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!

South End Architecture: Flemish Revival

Walking through the South End, the neighborhood’s streetscape is lined with row houses that at first look deceptively uniform. However, there are many variations in architectural style throughout the neighborhood. Although many people think of a Victorian row house as a specific architectural style, the row house itself is a blank framework on which several styles can be imposed.

A row house, also known as a town house, is a residence connected by a common or party wall to one or more other residences. Victorian refers to the period of the reign of England’s Queen Victoria (1837-1901), during which most of the South End land was filled in and the majority of houses built. South End row houses were built primarily between 1830 and 1880 as single family homes meant for middle class families who wanted easy access to downtown Boston.

289 Shawmut Avenue, 1972

289 Shawmut Avenue, 1972

One unique architectural style found in the South End that many may not be aware of is the Flemish Revival Style, which is part of the Renaissance Revival Style. Renaissance Revival is an all-inclusive term that covers many 19th century architectural revival styles that were neither Greek nor Gothic Revival.

The origin of Renaissance architecture is generally accredited to designer and architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) He is also known as the first modern engineer and planner. Brunelleschi strove to bring greater “order” to architecture, resulting in strong symmetry and careful proportion.

The Renaissance Revival of the 19th century drew inspiration from a wide range of classical Italian styles. These architects went beyond the style that originated in Florence and included styles that would be identified as Mannerist or Baroque.

A great example of the Flemish Revival Style is found at 281-291 Shawmut Avenue, at the corner of Waltham Street. These Flemish homes are easily distinguished by their roof lines of stepped Flemish gables with convex and concave curves, much like those atop the houses lining the canals of Amsterdam.

Block 293-275 Shawmut Avenue, 1972

Block 293-275 Shawmut Avenue, 1972

These Flemish Revival homes on Shawmut Avenue were built in 1851-2 by a brick maker, and they all have very simple flat fronts on which nearly all decoration is done with intricately patterned brickwork, rather than carved brownstone, cast iron or granite. The homes were originally covered in a stone-colored smooth stucco finish, scored with false joints to give the impression that the façade was constructed of stone blocks. Other homes in the South End were also once covered in this stone finish, but it was difficult and costly to maintain.

Want to know more about the architecture in the South End? Stay tuned for an upcoming walking tour with Executive Director Lauren Prescott on the different architectural styles found in the neighborhood.

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!

May Madness

by Stacen Goldman, Executive Director

This probably sounds like blasphemy to you basketball fans, but at the SEHS we don’t care much about March. This year, for us, it was all about May madness. We’ve had a busy and exciting month, and I’d like to take this opportunity to share all of our exploits!


I help Soiree Committee Chair Kelly Robbins with the balloon pop.

We kicked off the month with our Spring Fundraiser, the South End Soirée, held at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology and underwritten by Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty and Above and Beyond Catering. As followers of our Facebook, Twitter, and this blog know, this year we celebrated the history of the American Carnival. This festive event included carnival games, a balloon pop, an open-air photo booth, and a live band. It’s hard not to have a good time when your signature drink includes freshly-made cotton candy! Thank you to all of our sponsors who helped us make the Soirée happen — your support is integral to our continued success.


Hope Shannon speaks at the launch of her new book at United South End Settlements.

Hope Shannon speaks at the launch of her new book at United South End Settlements.

Our next event was the launch of former SEHS Executive Director Hope Shannon’s new book, Legendary Locals of Boston’s South End. This is another one that our Facebook and Twitter followers have been hearing a lot about, thanks to a collaborative effort on our weekly #SouthEndTrivia and #SouthEndFact features. This program was so in demand that the RSVP list exceeded the capacity of our offices! Thankfully, the staff at United South End Settlements generously agreed to let us use the lobby of the Harriet Tubman House for the launch. The house was packed, and Ms. Shannon presented a wonderful program about the experience and challenges of writing her book, followed by a signing and reception. You can buy Legendary Locals of Boston’s South End on Amazon, at a number of local shops in the South End — including Sault New England, GiFted, and Foodie’s Urban Market — or at future SEHS events!

Three generations of the Hayes family pose at the launch of Legendary Locals of Boston's South End.

Three generations of the Hayes family pose at the launch of Legendary Locals of Boston’s South End.

The very next morning SEHS Historian John Neale led his long-awaited walking tour. Originally scheduled for April, inclement weather forced us to push the tour to our most hectic month. Although it looked like we might get rained out yet again, we gamely forged ahead and the skies were downright sunny by the end of the tour!

John Neale's walking tour of the South End.

John Neale’s walking tour of the South End.

John’s walking tour wasn’t the only one we offered this month. I also teamed up with Meghan Hanrahan of the South End Landmarks District to lead a walking tour called “Circling the Squares,” which took a look at the history of open spaces in the South End. The open spaces and parks that the South End is so well known for are really a result of two distinct periods in the neighborhood’s history. The first is the mid-19th century, when residential squares and parks — including Blackstone and Franklin Squares, Worcester Square, and Chester Square — were all laid out during the South End’s initial development. The second period was in the mid-20th century, when urban renewal and community activism came together (sometimes butting heads, sometimes working in tandem) to establish open spaces throughout the South End — including Hayes Park, Plaza Betances, and the various community gardens throughout the neighborhood. The tour was a great success and it’s always a pleasure to be able to team up with other organizations on our programs, and the SELDC especially, since we are, in many ways, so intertwined.


In May we also said goodbye to our intern, Faye Charpentier. Followers of this blog may recognize her as the writer of our last three posts, about the history of the American Carnival and the Franklin Institute. Faye was an invaluable asset to our offices — she singlehandedly catalogued our entire library, as well as the Roche Postcard and Andersen-Miller Trade Card collections. Additionally, she performed research for various projects, served on the Soirée committee, and helped with the day-to-day administration of our offices. We can’t thank her enough for her service and her dedication!

The SEHS Athletics up to bat.

The SEHS Athletics up to bat.

Finally, just this week we celebrated baseball season with our South End Baseball little league team, the Athletics! Several SEHS board members joined me to cheer the team on (the game, against the Tigers, was a 7-7 tie) and provide the players with a fun picnic after the game. The weather was beautiful and the pizza, watermelon, and brownies were all gobbled up in no time. We love supporting South End Baseball, and it’s so much fun to spend an evening at one of their games. I highly recommend it to anybody with a free evening during the season; it’s just as good as a trip to Fenway without any of the cost!

The team descends upon the pizza at our picnic for South End Baseball

The team descends upon the pizza at our picnic for South End Baseball

Even though our crazy May is over, we still have lots of wonderful things to look forward to. On June 26th, we will be holding our Annual Meeting with keynote speaker Lauren Clark, who just published her book Crafty Bastards: Beer in New England from the Mayflower to Modern Day with our friends at Union Park Press. I hope to be seeing you there!