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Bay Village Historic District Updates District Guidelines

Small in size but rich in history, the Bay Village Historic District has its own special charm.

Bounded on the west by Berkeley Street and on the north by Park Square, it was mainly built on filled land created by the construction of a dam near Fayette Street in 1825. On the east side of South Charles Street, it sits on the solid ground of the original peninsula. Here, some of the earliest houses still stand on Lyndeboro Place. The southern boundary includes Tremont Street and Cortes Street.

Motion picture film cans ready for shipping in Bay Village, Boston 1974. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library

The oldest buildings are brick townhouses from the 1820s and 1830s, typically four-story, with Federal and Greek Revival style details, and recessed entryways. Many of these homes were built and occupied by the craftspeople responsible for the construction of buildings on Beacon Hill during this period. As the filling of the South End and Back Bay caused frequent flooding, most of the buildings in the neighborhood were raised 12-18 feet in 1868. This is reflected in windows dropped below street level and some sunken gardens. Commercial buildings for the film industry replaced some townhouses between 1915 and 1950, with Art Deco facades and heavy structures. MGM, Paramount, Universal and Columbia were located here.

Bay Village has always been the home of artists and tradesmen, actors and poets. It has also been the site of numerous clubs, bars and restaurants; as famous as the Latin Quarter, and as infamous as the Cocoanut Grove. Urban renewal transformed the east and south edges of Bay Village in the 1960s. Recently, new condos have reclaimed commercial buildings and empty lots. Roof lines have risen with careful additions. At the same time, the small-scale historic core has been preserved. Along brick sidewalks with gas lamps, a stroll on any street presents a tapestry of period design and detail to delight the eye.

Since 2018 the Bay Village Historic District Commission has been working to update its Regulatory Standards which it uses to review projects in the Bay Village Historic District. As part of this work the Boston City Council voted on March 22, 2023 to amend the City Ordinance that established the district regarding work that is exempt from the commission's review. Specifically, the commission’s purview has been expanded to include the following:

  •  Review of exterior work visible from a public way (previously rear elevations of buildings were exempt from review).
  •  Review of all paint or stain colors (previously only paint or stain colors of masonry were reviewed; paint or stain colors on wood or metal was previously exempt from review).
  •  Review of light fixtures on buildings (decorative light fixtures at entryways were exempt from review).

These amended changes will provide more cohesive review of projects in the district, and are consistent with the purview of the City’s other local historic districts.

Learn more about the Bay Village Historic District.

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