade and consists of a partially glazed wood door covered by a fully-glazed storm door flanked by half-height sidelights capped with a denticulated lintel. Secondary entrances at each level of the porch are partially glazed wood doors covered by storm doors with wood trim. Windows are one-over-one, replacement sash covered by storm windows with wood trim. Two decorative, square, fixed sash windows are near the center of the west elevation.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, 77 Lawrence Avenue (1936) (Photo 1, Figure 1) on the south side of the street, is set back for the sidewalk on a large lot. The north end of the lot is a grassy lawn with, surrounded by a concrete walkway dotted with deciduous trees. The areas to the east, west, and south of the building are paved with asphalt. A wrought-iron fence runs along the north side of the property with an arched pedestrian entrance with letters reading
“Martin Luther King Jr. K-8 School.” The building is two-stories tall with a U-shaped plan and an auditorium/gymnasium block in the center of the symmetrical north (façade) elevation designed in the Art Deco style. It has a flat roof with a brick parapet with bands of limestone at the top and bottom of the parapet that runs around the entire building. The tall, one-story brick auditorium/gymnasium block sits on a raised limestone and brick basement that houses the gymnasium. A double set of U-shaped granite block stairs leads to a center, limestone pavilion with a parapet slightly higher than the brick parapet that wraps around the rest of the building. The entrance, in the center of the pavilion, is set within a recessed bay with corbelling to the sides and panels with carving in relief above. The entrance consists of a three, double-leaf paneled metal doors with tracery transoms above. A decorative fluted copper panel with copper piers is set above the entrance. A circular medallion bearing the City of Boston seal is set in the limestone in the center of the pavilion. Two levels of three-light, wood fixed sash flank the entrance. Six-light, wood fixed sash windows are in the east and west bays of the façade and the lower and upper levels of the north bay on the east and west elevation. Window openings in the upper level have flat limestone lintels. Additional windows in the auditorium/gymnasium block are three-part, fixed sash comprising a center, large six-light sash flanked by three-light sash surmounted by eight-light transoms. Square windows in the limestone portion of the raised basement are two-over-two, double-hung wood sash covered by decorative, wrought-iron grills. The basement-level windows on the east and west elevations are also three-part, fixed sash covered by metal security grills. The main block of the school has brick walls that rest on a raised, brick basement with a concrete foundation and a limestone watertable. The windows on the first and second stories are rectangular, six-light, wood, fixed sash. The basement level windows are two-over-two, double-hung wood sash with a two-light, wood fixed transom above.
The King School Park, Coleus Park (1971-1978) (Photo 12) at the northeast corner of Coleus Park and Intervale Street, is associated with the Martin Luther King Jr. School at 77 Lawrence Avenue. The park comprises a tennis court at the south end, a basketball court at the north end, and a sloping grassy lawn bisected diagonally by a concrete walked in the center. Deciduous trees line the west side of the property between the park and the school. Additional deciduous trees are in the center of the east end of the park.
The building at 87-99 Lawrence Avenue (1916) (Photo 13), on the southwest corner of Coleus Park and Lawrence Avenue, is set at the sidewalk with narrow mulched planter beds between the building and the sidewalk edge with a low wrought iron fence. The 4-story, 21-bay-by-1-bay, rectangular, masonry, Classical Revival-style apartment building has a flat roof with a brick parapet with triangular pendants on the north (façade) elevation and brick walls. The raised brick foundation has a limestone watertable and a narrow molded limestone cornice that runs at the bottom of the parapet. Each of the four entry bays is recessed with pairs of entrances in each except for a single entrance at the west end of the façade. Each entrance consists of a single-leaf, fully-glazed, metal frame door flanked by full-height sidelights and a rectangular transom. The limestone door surrounds have paneled pilasters supporting a paneled entablature with a slightly projecting lintel with a pediment. A single, large pediment spans each of the double entrances. The rectangular window openings each have a limestone sill surrounded by a stretcher course of brick. The window openings at the basement level are filled with concrete block. Windows are one-over-one, double-hung, aluminum replacement sash.
