12 thoughts on “City Council Votes Down Consideration of Creating Historic District on Main Street

  1. The historic district route was not ideal. It is up to the reviewing boards to limit the size of this building. It is out of scale with any neighbors in the Square – particularly the Library and will cast long shadows across the street. The Residence at Summer and Spring is a similar size if one wants a comparison. That has less impact on heavily used public buildings and pedestrians.

  2. It’s all about making money with the city council, always has been, always will be. Thanks Clyde for your efforts in trying to stem the overbuilding of Watertown, most of which is plain ugly and downright cheap looking. Take a ride down Pleasant St or Arsenal St and you’ll get a taste of the future. More to come…

    • Actually, before you can have a historic district, you need historic buildings. There are none in this proposed district. This issue was not about councilors looking for revenue. It was about the reality of the situation. Sometimes there really is no hidden agenda.

      • Hard to argue with your facts there.
        The only historic buildings in the down town area are the Otis building, the Watertown Savings Bank and the factory building near the Charles river bridge.

  3. Perfect reply, Bruce. We do not as yet have a city center we love and want to preserve. And John Hawes is correct, as he should be: don’t try to stop development in this manner; build your case for the Planning and Zoning Boards, and early on convince the Planning Department of any changes you wish to see.

  4. I am a signer of the petition for the historic district study (operative word “study”). I had my hand up on Zoom, but was not recognized. It is likely that I was the only person in attendance who had direct experience with the process of gaining historic designation, as I participated in the process of getting the city of Boston landmark designation for the South End Historic District. I attended monthly meeting for at least two years and participated in the writing of the guidelines for protection of and changes to properties. I owned a brick Victorian rowhouse and lived in the South End for 38 years before moving to Watertown in 2008.

    It should be emphasized that nothing in historic designation or a lesser level of protection prevents a property owner from selling his/her property, nor does it force a property owner to make changes (South End guidelines grandfathered in existing changes, such as aluminum windows). Preservation isn’t meant to be a hardship or penalty. Its purpose is to recognize and preserve what is significant about the built environment. It’s possible to designate a single building, and that would then require strict scrutiny of development that might negatively affect that building.

    Unfortunately the City Council president did a poor job of explaining what a historic study would entail and did not sufficiently debunk the impression that the petition was a stop-devel0pment effort. Citizens are always berated for not taking sufficient active interest in government. Given the shameful done-deal on the part of the council on Tuesday evening, it’s amazing that some people keep trying. Ordinary people often relate with wisdom and eloquence things they know first-hand from living in a place. They speak with passion about concerns that are local but far from narrow. Oh, yes, foolish things are said, and untrue things, and things that are brazenly self-seeking, but reasonable people are rarely fooled.

    Having served as a neighborhood representative on large-scale development projects such as Copley Place, the relocation of the Orange Line, and proposals for decking over a portion of the Mass Pike, I have responded to Environmental Impact Statements, heard some fanciful tales, and I have heard people who have lost a day’s pay or have made arrangements for care for their kids, or have brought their kids along and have sat for hours to tell officials what they consider of value in their lives, and why, not knowing it has all been decided before they are even heard.

    We can only hope that the council’s shortsighted vote doesn’t reflect deep-seeded shortsightedness and a parochial lack of vision. At least Tuesday’s meeting signaled the beginning of a much-needed discussion of the future of Main Street in the blocks around City Hall.

    • Carolyn, your comments are right on target. There are properties within the area outlined in the petition are certainly historic. I wondered why I only heard what is not historic versus what is. Having worked on the federal, state and local level you have ssen the games played. Did anyone on the council ever reviewed the names and volume of the voters on the large and numerous sheets turned into the City Clerk’s that exausted them so they stopped at 163. They simply added the other sheets and gave it to The City Attorney. Notably, he did not attend,nor did the City Planner and Manager. I may not be Larry Bird or Magic but I do have some court awareness. On Mt Auburn Street there were properties that were clearly not historic. However, they abutted historic properties therefore, the Historic Society arbitrarily? included these buildings in the District.

    • This response was submitted by Linda Scott:

      On June 21st, our City Council disappointed many residents in Watertown. Without any discussion, they unanimously turned down a petition signed by hundreds of residents (they stopped counting at 163, since we only needed 150) to even take a look at the well over 100 year old buildings in Watertown Square to see how they reflected Watertown’s history, basically green lighting a five story building with 146 new condos/apartments in Watertown Square.

      They said:

      No one supported our petition.
      There are no historic buildings in this area of Watertown Square.
      This (a petition supporting exploration of a historic district) was a “shameless excuse to stop development”.

      My answers:

      No Support

      At least one strong advocate (and maybe more who weren’t acknowledged on zoom?)
      responded to the claim of no support. See the response by Caroline Gritter, who was on zoom for the meeting and was not given the “okay” by the City Council to speak.
      We had many, many more signatures of residents than we needed to have this issue looked at.

