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This blog is a place for dialogue on issues and actions relating to Boston's unique built environment and the preservation and continuing evolution of historic resources within it. My goal, as the Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, is to post timely, relevant and thought-provoking intelligence, ideas, and insights that will engage conversations, inform our actions, and broaden perspectives on preservation.

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Greg Galer, Executive Director, Boston Preservation Alliance

Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

One man’s renovation can be another man’s demolition

July 5th, 2013  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

When does a project cross the line from “renovation” to demolition”?  This is a question with which many communities and preservationists have struggled for some time. Perhaps you too have seen an instance in which one tiny wall is saved and an entirely new structure built around it, clearly an effort to utilize some loophole in local zoning.  Check out today’s Jamaica Plain Gazette – discussing the issue here in Boston and some of my thoughts on the matter.

While leaving a tiny piece of wall isn’t what happened in Boston, the question of what is and what isn’t demolition has raised its head here. The Dr. Marie E. Zakrzewska House in Jamaica Plain has been the subject of much conversation in the community, a multitude of emails flying behind the scenes, and coverage in the print media as well. In this case the city approved a renovation/expansion project for the historic home.

Dr. Marie Zakrzewska (1829-1902) founded the New England Hospital for Women and Children (now Dimock Center) in 1862. This was the first hospital in the city to employ women as doctors. She was also active in the women’s suffrage movement, working alongside well-knowns such as Lucy Stone, William Lloyd Garrison, and Julia Ward Howe.  (You can read more about her here:

The issue regarding the project at her home is that while the city followed procedures and process for alterations to the home (including public hearings), the city’s Inspectional Services Division didn’t consider the project a demolition. However, the extent of the work and dramatic alterations are so extensive that many not involved feel that the work is effectively demolition, as the final result will bear little resemblance to the historic structure.

Article 85, Boston’s Demolition Delay Bylaw is triggered by a request for a demolition permit for any building at least 50 years old, with “Demolition” defined as “any act of pulling down, destroying, razing, or removing a building, or the commencement of such work with the intent to complete the same.”  When does extensive renovation become demolition?  Sometimes it’s hard to tell. And we must take the situation here on Peter Parley Road in Jamaica Plain as a learning opportunity and a sign that we need to enhance the process.  The Alliance has begun discussions to do that very thing.  Stay tuned!


Some related material:

Take a look at a lead editorial in the Boston Globe, June 12, 2013:  “Failure to preserve JP home shows cracks in landmarks law”

And my reply, Boston Globe, June 16, 2013: “System for historic preservation needs to be buttressed”

Again, be sure to see the article in the July 5, 2013  Jamaica Plain Gazette – “Historic demolition process reviewed”   discussing the issue.

If you are interested in seeing the City’s Demolition Delay bylaw, take a look here:




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