Check out our Self-Guided Audio Walking Tour!

Now when you visit the South End, you can learn more about its history with an audio tour created by the South End Historical Society and UniGuide. Starting at the South End Historical Society in Chester Square, the walking tour takes you through 12 points of interest in this historic neighborhood (such as the Porter House, Blackstone & Franklin Square, and Union Park).

UniGuide is a free smartphone app that provides you with hundreds of audio tours across the United States. Access all tours in a single app, stream them or download ahead of time to save data.

Get the app for your phone and listen to a wonderfully curated tour of the South End.

All tours in UniGuide are available for offline use, including the maps.

Download for Apple iPads and iPhones

Download for Android tablets and phones

Conversion of the Immaculate Conception Church into Condominiums

Photo of proposed project on the BRA website

Photo of proposed project on the BRA website

On Tuesday, July 5, the South End Landmark District Commission reviewed the design application for the conversion of the Immaculate Conception Church to 63 condominiums. This was the first design application put forth by Nunes Trabucco Architects and the second meeting with the South End Landmark District Commission (SELDC). Several South End residents living next to the church attended the public meeting at Boston City Hall to hear the developer’s proposed project and voice their concerns. The developer put together a PowerPoint presentation for the committee and the public.

The proposed development will be called The Cosmopolitan and Nunes Trabucco Architects is handling the project. This meeting was the first design application put forth before the South End Landmark District Commission. The developer previously met with the commission at its May meeting for an advisory hearing. At this previous hearing, the Commission listened to the proposed project and voiced their concerns and made several suggestions.

Immaculate Conception Church, 1973. (Photo property of the South End Historical Society)

Immaculate Conception Church, 1973. (Photo property of the South End Historical Society)

The South End Landmark District Commission does not have jurisdiction over the entire project. All exterior work at front facades, all exterior work at rooftops (when visible from a public way), and all exterior work at side and rear elevations (when side and rear elevations face a public way) are subject to the review of the South End Landmark District Commission. The project is also under review of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).

“The BRA’s Development Review Department facilitates the review of small and large scale development projects, pursuant to Article 80 of the Boston Zoning Code. Led by a team of Project Management staff, this department coordinates with BRA Planning & Urban Design staff, City Agencies, elected officials and the community to foster responsible development in the neighborhoods and the Downtown.” (from the BRA website)

According to the BRA website, the developers have submitted a Letter of Intent, but has yet been approved by the Board.

After listening to the presentation, the Commission asked questions and discussed their concerns with the project. Their main areas of concern:

  • Window tracery: The commission would like it preserved as this is a significant aspect to the building’s architecture.
  • Garage Door: The proposed garage door on East Concord Street needs further development
  • Recessed roof balconies: There are some parts of the roof balconies that the commission would like altered, such as the walls between each balcony being thicker.

After questions and comments, the Commission made a motion to accept the design application in concept with provisos. The applicants will need to take the commission’s concerns and suggestions to further develop their project and come before the full commission at a future meeting.

After the motion was made and before the commission voted, the floor was opened for public comment. Around 8-10 residents of the community stood to voice their concerns over the proposed project. The commission asked they speak only on things that are within the Commission’s jurisdiction. For example, residents concerned over the number of units, the traffic or construction noise, would need to contact the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).

Some concerns that the public brought up:

  • HVAC yard (it was not discussed in the presentation and both the Commission and residents would like to know what developers have planned).
  • Copper roof located to the right of the garage. Both the commission and residents want to see it preserved. The developer stated that they had no intention of removing it; however, the cross attached to the copper roof may need to be removed (the Archdiocese will be removing all religious iconography on the exterior and interior of the church).
  • The plans for the building from Father Gilday Street were not discussed in Tuesday’s presentation and will need to be moving forward.

The Commission agreed with the public regarding these concerns and would like to see these items further developed and discussed at the next meeting. The South End Historical Society will continue to attend meetings regarding the church at City Hall and update the project’s progress through our blog and on Twitter.

This was the first of several public meetings that the developers of the project will attend at Boston City Hall. Interested in the South End Landmark District Commission? Be sure to visit their page on the City of Boston website and attend their monthly public meetings, held every 1st Tuesday of the month!

