Landmark status sought for 1859 Centre St. building

By 
Pat Tarantino, Special to the Reporter
Jun. 16, 2011

The one-time Industrial School for Girls at 232 Centre St.The one-time Industrial School for Girls at 232 Centre St.

Citing a need for further information and review, the Boston Landmark Commission has temporarily denied historic landmark status for a 19th century building in the St. Mark’s neighborhood recently purchased by the Epiphany School.

During a preliminary hearing at Boston City Hall on Tuesday, the 15-member board said they could not determine the historical significance of the Industrial School for Girls, located on 232 Centre Street, based on information currently available. The call for landmark status was petitioned by Dorchester Historical Society president Earl Taylor and was opposed by John Finley IV, the Epiphany School’s founder.

Built in 1859 under the guidance of prominent Boston-based architect George Snell, the building is one of the earliest institutions to be part of the industrial school movement – an education model that called for urban teenagers believed to be at risk for juvenile delinquency to be sent to the countryside for several years, where they would learn crafts like sewing and knitting before being moved to a host family.

During the height of its operations, the building housed approximately 30 teenagers and a handful of staff, operating until 1941 when it was converted into the Everette House, a program for young women operated by the Home for Little Wanderers.

Most recently, the Epiphany Schools purchased the building for $1 million at the beginning of this year, hoping to convert the structure into housing for teachers and possibly a second campus for the tuition-free school in the coming years, a plan which could involve moving or possibly replacing the current building.

According to Finley, the school board was aware of the building’s pedigree despite having several local architects examine the school prior to making the purchase.

Taylor called the building a “very unusual example of [Snell’s] work,” and said he felt the building signifies a period of growth in the history of New England’s public education system, a sentiment many who attended the hearing supported.

Finley opposed the call for landmark status, stating that the title could prevent the school from making use of their purchase, while modifications already made to the building undercut the historic weight of the the property.

“The interior of the building has been completely gutted and remodeled,” Finley read from a prepared statement. “So any interior spaces or finishes related to the Industrial School for Girls have been obliterated.”

Dorchester resident Andrew Saxe echoed Taylor’s sentiment, adding that a single family home in the area designed by Snell recently sold for $16 million and that despite the Epiphany school’s mission, the site must be preserved.

“We’re all big fans of the Epiphany School,” Saxe said. “But we’re concerned about losing the neighborhood’s history, piece by piece.”

Despite the debate, the Landmarks Commission referred to their most recent data on the building, an area evaluation report dating back to 1994 in which commission staff surveyed the St. Mark’s area for potential points of interest. In that report, the Industrial School is mentioned, but deemed to be of local significance and thus note eligible for citywide or national landmark status.

There was some hesitancy among board members as to how to proceed, since the report was focused on the neighborhood as a whole and instead a request was made for interested parties to submit additional information regarding the site before any decisions could be made regarding the fate of the building.

Following the hearing, Finley expressed some frustration with the process since he had initially learned about the potential landmark designation from the commission and not from any of the neighbors pushing for the title.

“I’m surprised no one reached out to me,” Finley said. “I stand outside the school for a good half an hour every day greeting all the kids.”