The building at 90-92 Lawrence Avenue (1908) (Photo 14), on the north side of the street, is set close to the sidewalk with a small, narrow lawn between the building and the sidewalk. The three-story, four-bay-by-five-bay, rectangular, masonry, Classical Revival-style apartment building has a flat roof with a wide, galvanized iron cornice with large brackets above a denticulated frieze and brick walls. The building has a raised brick foundation with a limestone watertable and quoins at each corner of the north (façade) elevation. Three-story bay windows are at the east and west end bays. The center bays contain the primary entrances, each containing a wood door with half-height sidelights and rectangular transoms with flat limestone quoins, flat entablatures, and a slightly projecting lintel. The first story of each of the bay windows have three rectangular window openings with continuous limestone sills and slightly projecting lintels and stain-glass transoms. The window openings of second and third stories of the bay windows have flat limestone sills and lintels. The rectangular window openings in the center bays have flat limestone sills with limestone, slightly projecting lintels on the second story and splayed limestone lintels with keystones on the third story. Window openings on the secondary elevations have segmental arched with brick lintels and concrete sills. All the windows are one-over-one, double-hung, aluminum replacement sash.
The John J. Harley House, 102 Lawrence Avenue (1889-1894) (Photo 15), on the north side of the street, is set back from the sidewalk with a concrete paved patio between the house and a brick and wrought-iron fence that lines the sidewalk on the south side of the property. An asphalt driveway is east of the house. The house is two-stories tall, three-bays wide by three-bays deep, with a rectangular plan designed in the Colonial Revival style. It has an asphalt shingle-clad, hip roof with a denticulated cornice with gable roof dormers on the west, north, and east slopes and a brick chimney on the east slope. The walls are clad in vinyl with two-story, fluted Corinthian pilasters at the east and west corners of the south (façade) elevation and rest on a parged stone foundation. A two-story, portico has fluted Corinthian columns and pilasters supporting the denticulated pediment. The first story of the portico was enclosed with a flat roof with denticulated cornice. The primary entrance in the center of the enclosed portion of the portico and consists of a partially glazed wood panel door flanked by fluted Ionic pilasters and a round-arch transom surmounted by a rounded, denticulated roof. Window openings on the first story of the façade have denticulated pediments. The remainder of the window openings have simple
molded trim. All the windows are one-over-one, double-hung, vinyl replacement sash.
105-111 Lawrence Avenue (1913) (Photo 16) on the south side of Lawrence Avenue, is set at the sidewalk edge. It is three-stories tall and eights-bays wide with a roughly U-shaped plan. It has a flat roof with a deep bracketed, galvanized iron cornice, brick walls, and a stone foundation. The raised brick basement has a limestone watertable and a limestone stringcourse runs between the first and second stories. Slightly projecting piers of stretcher bricks run up the center of the three-story bay windows at the east and west ends and the center of the north (façade) elevation. The entrances are in recessed bays evenly spaced on the facade with limestone surrounds comprising flat Doric pilasters supporting a flat entablature and segmental-arch pediment containing modern partially glazed, metal, single-leaf doors flanked by full-height sidelights with rectangular transoms. The rectangular window openings that flank each entrance have a cast acanthus leaf ornaments below the sills. The first and third story windows in the bay windows have wide, molded limestone lintels, but the remainder have flat limestone lintels. The openings on the first and third stories have limestone sills. Stretcher bricks arranged in a diamond pattern are set between the second and third stories. The window openings on the secondary elevations are segmentally arched with bring lintels and concrete sills. All the windows are one-over-one, double-hung, aluminum replacement sash arranged singularly and in pairs.
The building at 255-263 Magnolia Street (1915) (Photo 17), on the west side of the street, is set at the edge of the sidewalk. An asphalt driveway to the south leads to a parking area at the west side of the property. The building is a three-story, ten-bay-by-three-bay, roughly rectangular, masonry, Classical Revival-style apartment building. It has a flat roof with a deep galvanized iron cornice with brackets and a denticulated entablature, brick walls, and a stone foundation. The raised brick basement has a limestone watertable. There are five three-story bay windows on the east (façade) elevation. Recessed entry bays with slightly projecting limestone lintels supported by limestone consoles are set between the bay windows and contain modern partially glazed, metal doors, some have with half-height sidelights and rectangular transoms. Window openings on the first story are rectangular with slightly projecting lintels with small limestone consoles; second story has splayed limestone lintels with keystones; and third story have paneled, rectangular limestone lintels. Some of the window openings are filled with brick, but all the window openings have limestone sills. Window openings on the secondary elevations are segmentally arched with brick lintels and limestone sills. Windows consist of one-over-one, double-hung, vinyl and aluminum replacement sash on the first through third stories and vinyl, fixed replacement sash in the basement.
