Eustis Street Fire House • Boston (Roxbury)
Adaptive Reuse, Archaeology, Rehabilitation & Restoration
The rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the 1859 Eustis Street Fire House, Boston's oldest remaining firehouse, revitalized a structure that had stood vacant for nearly fifty years and was on the brink of structural collapse. Designed by local architect John Roulestone Hall, the brick Italianate building was constructed to house Torrent Six, the man-pulled, Roxbury-built Hunneman engine. A rear ell, added in 1869, housed stables. In 1919 the building, no longer a firehouse, became home to a local chapter of Veterans of the Spanish-American War. In the 1950s, the City of Boston Parks Department used the firehouse for storage before seeking, unsuccessfully, to demolish it in the 1960s. By the late 1980s, the building was in a state of serious disrepair and leaned precariously towards the neighboring Eliot Burying Ground. The wooden stables collapsed in 1991, leaving the back end of the structure open to the elements; soon after, Historic Boston Incorporated (HBI), a nonprofit organization that rehabilitates at-risk historic properties, took interest in the building.
HBI helped design an innovative bracing system to save the building from collapse; the bracing, intended to last two to three years, instead lasted for eighteen. In 2008, the City solicited proposals for redevelopment of the firehouse, ultimately selecting HBI. The comprehensive exterior and interior rehabilitation project utilized state and federal historic tax credits. HBI enlisted the North Bennet Street School's preservation carpentry program to restore and preserve wood-frame windows, wooden brackets, and cornices. The original Torrent Six sign was re-created from photographic evidence. Before construction of a new wood-frame ell on the footprint of the former stable addition, UMass Archaeological Services, under guidance from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, completed an archaeological study and land-use history to establish whether the land on which the firehouse stood had once been part of the neighboring burying ground. Investigations revealed two complete skeletons lying under the proposed addition and the potential location of two concrete footings. To avoid disturbing the remains, the project architect and engineer designed an alternate system of support. The building now houses HBI's headquarters, with the first floor leased to another nonprofit organization, the Timothy Smith Network of technology centers, serving residents throughout Roxbury.