The historic district aims to preserve the beauty of the Elm Park neighborhood


WORCESTER — Aesthetics matter in city life.

The built environment affects our perspective. A street or a block can be warm and inviting or cold and intimidating.

In Worcester, this contrast can sometimes be felt on different sides of the same street. Sit down and have brunch outside the beautiful, well-preserved building that houses Armsby Abbey on Main Street, and you’ll enjoy a great view of the old AT&T building, a massive, barren monolith that devours an inordinate amount of downtown real estate.

That’s why it was such a breath of fresh air to see the Worcester Hibernian Cultural Center building on Green Street emerge from its metal cocoon this month. reveal his old self – an ornate old building that, it turns out, has always been a perfect fit for the canal district.

And just last week, a few blocks away, the scaffolding hiding the long-awaited redesign of the Mid-Town Mall finally came across discover, as promised, a glass facade that updates the downtown pillar. It may not be to everyone’s taste – particularly for curators who have seen the value in one of the city’s last true examples of art deco – but it is interesting, and at least it has not been transformed into a parking lot.

It’s great to take a risk with design and step out of the past – look no further than the magnificent 2018 renovation and expansion of the American Antiquarian Society building – but on Thursday night the Historical Commission rolled up her collective sleeves and set to work hammering out the details of what will become the local Elm Park Historic District, an effort to keep one of the city’s best-preserved neighborhoods intact.

One by one, the commission, led by city preservation planner Michelle Johnstone, reviewed properties in the proposed neighborhood, which include an eclectic mix of different styles that makes it a good choice for historic district designation. local. If the neighborhood is ultimately approved at the state and local levels—the process is still in its early stages—it would give the Historic Commission more leverage to preserve the historic structures and details of the neighborhood that go beyond current limits on the time taken to demolish buildings. to renouncer.

The neighborhood would basically be bordered by Russell, Highland, Elm and West streets, but also includes the iconic three-storey building across from Elm Park. Developed largely from the early to mid-19th century through the early 20th century, the Elm Park neighborhood was once home to the city’s wealthiest residents. The proposed neighborhood as it stands covers 521 acres and includes 181 buildings with 133 different owners.

Thursday’s panel discussion seemed to be at home in the pages of Architectural Digest. Johnstone led the commission on a building-by-building tour of the proposed neighborhood. We talked a lot about windows, skylights and styles of shingles. As noted by Johnstone, some garrets are curved, some are straight, and some are flared. Why yes, of course! Oh, and did you know that the shingle style eschews the Queen Anne ornamentation? You do it now, and you can impress your friends the next time you walk past 56 Cedar St.

Johnstone ranked the properties according to their state of preservation, but noted that some of them needed work.

One of the properties she chose was 22 Dayton St., one of the only houses in the neighborhood that wasn’t from there — it was moved at some point from an unknown location.

Known as Nellie Lincoln Cottage, it is considered an excellent and rare example of early Gothic Revival architecture. It was probably built around 1850 but did not make its way into the neighborhood until 1894. According to the Massachusetts Cultural Resources Information Database, the first occupants of the house on Dayton Street were “James J. Coghlin and boarders John and Charles Coghlin, both of whom were electricians in 1896.”

The commission has reviewed 115 of the properties in the proposed neighborhood and will address the rest in a future session. Nothing is set in stone yet and there will be further formal public hearings as work on the district progresses.

But all the architectural talk and looking at every bit of shingle is just another way of saying that all of these houses and all of these buildings are really pretty, that they’re part of the city’s history, and that they should be kept as far away from the wrecking ball as possible. .

The rules have changed

Resident Jenny Pacillo’s long quest to change city council’s rules on public participation came to an end on Tuesday when council approved a rule change that cements remote participation as an option for residents. First allowed under state emergency laws that allowed open meetings to remain open during the pandemic, remote participation in the city has proven popular with residents, and the council has supported it. maintained as a “hybrid model” once City Hall reopens last year.

With the new rule change championed by Pacillo, the ranged option is here to stay. However, Pacillo didn’t get everything she wanted. His initial petition to lift the 30-minute cap on public participation failed to make it through the Municipal and Legislative Operations Committee. The argument was that some issues should allow for stronger public input and that the board largely ignores the limit anyway.

Pacillo originally filed his petition in late March 2021, when residents were still not allowed to attend town hall meetings in person at City Hall. In-person meetings resumed in June with the remote option, but City Hall has been closed to the public again in recent weeks due to the rapid spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

Contact Steven H. Foskett Jr. at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @SteveFoskettTG

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