The duplex at 273-275 Magnolia Street (1971) (Photo 18), on the northwest corner of Magnolia and Intervale streets, is set back from the sidewalk on a slightly raised lot with a grassy lawn on the north, south, and east sides of the house. A small parking area is to the southwest. The building is a two-and-one-half-story, four-bay-by-three-bay, rectangular, wood-frame, modular duplex with little architectural ornamentation. The asphalt shingle-clad, side-gable roof have full-length shed dormers on the east and west slopes, the walls are clad in vinyl, and the foundation is poured concrete. Hip-roof porches supported by square posts wrap around the northeast and southeast corners of the building. Wide bands of vinyl trim run between the first and second and second and third stories, accentuating the overhang of the second story on the east and west elevations. The primary entrances to each unit are on the east ends of the north and south elevations and
consist of paneled doors with windows near the top covered by partially glazed, metal storm doors. Secondary entrances and porches are on the west elevation. Windows are one-over-one, double-hung, vinyl replacement sash in varying sizes.
In 1630, the Massachusetts Bay Company settled Roxbury on land that included present-day West Roxbury and Brookline. The Roxbury (or Boston) Neck, along what is now Washington Street, provided the only land access to the City of Boston until 1786 when the Charles River Bridge was constructed. Roxbury was primarily an agricultural community from its founding until the mid-nineteenth century, at which time commercial businesses and industry, such as leather production and cabinet making, developed around Dudley Square. In 1800, Roxbury had a population of 2,700 and by 1840 this increased to just over 9,000 people. Early Roxbury residents were largely middle and upper class Yankees. This population makeup shifted in the mid to late nineteenth century as many first and second generation Irish immigrants relocated from parts of Boston like the North End to places like the South End, Roxbury, and Dorchester.2 In 1846, the population had reach 15,000 residents and Roxbury was incorporated as a city. In 1851, West Roxbury formed its own town. By the 1850s, the quickly developing city was urged on with urban improvements such as sidewalks, sewers, parks, gas, and street railroads. In 1868, Roxbury’s population had reached about 23,000 and it was annexed by Boston. In 1880, the horse drawn street railroads were replaced by electric streetcars and Roxbury rapidly developed as a dense urban residential neighborhood.3
Before annexation to Boston in 1870, this section of Dorchester was still remarkably rural and dominated by the large estates of wealthy regional families. After 1870, real estate developers began transforming the former estates into gridded streets marching west from the Boston & New York Central Railroad line. The area of Grove Hall north of Columbia Road developed slightly later, likely in conjunction with electric streetcar service to the area in the 1890s and the outmigration of many of Boston’s urban middle class to surrounding suburban areas. Some pockets, such as the area between Normandy Street and the Boston & New York railroad lines, remained undivided until the late 1910s.4 Already developed areas like Lawrence Avenue saw additional construction on buildable lots and conversion of some dwellings to multiple family use.
The Jewish Community in Roxbury and Dorchester
The seeds of demographic change and increased urbanization in the Grove Hall section of Roxbury and Dorchester began in the 1890s with the first migration of Boston’s urban Jewish population to the Roxbury Highlands and Dorchester, primarily from the North End, West End, and Chelsea districts of Boston. The newcomers established a series of synagogues in the Highlands and Grove Hall between 1891 and 1925. The most substantial congregations were Adath Jeshurun, established in 1891; Beth Hamidrash Hagadol, originally called the Crawford Street Shul, established in 1913; and Mishkin Tefila, which moved to Roxbury from the South End in the 1910s. By 1918, Congregation Nersuch Starett of Roxbury moved into the Charles H. Perkins House, 47 Lawrence Avenue, but moved to 36 Lawrence Avenue by 1933. Congregation Nasach Sfard used the house at 47 Lawrence as a synagogue. Both congregations remained through at least 1950.5 47 Lawrence Avenue is now the Gospel Assembly Church of the Body of Christ and 36 Lawrence Avenue is now Manning Temple Holy Church of Love. Adath Jeshurun eventually constructed a substantial Romanesque synagogue just a block from 41 Intervale Street at 397 Blue Hill Avenue; Beth Hamidrash Hagadol constructed a synagogue at 105 Crawford Street (no longer extant). The presence of the synagogues fostered migration to the adjoining neighborhoods and what had been an affluent, upper-middle-class, Protestant-dominated neighborhood on Elm Hill became an increasingly affluent, upper-middle-class Jewish-dominated neighborhood.
