Roslindale Neighbors: Substation listed on historic register; rehab pending

October 25, 2013
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The former MBTA electrical substation in Roslindale Square has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, making it eligible for tax credits that can help its pending redevelopment.

A plaque marking the historic honor was unveiled in a large event Oct. 19, featuring Mayor Thomas Menino, at the building at the corner of Washington Street and Cummins Highway. The event shows support that the community has for developing the building into what will most likely be a restaurant, according to Steve Gag, president of Roslindale Village Main Streets (RVMS).

RVMS is proposing the project in conjunction with Peregrine Group LLC and Historic Boston Incorporated. The abutting funeral home and parking lot will also be redeveloped into 43 units of housing.

“We started thinking about all of this in 2000,” said Gag. “We’ve had about 30 community meetings about this, and at the most recent one in January of this year, we had a turnout of over 300 people.”

The substation, owned originally by the MBTA, was built in 1911 as one of six power conversion stations for the emerging streetcar system. It would convert the power from South Boston power plants, which used coal at the time, from AC to DC power, which was then used to transport trolleys around Roslindale. The building has been vacant since 1971.

Various redevelopment efforts, dating back to Menino’s term at the local city councilor, stalled or vanished. The MBTA ultimately sold the property in 2007 to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and ownership will soon be turned over to the Peregrine Group LLC, the developers invested in the project. Historic Boston Incorporated and Roslindale Village Main Streets are also financial investors in the project, which will cost a total of $4.2 million for redevelopment.

According to Gag, the new housing development will increase the density in an urban district next to nine bus lines and a commuter tail with plenty of nearby parking. He hopes it will attract young families that will enhance the neighborhood. “Not only are we increasing housing in a business district to improve flow of customers, we’re revitalizing a building that has been vacant for over 40 years,” he said.

The housing units will be studios and one- and 2-bedroom apartments, six of which will be affordable. Proposed uses for the substation include a healthy food restaurant, wine bar, produce market, brew pub,or coffee bar, according to a fact sheet by Historic Boston Incorporated.

Since January, RVMS has been finalizing financial arrangements and considering who the new restaurateur would be. Assuming everything goes according to plan, construction will start in February 2014.

“I think the redevelopment will completely transform that corner and round out the park,” said Kathy Kottaridis, executive director of Historic Boston Incorporated.

The original architect for the building was Robert S. Peabody, who was a partner in Peabody & Sterns, known for their design of the upper part of the historic Customs House tower in downtown Boston. Stone & Webster, an engineering services company known for operating streetcar systems, also had input into the original design.

The building was nominated for a historic building because of the prominence of the architect and the symbolism of the streetcar system.

“It’s a site that really marks the expanded growth of Boston over time and the infrastructure that needed to be put in place to support a growing population that needed to go back and forth into the city,” said Kottaridis.

After the Civil War, Boston’s population bloomed and the streetcar substation represents that time in history.

“At the time there were a lot more streetcars around the city of Boston, but a lot of them were replaced with buses,” said Kottaridis.

Mayor Thomas Menino (second from right) watches the historic plaque unveiling in a crowd that includes City Councilor Rob Consalvo (far right) and mayoral candidate City Councilor John Connolly (behind Consalvo) at the Roslindale substation Oct. 19. (Photo by Jean Hartagan)

Mayor Thomas Menino (second from right) watches the historic plaque unveiling in a crowd that includes City Councilor Rob Consalvo (far right) and mayoral candidate City Councilor John Connolly (behind Consalvo) at the Roslindale substation Oct. 19. (Photo by Jean Hartagan)