The South End on Yankee Magazine’s Blog

Victorian Eclectic

South End Historical Society Executive Director recently contributed to Yankee Magazine’s Explore New England blog, encouraging tourists to consider the South End for their next day trip into Boston. Read an excerpt from her piece below:

“On a day trip into Boston, you may feel compelled to visit all the traditional sights: walk the Freedom Trail, take a duck tour, or grab a drink at Cheers. But if you’re a little more adventurous and want to step slightly off the beaten path, consider taking a day to explore the city’s South End.

More intimate than the Back Bay and more idiosyncratic than Beacon Hill, the South End is one of Boston’s hidden treasures. Although it is close to the heart of downtown and directly borders the ever-popular Back Bay, the traditional tourist barely ever sets foot in the South End. Nonetheless, this historic neighborhood has grown at an incredible rate, owing its vibrancy to world-class restaurants, unique shops, lush green spaces, and a thriving artistic community.”

Click here to read the full blog post.

Some Background on the BRA Urban Renewal Plan Extension


A map of the BRA Urban Renewal Districts up for renewal in 2015.


For those of you who have had questions regarding the BRA’s Extension of its Urban Renewal Plan areas, we thought we would offer some information regarding the plan and the ongoing process of approving its extension. If you are interested in reading about the South End Historical Society’s official position on the Urban Renewal Plan Extension, you can read our letter to the BRA here.

Urban renewal began as a federal program in 1949 to address “blight” in cities across America. Boston’s Urban Renewal agency,The Boston Redevelopment Authority, is currently seeking to extend Boston’s urban renewal plan agreements, including jurisdiction over the South End and its historic district. This jurisdiction was established in the mid-20th century at a very different period in the South End’s history and involves, among other things, an extension of the BRA’s eminent domain rights in the district.

There are many concerns among South Enders that this extension of the Urban Renewal Plan is not appropriate for our historic neighborhood. Many others have questions: What role, if any, should redevelopment have in the historic district? Since the South End is not considered a “blight” by the city, what can the BRA really do for the neighborhood? How will eminent domain powers factor into the extended Renewal Plan?

Please read below for some useful context from SEHS Membership Chair, Antony Hill:


Public Meeting Violations
“The BRA’s last effort to extend its urban renewal powers in 2004 led to allegations of back-room dealing between authority officials and city councilors. A Superior Court ruling found that some of those dealings constituted violations of the state’s Open Meeting Law.” (Boston Globe, Casey Ross, Dec. 17, 2014) The initial summary judgment was upheld in a 2008 appeal (McCrae vs Flaherty).

KPMG Audit
An audit, by KPMG LLP focusing on monitoring and enforcing agreements with developers, collecting rents and managing documents, found systems to be inadequate or non-existent. “It faulted the BRA, and its sister agency, the Economic Development Industrial Corp., for failing to follow standard business practices – from filling out employee evaluations to tracking the spending of millions of dollars in housing funds.” (Boston Globe, Casey Ross, July 2014). In the same article, the current head of the BRA, Brian Golden, (first appointed in 2009 as executive secretary) commented, “If you have no rules, by definition you are operating in an arbitrary universe.”

Removal of Affordable Housing Responsibility from BRA
Organizational changes have been made by Mayor Walsh including stripping the BRA of control of the developer financed $20 million fund for affordable housing. Again, significant problems surrounding the collection of fees from developers were exposed by an audit conducted by KPMG LLP. The Department of Neighborhood Development will now administer these funds.


The BRA wants to avoid another set of lawsuits and has been given a year to correct the previous defects. Unfortunately, as currently structured, there appears to be little opportunity to provide evidence or to express concerns that will reach council members and other key decision makers. After meetings in other neighborhoods, attendees reported that BRA representative did not appear to make notes of participants’ comments. There also appeared to have been no request for clarifications of concerns raised from the audience. The BRA representative is simply doing the job for which she has been hired, which is to sell the extension plan and present the BRA in the best possible light. Attending meetings where different people present on the topic, scripted phrases about “tool boxes” are heard repeatedly. One of those tools is eminent domain, which attendees have been assured will not be readily employed.


The sequence of decision-making is:
-First the BRA board must approve the planned extension.
-Then the city council must vote to approve.
-The next step is Mayoral approval.
-The final step is approval by a state agency controlled by the Governor.