Between the early 1900s and World War II, the Roxbury Highlands and Grove Hall neighborhoods were the unquestionable center of Boston’s Jewish population. Even as middle and upper middle-class Jews began relocating to Brookline and other suburban districts in the later 1920s, migration of lower-middle and working class Jews kept the local Jewish population high. Along the spine of Blue Hill Avenue, the Jewish population nearly doubled in the 1920s to around 77,000 persons, or roughly half the entire Jewish population of Boston.7 By the 1940s, an estimated 85 to 100 percent of the region’s Jewish population lived on the residential streets extending from Blue Hill Avenue, Columbia Road, and Seaver Street. The district remained the largest concentration of Jewish population in New England through the early 1950s.8
The influx of new residents to the Roxbury Highlands, Dorchester, and Mattapan reshaped the physical fabric of these neighborhoods. Responding to the influx of new residents arriving in the first wave of migration between 1890 and 1920, builders began constructing substantial multiple-family apartment buildings in line with period middle-class standards of urban living. These were often grouped within walking distance of local synagogues. These discrete areas of settlement merged into one large Jewish community by the 1920s, and the streets surrounding Blue Hill Avenue became a mix of older single-family dwellings and newer multifamily dwellings.9 The second wave of lower-middle and working-class Jewish population arriving in the 1920s spurred another building boom in the area, this time more focused on apartment buildings along Washington Street and Blue Hill Avenue.10
Development of Lawrence Avenue (Blue Hill Avenue to Magnolia Street)
Lawrence Avenue runs northwest to southeast to connect Blue Hill Avenue and Magnolia Street (formerly Myrtle Street) and ultimately Columbia Road, in the Grove Hall district of Roxbury. The street is located northeast of Franklin Park on the neighborhood boundary with Dorchester. Lawrence Avenue was subdivided and developed for primarily residential uses beginning around 1885 and into the first quarter of the twentieth century. The first section of Lawrence Avenue to be developed was between Blue Hill Avenue and Normandy Street. The southeast end of the street remained large estate until the 1910s.
In the late nineteenth century, the majority of the land on the north and south sides of Lawrence Avenue between Blue Hill Avenue and Mascoma Street (formerly Cedar Street) was owned by William Phipps and his son William Phipps Jr. The Phipps property spanned from present-day Creston Street (formerly Grove Street) to the south, Quincy Street to the north, Blue Hill Avenue to the west, and Magnolia Mascoma Street to the east. The Phipps even laid out “Phipps Street,” which is the original name for Fayston Street, immediately north of Lawrence Avenue. Phipps also owned smaller parcels between Mascoma and Magnolia streets along Lawrence Avenue. Phipps Jr., a hemp dealer on Chatham Row in Boston, was living at the Clarendon Hotel in 1886, most likely while his own home was being constructed at 44-46 Lawrence Avenue.11 Contemporaneously, Phipps constructed at least nine additional speculation houses on the north and south sides of Lawrence Avenue, including the William Phipps House, 22-24 Lawrence Avenue, the Thomas A. Scott House, 25 Lawrence Avenue, Saint Hugh Roman Catholic Rectory, 26 Lawrence Avenue (BOS.15313), the Andres Blume House, 27 Lawrence Avenue, the Richard F. Irish House, 30 Lawrence Avenue, the Abbie L. Adams House, 35 Lawrence Avenue, the Mary Whitcomb House, 37 Lawrence Avenue, Eliza A. Masten House, 39 Lawrence Avenue (not extant), and the Sarah P. Waterman House, 52 Lawrence Avenue. The house at 45 Lawrence Avenue was built for or by Sarah F. Pierce, a widow, ca. 1885 at the corner of Normandy Street on William Phipps land. It is unclear if Phipps sold any empty lots or if all the lots had houses before being sold. Phipps hired architect John R. Hall for several of the buildings, including his own house at 22-24 Lawrence Avenue and the Thomas A. Scott House, 25 Lawrence Avenue. John
Roulstone Hall (1826–1911) was born in the West End of Boston. He began his career working for his father, English-born architect Charles G. Hall, and practiced in Boston until 1901. Several public and commercial buildings have been attributed to him including the Eustis Street Firehouse, 20 Eustis St (BOS.11512, NRIND 1974), the Boston Journal
Building (not extant), the Hollis Street Theater (not extant), and the Hotel Dartmouth, 51-61 Warren Street (BOS.11405). One of Hall’s most significant commissions was the reconstruction of the Massachusetts State House’s (BOS.4092, NRIND 1966) dome and cupola, following Charles Bulfinch’s original plans. In addition to these significant works, Hall was the architect of many South End row houses and frame residences in Roxbury. Per his obituary in the Boston Herald, Hall lived most of his life in Roxbury.12