      A note…it was my experience gathering signatures that many of the strongest opponents to the construction plans for the Square wouldn’t even sign the petition.
      They said, in disgust, that it was a “waste of time, since the City Council only listens to developers anyway.” Mostly, it was the people who trusted their city government to do their due diligence who signed. It is they who the Council disappointed.

      No Historic Buildings in the Area

      There’s already at least two proven historic buildings in the area defined by the petition. One was built circa 1785 and was occupied by William Leathe, a blacksmith. It has a Watertown Historical Society plaque and is less than 10 feet away from where the demolition and excavation for the 146 unit building is planned.

      And the ones we’re looking to protect were all built much more than 100 years ago, in the City’s Late Industrial Period (1870-1915), as the City’s official property records show. Also, the library, right across the street from the proposed 146 unit building, is an historic building as well.

      Shameless Excuse

      Shameless excuse? It’s called a coalition, politicians. You all know what those are. Groups of people who, for different reasons support the same thing…those who love and respect Watertown’s history and old buildings and want to honor our past and those who hate congestion and traffic and unbridled growth, all come together to oppose…I’ll say it again…a five story building with 146 units in Watertown Square.
      So, as well as getting hundreds of signatures on the petition, I guess that we were expected to do all of the professional historical research ourselves…who knew?? Now I’m interested.

      My first stab at this has revealed that 104-106 Main Street (Bling and Crown Cafe) has been there for a very long time. Town records say around 1900. The property was owned by Watertown’s first “Mr. Fiscal,” Samuel Walker. When he died, it was written in his obituary:

      “Few if any citizens had a better knowledge of the money matters of the town.”
      Next door (the building that houses Ginger Exchange) was owned by the Gardners, another prominent Watertown family. Abby Walker literally married the boy next door and became Abby Gardner, and this property plus the back half of Cross street were in their families for generations.

      Most people think that history is all about the rich, the robber barons of our time. Therefore we tend to preserve the most blinged out, eye popping architecture that we can find. I too have an immigrant past, and I have a different perspective on history. A lot was said at that City Council meeting about immigrant pasts. Here’s a little bit about mine.

      My grandmother came over at the age of 5 with her mother, father, and two little sisters. She was Scottish, but the Scots and Irish held the same low status in this country. They didn’t like us much, but they sure needed our strong backs and work ethic. And, by the way, being accepted “legally” into this country back then was very different. The hard part was getting here. After that, it was a relatively simple (but I’m sure nerve-wracking) matter of answering 29 questions. If they were not polygamists, anarchists, came with some money, and were deemed healthy after a physical, they were simply let loose into the United States. For many people, that took three to four hours.

      You wouldn’t know that my sweet grandmother had had a problem in the world if you’d had a conversation with her, but after researching her past and talking with my mother and aunt, it was clear that if my grandmother hadn’t had bad luck, she wouldn’t have had any luck at all.

      Born into a poor, struggling family who immigrated to Lawrence, Massachusetts and living in the tenements in Lawrence, she was charged with taking care of her younger sisters when both parents had to work. She was distracted, as 9 year old girls can be, when her youngest sister decided it would be fun to do what the bigger boys on the street were doing. She tried jumping over a burning pile of leaves. She didn’t make it. She was four years old. My grandmother never forgave herself.

      Her father died when she was eleven. She had to leave school to help her mother put food on the table. The only game in town was the mills. She lied about her age (an accepted practice back then…heads turned away…she was almost 13, after all). She got a mill job, just in time for the bread and roses strike. After the strike, with “improved” working conditions, she would have had to work 54 hours a week.

      When I see a tenement, I might be seeing something a little different from some other people.

      In a strange way, it kind of feels like home. So, with my new focus on old buildings in Watertown Square, I did a double take when I actually looked at the buildings on Cross Street. Are those…tenements? Sure enough, they are. Town records say they were built in 1887. They were built to house the people who built Watertown. I think I want to know more!

      Linda Scott
      55 Olcott Street

      • Thank you Linda Scott (and Charlie for posting).
        What a great perspective on understanding history and how it relates to our current lives. Most of us, if not all of us are lost without some understanding of how we got to be here. Architecture both large and small, grand and modest has stories that should be honored for they represent the fiber that makes us strong, wise and inspired to be better than we were before. I hope all counselors are inspired by these words of Linda Scott’s.

  5. The people backing this petition want to live in Newton but can’t afford it so they are trying to make Watertown into Newton. And everyone who doesn’t already own homes in Watertown will suffer for it.

  6. I have no desire to live in Newton, it’s a pretentious place second only to Cambridge. I just have grown tired of the mass sell off of Watertown properties and building of complexes that further urbanize this small city. I don’t know how designating a small slice of Main Street will impact affordable housing in Watertown. Recent developments all feature units that rent for sky high prices.

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