Boston: Mission Hill
Community Profile

Neighbors working together for better Mission Hill

By Kathleen Howley, Globe Correspondent, 5/27/2000

Mission Hill at a glance
Area: .75 square mile
Population: 15,700
Tax rate: $13.15 residential, $34.21 commercial
Form of government: Boston mayor, city council
Services: Boston Gas, Boston Edison, city water and sewer
Schools: (Public) Mission Hill School (K-8), Maurice J. Tobin School (K-8), New Mission High School; (private) Mission Church Grammar School
Cultural/recreational: Playgrounds, Mission Hill Little League, Olmsted Park, Mission Hill Triangle Architectural Conservation District, Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Joseph Flynn moved to Boston's Mission Hill in the mid-1980s. He said he chose the neighborhood for its location high on a hill overlooking the city, a 20-minute walk from downtown.

"Geographically, it's ideally situated. If you look at other major urban cities, this is one of the few places in America where a hilltop environment has not been commandeered by the wealthy," he said. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

He moved to Cambridge in 1991, but five years ago he was back on "the hill" - this time as an owner, not a renter. He bought a two-family house a few blocks from the summit, near the intersection of Pontiac and Cherokee streets.

"There are some places you land and suddenly you find yourself with roots, where people smile at you on the street and ask how you are. That's what I missed when I was away," said Flynn, 42, an architect with Margulies & Associates in downtown Boston.

Flynn, like many residents, described Mission Hill as a "family neighborhood." But outsiders sometimes have a negative view of the area, said Joseph Sullivan, who has lived on Mission Hill since the 1970s.

The taint came, in large part, from the media attention following the 1989 murder of Carol DiMaiti Stuart, he said. Charles Stuart, her husband, was later identified as her killer, but not before the reputation of Mission Hill was dragged through the mud, Sullivan said.

For several years in the 1980s, the area had a problem with violence and there is a still a lingering drug problem on Tremont Street, said Sullivan. For example, 10 days ago a man was shot there during daylight hours.

"Crime has been down in the last few years, but we still have a problem with drug dealers. We know they are there, the police know they are there, and we are all trying to work to do something about it," he said.

He said the Crime Committee, one of several neighborhood action groups, is trying to get a bank of public telephones removed from the side of the Mission Hill branch of the Boston Public Library, which was designed by famed architect Ralph Adams Cram.

On other issues, neighborhood groups have been effective. They battled in the 1970s to block the encroachment of institutions such as the New England Baptist Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health. Now, some of the neighborhood groups are on such good terms with Harvard they hold their meetings in one of its facilities, Sullivan said.

At the time of the Revolutionary War, Mission Hill was an area of farms and large estates. The merchant John Parker built a home at the summit of the hill, and for more than a century the area was known as Parker Hill. Other Yankees followed, building summer homes that gave them a respite from the heat and congestion of the city below them.

Then came the Irish and German immigrants, many of them employed by breweries that developed along Stony Brook, near the base of the hill. The Yankees began to move out, and their grand homes were replaced with sturdy three-deckers. The building boom came in the 1890s, when Queen Anne was the dominant architectural style. Today, it is the hill's most prevalent building type.

The German and Irish brewery workers tended to be Roman Catholic, and in the 1870s a German-based group of priests established a mission in the neighborhood. They constructed a massive church that rivaled the cathedrals of Europe. To this day, the twin-spire structure - a landmark on the skyline - is better know as Mission Church than by its real name, the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

Brian Back, 38, a sales associate with Prudential Gibson Real Estate in the South End, bought a three-decker on Mission Hill in 1996. It was the right time to buy, he said.

"Since then, I'd say my house has probably doubled in value," said Back.

His first encounter with the neighborhood came when he was working as a real estate appraiser, he said.

"I could see that this area was something of a sleeper. It's full of wonderful buildings set on quiet side streets," he said.

His firm currently lists nine Mission Hill condominiums in three new buildings designed to look like three-deckers, he said. Six are under agreement. Of the remaining units, a two-bedroom is priced at $189,000, a three-bedroom lists for $209,000, and another three-bedroom lists for $219,000.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 5/27/2000.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company
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