The first purpose-built, mixed-use building in the area was constructed at 322-324 Blue Hill Avenue (including 9 Lawrence Avenue) in 1897 by J. Scheffreen, a real estate agent from Boston. The building was designed by Charles E. Park (18671904). Little is known about Park’s life and work. He appears to have been born in Chelmsford, Massachusetts and studied architecture at Syracuse University in New York.13 Park designed numerous residences on Osborne, Naples, and Babcock Streets in Brookline. Other commissions include the Hampton Court Apartments, 1223 Beacon Street, Brookline (BKL.1445) and the Pleasant Street School, 62 Pleasant Street, Ayer (AYE.2). When the building was constructed, it was also the only masonry building in the area. The only other purpose-built commercial building in the area was constructed in 1934, at 320 Blue Hill Avenue by Frank Sher, a real estate agent and Latvian immigrant living in Brookline. Sher hired Boston-based architect Meyer Louis (1905–1977). Louis was born in Chicago and graduated from the University of Illinois. He moved to Boston in 1929 and worked as an architect in the Boston area for over 50 years. Louis was a resident of West Roxbury. He was also a member of the Boston Society of Architects and the American Institute of Architects (AIA).14 Meyer Louis designed several buildings that are listed in MACRIS, including the Reba Oppenheim House, 352 Ken Street, Brookline (BKL.492) and the W.D. Campbell House, 222 Wachusett Street, Boston (BOS.14507).
Lawrence Avenue steadily filled in with single-family residences through the 1890s and into the 1900s. By 1904, all of Phipps’ lots were built out, save a few, but the southeast end of the street still remained large estates owned by Mary A. Hamilton ad Lyman R. Rhodes.15 The Mary A. Hamilton estate originally contained a large house and carriage house. A triple-decker was built on the side lot of the estate sometime between 1889 and 1904, and later moved to 7 Coleus Place for the construction of a school. The Hamilton House and carriage house were demolished between 1910 and 1918 and the apartment building at 87-99 Lawrence Avenue was constructed. The remainder of the Hamilton property was subdivided and a short road name “Hamilton Terrace” was laid out, which is now park of the King School Park on Coleus Place.16 The Lyman R. Rhodes estate, later the Annie B. Chisholm property, contained a three-story, wood-frame, Second Empire-style house and several large outbuildings. Chisolm, of Brookline, planned to subdivide the earlier house into apartments in 1911, noting that “the house in question is located in a suburban dwelling house district which is becoming rapidly converted into a district of apartment houses, and in view of this fact, the value of a private dwelling is naturally so depreciated that an owner is under the necessity of following the fashion of the neighborhood by converting his dwelling house into an apartment house.”17 The house was converted into a multiple-family dwelling and was not demolished until ca. 1970.18 During this period of residential expansion, single-family dwelling were still being constructed, including the John J. Harley House, 102 Lawrence Avenue, which was built near the intersection with Magnolia Street sometime between 1889 and 1894. Harley (1840-1911) moved to the United States from Canada as a child in 1848 and became a freelance illustrator in the late nineteenth century, co-illustrating the 1881 edition of the Prince and Pauper and the 1883 edition of Life on the Mississippi, both by Mark Twain.
The first multi-family apartment buildings were constructed along Lawrence Avenue in the early decades of the twentieth century. Boston’s first “apartment hotel,” the Hotel Pelham, was constructed at the corner of Boylston and Tremont streets in 1857 (demolished 1916).20 Over the second half of the nineteenth century, the apartment building form – typically a multi-floor building containing multiple dwelling units per floor – became a popular alternative for urban middle class families who were unable to afford single-family homes. In response to this market, builders and architects refined the apartment house to accommodate period middle-class notions of home life. Most important in these considerations was distinguishing apartment buildings from the tenement, the other most prevalent form of multi-family housing in the period. Often called “French flats” to reinforce this difference, apartment buildings offered residents greater interior privacy, better technological systems, and more light and air than tenements. Unit sizes were generous and often limited to two to four units per floor. There was also careful attention to exterior imagery and ornament, even if it was only restricted to the primary elevation. Because most apartment buildings had the same basic form, builders and designers relied on ornament for diversity, fostering a sense of individuality for middle-class tenants, and signaling class rank.