People in the neighborhood will naturally hold differing views, depending upon their personal experiences and perspectives. Some express support for the ten-year extension, seeing the possibility of benefits for activities that they favor. Others hope that the Mayor will continue to take responsibility away from the BRA and move planning, (clearly separated from development), directly to a city controlled organization that does not have such a troubled history of administrative problems to overcome (see KPMG audit). Such a move would also allow for accountability through the electoral process. Many others support the suggestion that there be an exemption for any “historic districts” allowing the Federal guidelines to offer protection against inappropriate developments.


Letter of Opposition to BRA Urban Renewal Plan Extension

Below you will find a copy of a letter recently submitted by the South End Historical Society to Brian Golden of the Boston Redevelopment Authority and signed by SEHS General Counsel Harvey Wolkoff and the full SEHS Board of Directors.

We highly encourage all interested SEHS members, South End Residents, and South End Neighborhood Associations draft and submit their own letters to the BRA, City Council, and Mayor’s office regarding the extension of the Urban Renewal Plan Area in the South End. Whether you are for or against the measure, it is important that the South End makes its voice heard during this process.

The letter was copied to Mayor Marty Walsh, Governor Charlie Baker, State Rep. Byron Rushing, State Rep. Sonia Chang-Diaz, State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, City Councilor Tito Jackson, City Councilor-at-Large Michelle Wu, City Councilor-at-Large Ayanna Pressley, City Councilor-at-Large Steve Murphy, City Councilor-at-Large Michael Flaherty, and District Councilor Bill Linehan.

Update: We have created a blog post offering some useful background information on the BRA’s Urban Renewal Plan Extension here.






Brian Golden
Boston Redevelopment Authority
One City Hall Plaza, Ninth Floor
Boston, MA 02201
Re: Extension of Urban Renewal Plan Areas

Dear Mr. Golden:

I write as General Counsel to the South End Historical Society (“SEHS”). This is written to inform you that at its last meeting on July 14, 2015, the SEHS Board voted unanimously to oppose the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s (“BRA”) proposal that its authority under M.G.L. c. 121B be extended, or that one of the “project areas” include the South End. It is the Board’s view that such legislative change is both unnecessary and potentially harmful to the South End neighborhood.

As you know, the South End is a neighborhood that has been widely recognized as one of historical significance. The South End houses perhaps the largest area of restored Victorian-era row houses in the country. The South End’s residents have worked closely—indeed, in partnership—with the City of Boston in restoring the South End, its public gardens, and its streetscapes. At the same time, the South End provides as much or more affordable housing than any surrounding area, and is well-known for its racial, ethnic and socio-economic diversity. The South End is also blessed to have a whole array of neighborhood organizations that are closely involved with the welfare of both the South End’s architecture and its residents.

It is safe to say that the conditions in the South End that were existent at the time of the original legislation establishing the Urban Renewal project have changed measurably, and all for the better. The requirements in the “Criterial for Plan Approval,” published recently by The Department of Housing and Community Development (the “DHCD”), simply do not apply to the South End at this time. As but one example, the South End is assuredly not a “decadent, substandard or blighted open area,” as set forth in one of the DHCD criteria. These criteria simply do not fit.

The South End Historical Society looks forward to working with the City of Boston in the Imagine Boston 2030 planning process. But, the Society is firmly in opposition to the Urban Renewal Authority of the BRA as it pertains to the South End. It is our collective position that the BRA’s Urban Renewal Authority should neither be extended, nor should it include the South End.

Very truly yours,

Harvey J. Wolkoff
General Counsel to the South End Historical Society

The South End on

84-103 pembrokeSEHS Executive Director, Stacen Goldman, recently spoke with Megan Turchi of about the history of the South End for an ongoing series about the city of Boston’s Historic Districts. The South End, along with eight other districts, are designated Landmark Districts by the City. The Boston Landmarks Commission is a division of the City of Boston Environment Department oversees all exterior construction work in historic districts.

The South End Historical Society works closely with the South End Landmark District Commission and advocates for historic preservation in the neighborhood. The South End is the largest Victorian brick row house district in the United States, and the SEHS works tirelessly to promote education about and the preservation of this culturally rich and historically significant neighborhood.

To see the piece about the South End, click here.
To see the first piece in the series, click here.

Fall at the SEHS


While most people spend the fall picking apples and drinking pumpkin spice lattes, we spend the season thinking about preservation, history, and programming! The fall is one our busiest seasons here at the SEHS and this year it has been especially so. Want to know more about what we’ve been up to? Then read on!

