Highland Park and Historic Boston Inc. Unite to Save St. James

Highland Park and Historic Boston Inc. Unite to Save St. James

Historic Boston has begun the process of purchasing the building and land at 50 Cedar St, ending a nail-biting period of suspected demolition.

The building at 50 Cedar Street has been a highlight of the Highland Park neighborhood in Roxbury since its construction in 1910. Though the structure was originally built as the Norwegian Evangelical Congregational Church, for the larger part of its existence, 50 Cedar was the St. James African Orthodox Church, serving as a place of worship and activism. Befitting its history, this month, community activism saved the building from demolition.

The efforts came from all sides. When the owner, developer City Realty Co., filed for demolition of the church in April, the Highland Park community mobilized and filed a petition to designate the building as a Boston Landmark, generating over 2,700 signatures. This action put the building in line for permanent Landmark designation, but it took heavy advocacy from the Boston Preservation Alliance and an injunction filed by Mayor Walsh to prevent imminent destruction.  This week, the Walsh administration’s emergency Landmark decision will protect the building permanently from demolition or permanent damage.

As the community was rallying the community and public designation process in support of protection, Historic Boston was analyzing the potential for the building’s re-use, and negotiating with the developer to arrive at sale of the church to HBI.  On July 16th, HBI and City Realty agreed to the purchase price of $1.4 million.

The criteria for eligibility for granting a building Historic Landmark status in Boston are on the Boston Landmarks Commission website.

HBI expects that proper rehabilitation of the church to be very expensive but that the opportunity for new construction on what was the church’s parking lot will help to offset that. The project will be planned with significant community input, beginning with a community celebration (“We Saved the Church”) and an initial discussion on Thursday, August 2nd at 6:30 p.m. at the First Church Roxbury.  In the spirit of HBI’s long time commitment and many investments in Highland Park, and to follow on the extraordinary work of neighbors and friends over the last several months, input from the Highland Park neighborhood community will be essential throughout the project planning process.

The building and surrounding land, equaling a total of 17,000 sq. feet, will be leveraged to be an efficient and useful space including communal and residential space. These plans aim to subsidize the expenses for the building’s restoration.

Historic Boston is dedicated to working with local partners to rehabilitate at-risk buildings. Taking on the project at 50 Cedar Street is another opportunity to continue doing the work that the organization was founded on 58 years ago, relying on the support of a passionate community to preserve historic buildings.