In the Grove Hall section of Roxbury and Dorchester, builders constructed apartment buildings in variety of revival styles, typically in unit multiples of three. After the devastating 1872 fire in downtown Boston, the city required multiple family dwellings beyond a certain size to be constructed of fireproof materials, so the apartment buildings are invariably masonry. The buildings usually contained two full-depth units per floor with hallmarks of middle class domesticity such as a parlor, dining room, and unit reception hall. Most buildings also had a modest public reception hall shared by multiple units for additional privacy. Builders in the period were usually local, middle-class amateurs making an investment. These builders often built on land near their own residence and around 40 percent lived in the same building.
The apartment buildings at 40-42 Lawrence Avenue and 90-92 Lawrence Avenue are well-preserved examples of the modest, middle-class apartment buildings constructed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in metropolitan Boston and other urban centers around the Northeast. The apartment building at 40-42 Lawrence Avenue was built in 1915 for Henry Harris, a clothing dealer and shipper and former carpenter from England, who lived in the building with his extended family. The apartment building at 90-92 Lawrence Avenue, built in 1908, was designed by Millman & Levy.23 Many builders in the Jewish community in Roxbury and Dorchester turned to the same architects and designers. Silverman Engineering, headed by Nathan L. Silverman, designed many of the masonry apartment buildings in the Grove Hall. The buildings at 87-99 Lawrence Avenue, 105-111 Lawrence Avenue, and 255-263 Magnolia Street are larger examples of these middle-class apartment buildings, all designed by Silverman Engineering Company. The building at 87-99 Lawrence Avenue was built for Joseph Brilliant in 1916. 105-111 Lawrence Avenue was built in 1913 by carpenters David Yarchin and Louis Smith on the former Annie B. Chisolm property. 105-111 Lawrence Avenue appear to have been an early venture in the career of David Yarchin. He continued to develop investment rental housing, often with Silverman Engineering, into the 1920s in the Fenway. Yarchin’s real estate office during the 1920s was at 43 Tremont Street, the same address as Silverman Engineering. Silverman also designed the apartment building at 255-263 Magnolia Street for Herman B. and Celia Barron in 1915. Herman Barron was a Lithuanian immigrant, a house builder, and later real estate agent. Many landlords saw these as an investment properties, banking on the demand for quality housing within walking distance of the area’s Jewish religious and community institutions.
Silverman Engineering Company was founded sometime in the 1900s as a partnership between brothers David and Nathan L. Silverman. By 1910, Silverman Engineering was one of the most sought after architectural design firms for Jewish real estate investors in Boston. Their work consisted mostly of apartment buildings and triple-deckers throughout areas of Jewish settlement in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan. In the 1920s, David Silverman partnered with Parker J. Brown and Edward F. Heinan. Their apartment building designs from the 1910s and 1920s line the streets of the Fenway, Back Bay, Allston, and Brighton. David Silverman lived on Homestead Street Roxbury from the 1910s until the early 1930s, when he also appears to have stopped practicing.
The wood-frame, triple-decker was also relatively common in the area. Frederick A. Norcross designed numerous apartment buildings in Grove Hall, including a row of four wood-frame, triple-deckers, of which only 67 Lawrence Avenue remains, for Meyer C. Feingold, a salesman, in 1908. Frederick Albert Norcross (1871-1929) was active in practice from 1889 through his death in 1929 and was a specialist in apartment houses and commercial buildings. Norcross was born in Allston and educated in Boston.25 In 1895, he opened his own practice. His work is located throughout Boston, with concentrations in the North End, West End, Fenway, Brookline, Brighton, and the Commonwealth Avenue corridor. Over the course of his career, Norcross designed hundreds of apartment and commercial buildings throughout the city. He appears to have had professional relationships with a number of prominent members of the Jewish community in real estate and residential development that gave him entrée to commissions in Roxbury and Dorchester. On the strength of these relationships, Norcross was responsible for one of the most iconic buildings in the Grove Hall neighborhood: the Congregation Adath Jeshurun, 397 Blue Hill Avenue (BOS.11136; NR listed 1999).26 Norcross also designed dozens of the apartment buildings that line Blue Hill Avenue in Grove Hall as well as individual structures on the adjoining side streets.
