Valuing what is unique about West Newton Hill
Collectively we seek ways to acknowledge the distinctive historic legacy of West Newton Hill, with its diverse examples of architecture dating from the 1840s and landscapes with mature trees. Thoughtful preservation can still allow for a continuous updating, while maintaining the value of what gives the neighborhood its unique character. Economic, cultural, educational and environmental benefits can result.
Sometimes short-term expediency leads to a loss for the community as a whole. Recent demolition applications for historic neighborhood homes, including at least two on the National Register of Historic Places, have raised awareness that the buildings and streetscapes we take for granted are at risk. We just witnessed the demolition of the historic home at 174 Valentine Street in September 2016, following the felling of the mature trees on the site. (See video clips on this website, under Updates, and for overall demolition trends in Newton see this article from the Newton Tab.) Demolitions also have a detrimental environmental impact, as quality structures which were built to last with careful craftsmanship now fill dumpsters and landfill.
It is normal and healthy to have updating, additions and new construction in any neighborhood. However, as the pace of change accelerates, the stories that are tied to older homes are lost. When the new homes constructed lack quality design or are directly incompatible with the look of the neighborhood, the risk is that the prevailing character of West Newton Hill will also be sacrificed. This has already occurred on some of the streets in the neighborhood.
The importance of the architectural resources on West Newton Hill has been recognized; more than 100 buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, either within clusters or individually listed. More than 100 other buildings have been documented previously and inventoried as historic and cultural resources with the Mass Historical Commission. Many homes have historic house markers provided through the research conducted by Historic Newton at the Jackson Homestead.
Whatever the historical or architectural significance of a building in West Newton, the community currently does not have a tool to stop unwanted demolitions of these structures, only to issue at most an 18-month delay.
A group of over 30 volunteers is working on an in-depth study of the history and architecture of West Newton Hill. We welcome involvement and ideas from all neighbors. One option we have evaluated, a Local Historic District, could be a means to: ensure greater efforts at preservation; encourage compatible updating; and, protect worthy homes from demolition where appropriate.
This website provides a lot more information, including on the economic impact of historic home preservation. We are also studying how these tools have worked in other communities in Massachusetts and in other parts of the country.
The goal for this website is to share information with community members, let you how you can get involved, and provide a channel to hear your ideas.
Examples of Architectural Features of Historic Homes
Ornate pediments are a common detail on many of the homes in the area.
Columns, ranging from short to tall, support many of the beautiful porches.
Gracious covered entries, with custom carpentry are a distinctive feature.