Our 2014 Guidebook Cover

Our 2014 Guidebook Cover


We kicked off our fall programming schedule with everyone’s favorite fundraiser: The South End House Tour! This year’s tour featured 6 private homes that highlighted the drastically different ways modern families have adapted the South End’s historic architecture to their purposes. From the truly Victorian-inspired to the ultra-Contemporary, South Enders have diverse styles and modes of living, but they all share in common a love of our Historic neighborhood. Thanks to the beautiful weather and the support of our homeowners, sponsors, and patrons, this was our most successful House Tour yet! The Tour is fundamental to our continued operation and we’re grateful to everyone who came out to support us on our most important weekend.

An artist at the SEHS Pumpkin Painting Party

An artist at work.

We followed up the Tour with a Pumpkin Painting Party at the Children’s Art Centre last Saturday. Armed with pumpkins, historic coloring sheets, vintage Halloween postcards, and a photo booth, we dressed up, crafted, and played in anticipation of America’s spookiest holiday! Over 20 little attendees (along with their families) showed up to create amazing works of art.

Coming up next we have “Hot or Not in the South End: A Walking Tour about Temperature, History & Neighborhood.” Led by BU Researcher Evan Kuras, the tour will be offered this weekend on November 1st and 2nd at 11 AM and 12 PM respectively. The tour meets at the corner of Dartmouth St. and Warren Ave. and will address Mr. Kuras’ research about temperature in the South End through the lens of history, ecology, and South Enders’ everyday experience.

Rounding out our fall programming, join SEHS Executive Director Stacen Goldman on November 20th for a talk about her favorite holiday, Thanksgiving! Think you know the Thanksgiving story? Well, if you’re thinking Pilgrims, Indians, and a three day feast, then think again! Ms. Goldman’s program will debunk the myths and explore the real history of the modern holiday we all know and love.

We hope you’ve been enjoying our seasonal programming thus far, and we hope to see more of you this November!

SEHS on The Daily Basics

10453842_690125734392845_977392511_nSEHS Executive Director Stacen Goldman sat down recently with our newest Board Member, Communications and Publications Chair Kate Hathaway Weeks, to discuss the different resources available to people interested in learning about the history of their homes. Now you can find their conversation over on The Daily Basics, an online community of lifestyle bloggers who focus on Home & Garden, Travel & Living, Food & Drink, Body & Fashion and Arts & Literature.  Check out their post and learn how YOU can become a History Detective in your own home!

From Benjamin Franklin to the BFIT: A History of the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology

by Faye Charpentier, SEHS Intern

The Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT), located at the corner of Appleton and Berkeley in Boston’s South End, first opened its doors 1908 as the Franklin Union. The BFIT’s history, however, goes back nearly 120 years earlier than the building itself. What are the early roots of this important technical institute and how did the school come into existence, despite controversy surrounding its establishment?


Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis, via WikiMedia Commons

The BFIT’s history begins with the school’s namesake: Benjamin Franklin. Franklin prided himself as a self-made man, taking his own steps to ensure his success as an individual. Franklin’s autobiography details his years working as a printer’s apprentice before mastering the trade. In life and in death Franklin boasted his pride in his trade, signing letters “B. Franklin, Printer” and requesting that “printer” be included at his grave. On June 23, 1789, Franklin added a codicil to his will. His codicil intended to aid future generations of young men working as tradesmen and artisans as they moved from apprentice to journeyman to master. This codicil allotted ₤1000 sterling to Philadelphia and Boston. For the first 100 years following Franklin’s death, this money would be invested and used for loans to support young tradesmen to beginning their careers. After a century, ¾ of the money would be transferred to the cities for public works. The remaining ¼ would be invested and used for loans for the following century. While Franklin’s intentions were noble, he could not have anticipated the changing industrial face of the United States.

As the apprenticeship system virtually disappeared as America industrialized, Bostonians worried about the situation the city and the fund’s managers faced. A November 23, 1884 Boston Globe article was particularly critical of Franklin’s fund: “The experience of the trustees and managers of this fund shows how useless it is for man, however wise, to make inflexible conditions in regard to his property, which shall continue in force for a century, or even for fifty years. The changes in population, business methods and social life cannot be anticipated by any man for a single generation.” At the time the article was written, only three of the loan recipients were using the funds as stipulated by Benjamin Franklin’s codicil. The trustees of the funds had removed the provision concerning an apprenticeship, “because of the fact that indentures are no longer a part of our industrial system; but they still insist upon the other conditions – that the applicant shall be a mechanic, married, under 25 years of age, and furnish responsible bondsmen.” Qualified applicants for these loans were few and far between. Boston remained unsure about how the funds would be used after the first century, since Boston was so vastly different from when Franklin lived there.