The apartment building at 55 Lawrence Avenue was constructed in 1931 by Construction Realty Corporation, who hired Winebaum and Wexler as the architects. This was the last brick apartment building constructed in the area. The partners, Arthur Winebaum (1897-1979) and David S. Wexler, collaborated from 1925 to 1945. From the late 1920s to the 1940s, the firm appears to have primarily designed houses in Boston, Brookline, and Newton. A number of the firm’s designs are listed on the Massachusetts State Register, including three buildings at 87-97 Bourne Street (BOS.14331, BOS.14333, BOS.14336), the Vanan Aptikar House, 42 Pattern Street (BOS. 14417), and the Margaret Monahan House, 65-67 Patten Street (BOS. 14431). Arthur Winebaum was born in Russia in 1897 and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1920. Upon the dissolution of Winebaum & Wexler in 1945, Winebaum opened his own office. Arthur Winebaum was a member of the American Institute of Architects and the Boston Society of Architects. In 1970, Winebaum had offices at 31 St. James Avenue in Boston and was living in Brookline. His principal works include the Westbrook Plaza in Main, Boston Bonnie Fisheries, Esquire Cinemas in Utica, NY, the Allston Post Office in Boston, and the Burlington Post Office in Massachusetts.28 Little is known about David S. Wexler.
By 1933, the City of Boston had acquired a large parcel of land on the south side of Lawrence Avenue, which was formerly part of the Hamilton estate, for use as a school. Two triple-decker buildings at 69-71 and 73-75 Lawrence Avenue and the Hobart S. Hussey House (constructed prior to 1873) were demolished. The triple-decker house at 85 Lawrence Avenue was moved to 7 Coleus Park in 1923 to make way for the school’s construction. The city hired Funk and Wilcox as the architects for the new school. The firm was formed in 1910 by George C. Funk and Frederic S. Wilcox, as the successor to Freeman, Funk, and Williams. They operated until about 1939 and appears to have designed numerous theaters and schools including the Strand Theatre, 543-553 Columbia Road, Boston (BOS.5800), the Ware Theater, 286-290 Cabot Street, Beverly (BEV.538), Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville (SMV.660, NRIND 1990), and Athol High School, 494 School Street, Athol (ATH.82, NRIND 2011). The school was originally named the Patrick T. Campbell School after a former headmaster of the Boston Latin School and Superintendent of Schools. The school was renamed the Martin Luther King Jr. School in 1968 after his assassination. Dr. King spoke on the steps of the school in April 22, 1965 while visiting the city.29
Demographic Transition, Disinvestment, and Revitalization in Roxbury Highlands/Grove Hall
Beginning in the 1950s, the Jewish population of Roxbury and Dorchester began to decline. In 1958, the major synagogue in the district, Temple Mishkan Tefila (1924) on Seaver Street, followed suit with the majority of its congregation and moved to Newton. By the end of the 1960s, there were fewer than 10,000 Jewish residents living in the Elm Hill, Mount Bowdoin/Franklin Park, Grove Hall, and Mattapan neighborhoods. As Jewish, middle-class residents moved to other suburbs, African-American residents began filling their vacancies in the single and multiple-family dwellings around the district. While middle-class African Americans had begun moving to the Roxbury Highlands and Grove Hall neighborhoods as early as the 1930s, their number and class spread increased dramatically in the 1950s and 1960s.
Roxbury, as a whole, was already predominantly African American by this period, with black residents making up 70 percent of the population. An influx of African Americans from southern states during the war and post-war civil rights unrest in the South added to the increasingly working-class demographics of the Elm Hill and Grove Hall neighborhoods.
This transition of class and race occurred alongside a series of institutional actions that had a profound effect on the character of the built environment. With an increase in African-American residents, the Federal Housing Authority and many insurance companies and banks denied federal mortgage insurance, mortgage and home improvement loans, and affordable insurance policies to property owners in the district based on biased racial and socioeconomic considerations. Robbed of the investment incentives of other portions of the city and region, many property owners sold or simply stopped maintaining their buildings in late 1950s and through the 1960s. By the late 1950s, absentee landlords owned one quarter of the housing stock in the area, a number that only continued to rise.
The resulting disinvestment led to deteriorating conditions in the district’s building stock. The situation worsened in the late 1960s, when the Boston Banks Urban Renewal Group, as consortium of local banks, encouraged African American settlement in parts of Roxbury and Dorchester, including Elm Hill, by guaranteeing mortgages for low-income black families. The project proved financially disastrous, resulting in a 50% default rate by 1974 and continued deterioration and abandonment of local properties.
Denis Blackett and Housing Innovations, Inc.
