JP resident heads historic group

June 22, 2007
By

John Ruch


Courtesy Photo
Kathy Kottaridis.

Jamaica Plain resident Kathy Kottaridis recently took the reins as executive director of Historic Boston Incorporated (HBI), a high-profile preservation group that has frequently helped save JP buildings.

HBI has been especially active in funding restoration work on local churches, including Blessed Sacrament in Hyde Square; First Baptist and First Church in Jamaica Plain in central JP/Pondside; and Spanish Seventh Day Adventist and St. John’s Episcopal in Sumner Hill. It has also funded work at the Loring-Greenough House.

In a Gazette interview, Kottaridis said the work with local churches is likely to continue through HBI’s competitive Steeples Grant program. “That’s something Historic Boston uniquely does,” she noted.

Another JP possibility is collaborative work through HBI’s new Historic Neighborhood Centers program, which aims to partner with local Main Streets organizations, community development corporations and others to promote preservation-minded revitalization of central neighborhood districts.

“There’s good activity in Egleston, Hyde Square, Centre and South streets,” Kottaridis said, adding that HBI could “take a look at structures in those areas that have not been addressed.”

In 1995, Kottaridis founded the city’s groundbreaking Boston Main Streets program, which helps revitalize business districts and has three local versions in JP. Historic preservation is already an element of Main Streets—what Kottaridis calls “an ethic woven through the whole program.”

Kottaridis also has led economic development offices at the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development, as well as running the state’s Office of Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

“A nice part of being here is bringing all those interests to bear on community preservation,” she said.

The Historic Neighborhood Centers program is one way Kottaridis can gather together all those interests, and to “test and expand our role a little more,” she said. The program may involve both HBI funding and its technical expertise. The program is still in the planning stages, but is expected to start with one or two pilot programs in the city, likely chosen through a competitive application process, Kottaridis said.

Whether that program comes to an evolving JP spot such as the Blessed Sacrament area remains to be seen. But, Kottaridis said, she also is adopting a more general preservationist point of view that includes JP.

“Something I’m particularly interested in is the way we define ‘historic’ over the next few years,” she said. “In diverse communities like Jamaica Plain…we really need to be thinking hard about what has meaning for communities.”

While history involves new generations and newcomers to Boston learning about the past here, she said, “We have to recognize a variety of communities coming through Boston create history, too.”

“Probably one of the great examples is the attention placed on the breweries in Jamaica Plain in recent years,” she said. Long left to rot, the old brewery buildings are the legacy of a significant German immigrant population and are now popular for redevelopment.

Kottaridis noted that today’s Latino population is one example of a community that will also leave its historic mark.

“Jamaica Plain has hinted about what it means to define historic places,” she said, referring to recent controversy about possibly double-naming part of Centre Street in Hyde Square “Avenue las Americas.” “They’re things to keep an eye out for,” she said.

Kottaridis lives in a piece of local history herself—the Washingtonian condo complex in Forest Hill’s West Roxbury Courthouse sub-neighborhood. Among the building’s former lives was a stint as a birthing hospital, and people still make nostalgic visits, though the interior is totally different, she said.

“It’s interesting what meaning it has to people and how important and significant it is to people’s lives,” Kottaridis said.

Also in Forest Hills is the St. Andrew the Apostle Church complex, now closed and up for sale to developers. Given HBI’s longstanding interest in church preservation, has it been keeping an eye on the complex?

“We have not,” Kottaridis said. “However, that’s not to suggest we wouldn’t want to take a look at it” and see if there’s a role for HBI, she added. The group probably wouldn’t take a stand on the type of reuse, but could offer technical assistance, such as advice on securing historic tax credits, she said.

She noted that preserving religious properties in general is a major focus of HBI.

“We recognize the importance of the buildings themselves and what they mean to neighborhoods and the community as a whole,” she said.

Kottaridis is deeply involved in another local effort of historic significance: the BRA’s Forest Hills Improvement Initiative (FHII), a large-scale planning process based on forthcoming redevelopment of parcels around the Forest Hills T Station.

The FHII isn’t essentially historic in nature. Kottaridis said she’s been impressed by its discussions of affordability, traffic and neighborhood identity in well-attended community meetings.

But, she noted, the BRA has provided participants with historic context, including what kinds of buildings used to stand in the area. It’s a good example, she said, of how history can mean not only looking to the past, but providing “new context and new direction.”

HBI is a non-profit founded in 1960 to save the Old Corner Bookstore in Downtown Crossing, where it is now headquartered. For more information, see www.historicboston.org.