This fall, This Old House returns to the city for the expansion and renovation of newlyweds Dan and Heather Beliveau’s home on Bunker Hill Street in the historic Boston neighborhood of Charlestown.
Built in 1865, the Beliveaus’ townhouse is a three-story brick building in the Second Empire style, with carved brownstone lintels, a second-floor bay window overlooking the street, and a mansarded third floor. A victim of only the most benign form of neglect, the house’s interior contains most of its original detail, including marble mantels, plaster ceiling medallions, a handsome main staircase, and a set of mahogany pocket doors that still work perfectly. Nonetheless, time has taken its toll, and the building’s antiquated systems, tired windows, and kitchens and baths from the 1950s will need replacement.
Heather is an executive recruiter who works in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, and she’s looking forward to a short commute across the bridge to town. Dan, a design consultant who has renovated several condominiums in historic Boston buildings, brings a designer’s eye and a developer’s economic savvy to his own house. He has not, however, taken on a project of this size and is looking forward to learning alongside the TOH crew. Our homeowners will both have to exercise great discipline—and contribute a fair amount of sweat equity—to accomplish all they hope for their stated budget of $300,000.
Joining the team is noted Charlestown architect Jack French, who has worked on many of the area’s historic structures. His experience in town and in similar buildings will come in handy as the interior plan gets reworked and changes to the building’s exterior come together.
To make the economics of their new purchase work, Dan and Heather need to retain, and expand, the existing first-floor rental apartment. They plan to convert the currently unfinished basement into living space, combining the two floors into a two-bedroom unit that should fetch as much as $2,500 a month. The top two floors they will make into their new home. One big project will be to add a third story onto the building’s rear ell, providing space for a much-needed bathroom on a bedroom floor that now has none.
Our choice of an urban project is a deliberate one, for it comes at a time when cities across America are enjoying an unprecedented renaissance. In moving into the city, the Beliveaus are part of a new wave in Boston and around the country, and by following their story we hope to tell a larger one. Urban home ownership is at a record high of 51 percent, and we hope to celebrate what the New York Times recently quoted Providence mayor Vincent Cianci Jr. as saying at the United States Conference of Mayors: “The exodus of years ago has changed. It’s hip living in the cities. People want to be back.” Charlestown, like many American cities, was in decline not too long ago. Buildings were boarded up, property values were depressed, and crime was a serious problem. Now the streets are alive with people, restaurants have opened to standing-room-only crowds, and everywhere you look buildings are being renovated and restored. This fall, nine million viewers will be able to watch as another is reborn.