In 1972, Lawrenceville Associates purchased 105-111 Lqwrence Avenue. Lawrenceville Associates was a limited organized by Denis Blackett, president of the real estate development firm, Housing Innovations, Inc. The partnership was the outcome of a novel experiment Blackett conducted between 1966 and 1972 to rehabilitate housing and promote home ownership in economically devastated, and largely African-American, parts of Roxbury and Dorchester. Blackett, an African-American architect and engineer educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
founded Housing Innovations in 1966 after stints working for the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and several local neighborhood development corporations. The firm was a for-profit venture focused on urban revitalization and fostering home ownership opportunities for low income households.
Blackett’s first project with Housing Innovations focused on a 35-block area of Grove Hall where he planned to purchase multiple-family houses and apartment blocks, renovate them, and sell them with 100 percent financing to low income residents. Blackett’s approach was based on the belief that increasing rates of absentee landlord ownership was a significant barrier to healthy neighborhoods. The program initially depended on private equity to fund the project, and later on government funding through the Boston Housing Authority. He also partnered with the Boston Banks Urban Renewal Group to provide mortgage loans for potential buyers. Blackett began purchasing properties and initiated a small pilot project in a nearby three-block area of Grove Hall between Blue Hill Avenue and Normandy Street, called the Quincy-Geneva Block, to demonstrate the program’s viability.
As with the larger BBURG program, Blackett’s ambitious plan quickly faltered, largely due to the economics of buying, rehabilitating, and selling homes in a declining market. Middle-class blacks continued to migrate out of Roxbury and Dorchester and the rehabilitated properties offered few of the desired amenities for this class of buyer and break even. Blackett salvaged his first project by entering a lease agreement with the Boston Housing Authority to rent renovated apartments in Housing Innovation’s portfolio to tenants who otherwise qualified for public housing assistance.
Blackett quickly retooled his business model in the early 1970s to focus on providing quality rental housing to low-income tenants in Boston’s Model Cities renewal zone. The Model Cities program was a part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in response to a rise in urban violence and the social failings of earlier federal urban renewal programs. The program, which ran from 1966 to 1974, pursued comprehensive planning, rehabilitation as well as rebuilding urban districts, coordinating social services, and fostering greater community participation. Boston entered the program in 1968, and Blackett was directly involved in researching and writing the development plan for the renewal area – a 2,000-acre, doughnut shaped area that included parts of Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, and North Dorchester.
Beginning in 1970, Housing Innovations formed a series of limited partnership companies that rehabilitated inner-city rental housing. The model took advantage of recent tax law provisions allowing accelerated depreciation schedules for properties serving the low and moderate-income tenants and federal interest rate subsidies and rent supplement programs for such housing. A partnership with the relatively new Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency (MHFA, organized 1968) allowed Housing Innovations to offer below market interest rates and mortgage insurance on loans without Federal Housing Authority (FHA) insurance (FHA consistently refused to insure loans in Roxbury and Dorchester in this period). The campaign appears to have focused at least in part on large, multiple family properties that were vacant and/or in severely dilapidated condition. The first partnership, Intervale Associates, renovated 14 apartments in the area of Blackett’s initial pilot project. In 1972, a third partnership, Lawrenceville Associates, rehabbed 149 units in the Model Cities renewal zone. 105-111 Lawrence Avenue was one of the 149 properties rehabilitated under Housing Innovation’s program. The building has been continuously occupied since that time.
The properties at 6-8, Coleus Park (1972), 10-12 Coleus Park (1972), 132-134 Intervale Street (1971), and 273-275 Magnolia Street (1971) were new construction projects built by Housing Innovations in 1971 and 1972 by Spacemakers, Inc. as part of Housing Innovations’ Boston Infill Housing project. The BRA Infill Housing project was a partnership between the federal and city governments to building new homes for large, low-income families on non-tax-producing vacant properties in Boston. In 1968, Blackett had secured the agreement with the BRA to build 100 units of housing on vacant lots throughout certain sections of Boston, which was outside Housing Innovations’ original intent. This action split the support of the project’s directors, some in favor and some apposed the expansion. By early 1971, three Infill prototypes had been constructed and by the end of 1973 all 100 united were completed. Most were acquired by the Boston Housing Authority and rented to those low-income residents that qualified from public housing assistance and six were retained by Housing Innovations to manage. Spacemakers, Inc., of Canton, MA was a manufacturing company that produced prefabricated homes and apartment buildings in the 1970s.