As the end of the Franklin Fund’s first century came to a close, Boston’s fund was in much better shape than Philadelphia’s. By 1887, Philadelphia’s ₤1000 grew to $70,800. Boston, on the other hand, transformed their ₤1000 into a massive $327,799.45. How Boston would use their funds after 1890, however, remained uncertain. Leading up to the 100 year mark, some Bostonians wanted to use the money to build a park: Franklin Park in West Roxbury. The park was ultimately completed with city money, but Franklin’s name was given to the park in his honor. In the 1890s, Bostonians pushed the idea of using Franklin’s funds to build a trade school, which would benefit young men entering the workforce as Franklin had specified.

Postcard of the Franklin Union Building

Postcard of the Franklin Union Building

By the hundredth anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s death, this fund amounted to about $391,000. But, the Franklin Union did not open its doors to students until 1908, 15 years after Boston decided to construct the school. During the 1890s, there were a series of course cases aimed at properly interpreting Franklin’s will. The courts needed to determine if a school was a proper allocation of the funds, given this was not explicitly suggested by the codicil. By the early 1900s, it was decided that a trade or industrial school would properly use Franklin’s fund. As plans moved forward towards establishing this school, the committee discovered that the Franklin Fund was not enough money to build the school and provide an endowment. For additional funding, the trustees turned  to industrialist Andrew Carnegie. MIT President Henry Pritchett contacted Carnegie, who offered to match the Franklin Fund in order to provide the school with an endowment. His conditions were that it had to be an industrial school and that the city of Boston had to provide the land for the school. In 1906, the Franklin Fund trustees purchased a plot of land at the intersection of Appleton and Berkeley Streets in the South End, where the school still stands today. The building was dedicated on September 25, 1908.

Throughout its history, the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology has had its share of historic firsts. With roots in the school’s early Gas and Gasoline Engines course, the BFIT now has the oldest automotive program of its kind in the United States. The school also hosted the nation’s first group telephone call on May 15, 1916. Over 900 people gathered in the Franklin Union’s hall to listen to speakers from across the country, including Alexander Graham Bell, converse remotely. Then on November 14, 1927, the Franklin Union exhibited the first public demonstration of what we now call faxing. The American Telephone and Telegraph Company transmitted a five-by-seven inch photograph across the country by telephone wires in just seven minutes. During World War I, the Franklin Union was the site of the country’s second Occupational Therapy program. Women enrolled in this 12 week course, where they learned skills like basket-weaving, knitting, and wood-carving. Graduates of this program taught these handicrafts to veterans to aid their recovery from physical injuries and mental disorders like shell-shock. Although this program was discontinued after the war, the Franklin Union provided veterans with vocational training until 1924.

After nearly 120 years in the making, the Franklin Union school opened its doors in 1908. During its first year, 553 students enrolled in courses ranging from  Drawing for Carpenters and Builders to Industrial Electricity. Under the leadership of its first director Walter B. Russell, the school continued to grow and transform to better serve its students and wider community.  Russell structured courses into series of one- and two-year certificate programs, providing students with suitable training and experience to enter the workforce. Additionally, he initiated preparatory coursework programs, so prospective students without the necessary background for Franklin Union programs could prepare for enrollment – concepts still in practice at the contemporary Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology. By 1957, the school was authorized to grant associates, bachelors, and masters degrees for the completion of programs. Today, the BFIT offers two bachelor degree  programs, twelve associates degree programs, three certificate programs, and two continuing education programs, all preparing students for competitive careers in technical and industrial fields.

RESCHEDULED! From the Beginning: A Walking Tour

Processed with MoldivDue to the weather forecast, we are moving tomorrow’s walking tour to a later (hopefully sunnier!) date. The tour will now be offered on May 17th at 10 A.M.  and there is still space available if you would like to attend on this new date! You can visit our events page for more information, email us at or call us at 617-536-4445.

See you on the 17th!