An Eagle’s Eye for Architecture

-By John Lynds

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Marlborough Street? Nope. These pristine Brownstones from the mid-1800s stand on Princeton Street.

The rich architectural history of East Boston is experiencing a rebirth with more and more residents restoring their homes back to their fashionable form, exposing the handcrafted detailing of brackets, original moldings, shingles and woodwork that was prevalent during the 1800s.

This jewel of historical architecture still showcases some of the best Italianate Victorian, Second Empire, Queen Anne and Greek Revivals. With community action groups like the Eagle Hill Civic Association (EHCA) long encouraging homeowners to restore their domiciles, Eastie is back on the map as an important historical neighborhood that harbors a rich past and an even richer future.

Last week, Architectural Historian/Assistant Survey Director of the Boston Landmarks Commission Emily Wolf gave a presentation on Eastie’s historic architecture at an EHCA’s Historic Preservation month event.

The presentation included talks and slide show about the neighborhood’s historic architecture, preservation resources, and historic designation protocols. Wolf, who has been with the Landmarks Commission for the past three years, said the presentation was aimed at informing and inspiring residents about the rich heritage of the community.

Prior to her work in Boston, Wolf worked for the Maine Historic Preservation Society.

Eastie has always been diverse with architecture, with its peak spanning from the 1830s through the 1890s, and each new style reacting to the times, available materials, and the trends that proceeded.

Beginning with the Greek Revivals, Eastie and the nation as a whole, built homes to mirror the massive temples of ancient Rome and Greece, giving America a classical “Republic” look.

The architecture quickly moved with the times. As the Industrial Revolution made materials more available, the homes in the community became more elaborate and ornate, shown in the detail and rich colors of the Italianate Victorians.

Then as the 1880s wore down, people began to return to a stripped-down, bare, uncomplicated style, deserting the highly decorated and embellished art of the Victorians.

It is sort of an ascetic pendulum, if you will–as people’s mood swung from left to right, there were periods of restraint, simplicity and elegance as you see in the Greek Revival Period. Then it gradually became more ornate, followed by full-blown Victorian architecture, which was extremely ornate. Then there was a reaction to the highly decorative styles and a return to simple lines.

The pendulum is now swinging back to a period of historic renovation and Wolf and EHCA members are noticing beautifully renovated antique homes lining local streets.

”We’ve all noticed the incredible work some of our neighbors have done on the facades of their homes, stripping off various layers of siding to reveal evidence of grandeur long since covered up and forgotten,” said Debra Cave, president of the EHCA.

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