Interview with Marian Berkowitz
A series of hills divides Somerville into unique neighborhoods. I am now in the Central Hill neighborhood, meeting the owner of 70 Oxford Street who recently won a 2014 Director’s Award from the Somerville Historic Preservation
Commission, for the work he and his wife did on their older, but not designated house, that needed a lot work to restore its original charm. I arrive a bit early, giving me a chance to observe how quiet and leafy green is this street, with only the sounds of chirping birds. This is surprising, as it is merely a stone’s throw from Highland Avenue, one of the busier thoroughfares in the City. Hard to believe I am actually in a city!
Alessandro Capobianco bought this Victorian style house, built in 1885, two years ago, with the intention of creating a family-friendly home. At the time of purchase, the house was in very poor condition, but he and his wife, Sarita, saw its potential. The goal was to fully restore the house, both inside and outside, bringing back many of the original architectural details and enhancing the landscaping all around. Some of the work is still underway, mostly in the interior. Alessandro points out some of the completed work–two fully restored ceiling medallions, original crown molding, and window trim. All of the windows were replaced with sandstone-colored Andersen windows, customized to match the original windows. The floor was replaced with old factory, southern pine flooring purchased from Long Leaf Lumber in Cambridge that mills fine reclaimed wood salvaged from historic industrial and agricultural buildings. Modern features complement these original details, including large glass doors at the rear that allow more light to enter and that open onto an elevated deck overlooking a large grassy yard.
In the front, a sagging porch that spanned the entire width of the house also needed a lot of work — the decking was replaced with fir wood, new railings were installed, and the original columns were restored. The original front door is still there, but was stripped of its old paint down to bare wood. A stained glass window remains intact on one side of the house. Most of the wood shingling was replaced in kind and then painted a historic sage color, with gray trim. Gable ornamentation near the roof line was also restored and painted a light cream color. The house is close to complete, and Alessandro and Sarita can’t wait to move in with their children, finally ready to enjoy the beauty of all their labor and investment, and realizing their original dreams.
Introduction to the Interview Series with 2014 Preservation Award Winners
A decade after it was first established in 1985, the Somerville Historic Preservation Commission initiated an annual Preservation Awards Program in 1995 to publicly honor local owners who have completed exterior improvements in keeping with the historical character of their property. Typically the Commission gives out 12 awards to owners of historically designated (6 “Preservation Awards”) as well as to non-designated older properties (an additional 6 “Director Awards”). This year, 2014, was the 19th annual celebration.
To delve behind the award winning projects Marian Berkowitz meets with many of the owners to learn more about what they did, why, and what lessons were learned. Marian herself is a freelance writer, Somerville parent, and homeowner, who after several years of interviewing, has become increasingly inspired by the City’s beautiful architecture and owners’ care for their older buildings. Among the 12 houses being recognized this year she shares photos and her personal interviews with many of the owners.
Nominations for 2015 Preservation Awards are due by Friday, Nov. 7th, 2014. Download a brief application at 2015 Preservation Award Nomination-form