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For more than three decades the Alliance has promoted the preservation and celebration of important buildings, open spaces and communities in Boston. While the organization has evolved over time, we take great pride in the breadth of our work through the years.
The City Conservation League formed on a picket line to save the Jordan Marsh block in the spring of 1975. Three years later, in 1978, Boston’s first grassroots historic preservation advocacy group began. It took on the name of the Boston Preservation Alliance in recognition of its founding as an informal association of 25 member organizations. (Today the Alliance works with almost one hundred organizational and corporate members and hundreds of individual members).
Since the beginning, the Alliance took on a number of controversial and challenging issues that would set the tone for the next three decades. The Alliance first became involved in discussions over a Draft EIR in March 1978, which released by the General Service Administration. The document spurred concerns over the effect of a new Federal office building in downtown Boston. The Alliance's active involvement in the choice of location influenced the GSA decision of a site near North Station rather than demolishing historic buildings in the Theatre District.
Early on, the Alliance proved itself to be an effective advocate for historic preservation and strong leader in the city of Boston.
In April of 1980, the first issue of the organization's newsletter the AllianceLetter was published. The Alliance was granted non-profit 501 (c) (3) IRS status in the spring of 1982. In 1983, Rupert A. M. Davis became the first executive director of the Alliance and Susan Park replaced him as Chair. The Alliance frequently changed addresses until 1984, when the spectacular renovation of Old City Hall made space available. Through the generosity of the Architectural Heritage Foundation, Old City Hall remains the Alliance's headquarters today.
In the early 1980s, the Alliance submitted one of the first landmark petitions in Boston history in an attempt to protect the Peabody & Stearns Boston Stock Exchange (1888-91) from being demolished to make way for a tower. The front façade was protected—but the rest of the building was lost. The Alliance sued the Landmark Commission for its action, but was not given standing. This was the beginning of a long list of occasions in which the Alliance fought to protect individual buildings from demolition.
In 1988, the Alliance established the first preservation award program for Boston. Award categories changed over the years to better reflect the challenges facing developers and city agencies. The winners have included the Berkeley Building, the African Meeting House, South Station and others.
A major focus of the Alliance in the 1990’s was the preservation of Boston’s Theatre District. In 1992, the Alliance organized a Theatre District Walking Tour and Reception and supported landmark nominations for several historically significant theatres. Throughout 1995, the Alliance actively opposed demolition of buildings along Washington Street. In 1996, the Alliance cosponsored, with the City of Boston and the National Trust, the Boston Historic Theatre Charrette as an attempt to preserve the Paramount, B. K. Keith and Modern Theatres.
In the 1990s, the Alliance also took on a leadership role in several large preservation efforts including the restoration of the Chestnut Hill Waterworks Pumping Stations, the Old Northern Avenue Bridge, Pinebank on Jamaica Pond, and Mission Hill Church.
In the past decade, the Alliance has significantly expanded its scope and influence. The organization has enhanced its capacity through successful fundraising efforts, and has taken on a broader range of proactive initiatives. Quick, decisive action to react to immediate threats to historic resources remains critical to our success. However, the Alliance has also focused on preventative measures and activities that foster a stronger “culture of preservation” in Boston. Some of these initiatives have included public lectures on and tours of historic sites and neighborhoods, workshops in underserved communities throughout the city, and special conferences for professionals in the fields of preservation, architecture and urban planning.
In the past several years, the Alliance has also focused on incentive-based preservation, as the organization has worked closely with a coalition of organizations in Massachusetts to advocate for state tax credits for rehabilitation projects. The Alliance has also sought neighborhood protection for historic areas beyond Boston‘s downtown, such as the Fort Point Channel Local Landmark District, made up of a remarkable collection of unique early 19th century industrial warehouses.