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COMMUNITY PROFILE

On Beacon Hill, square footage is a big topic

By Alice Giordano, Globe correspondent, 3/02/2002

Parked in front of a brownstone on Myrtle Street is a dented Mercedes-Benz station wagon that's missing its rear bumper. A battered white Chevrolet takes up space on Mount Vernon Street. And on Louisburg Square, Boston's premier address, there's a blue Ford Falcon convertible that appears to be about two rust spots short of being towed to the nearest junkyard.

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 AT A GLANCE

Settled: 1625, by William Blackstone
Area: One square mile
Population: 10,000
Tax rate: Residential $11.01, commercial $33.03
Median home price: condo $400,000, single-family, $3.9 million
Government: Boston mayor and council
Organizations: Beacon Hill Civic Association, Beacon Hill Business Association, Beacon Hill Dog Owners Group
Nearest hospital: Mass. General
College: Suffolk University
 
These beaters haven't been abandoned by joy riders, though. They all belong to residents of the Hill – to a doctor, a stockbroker, a retired politician.

"The lousier looking the car, the more wealthy the person is," says realtor and longtime Beacon Hill resident Ed Shugrue, who is also a proud owner of a rustbucket. Here in this land of lavish town houses and parking spaces that can sell for up to $160,000 apiece, eccentricity helps to characterize Beacon Hill, Boston's most exclusive – and expensive – neighborhood.

Recently sold was a two-bedroom condominium for $4 million; current listings include a handful of similar properties with asking prices that range from $7million to $8 million. On Louisburg Square, a town house is available for $12 million.

Some residents choose to own property "simply because they can," says Shugrue, who adds that real estate on the Hill comes with its own share of unconventional trends.

House-seekers quickly learn that, when it comes to buying a piece of the neighborhood, you don't speak in terms of number of bedrooms or baths, but in square footage only. To those who live in "McMansions" and split-level ranches in the suburbs, the numbers might seem like measurements for new closets.

Shugrue, who has operated Shugrue Real Estate on Beacon Hill for 30 years, says people are buying Beacon Hill condos as small as 200 square feet.

Recent sales show that these tiny living spaces sell, on average, for $187,000. To get 500 square feet, the average size of a condo on the Hill, most buyers will have to pay about $300,000, he says.

In October, Carla Curtsinger, managing producer of the Web site for the syndicated radio program "Car Talk," moved to Beacon Hill from Kansas City, Mo., where she had owned a house with a full back yard. A renter in hot pursuit of a place of her own, Curtsinger's goal is to buy 500 square feet – 700 if she's lucky. "By Midwestern standards, that's a closet," she said. "My friends back home think I'm crazy."

There are currently 53 condos and 25 single-family homes for sale on Beacon Hill, including three condos that make up a reproduction brownstone recently built on a Lindall Place lot.

Richard Drinkwater, a realtor with Coldwell Banker Hunneman's Beacon Hill office and the listing agent for the town houses, says they are loaded with things in demand on Beacon Hill: fireplaces, Jacuzzis, hardwood floors, central air conditioning. The units range in size and price from 610 square feet for $329,000 to 1,275 square feet for $599,000.

More housing is expected to be created along Cambridge Street, which was recently designated a Gateway Street by Mayor Thomas M. Menino. Plans for improvements include installing gas lanterns and creating more green space.

Currently, Beacon Hill, which boasts spectacular views of the Public Garden and Boston Common, is divided into the North Slope (everything that slopes down to Cambridge Street, the so-called affordable section) and the South Slope (everything that slopes down to Beacon Street; it is the most exclusive part).

Shugrue, who raised a family on the Hill, says he would leave his longtime Beacon Hill home only if the neighborhood lost all its eccentricities and its eccentrics, such as Peter the trash picker, who every week makes his way up and down the streets in search of treasure he can sell to a local antique shop.

Curtsinger says that Beacon Hill is one of the most accepting places she's ever experienced. Here for less than a year, she is already co-vice president of Beacon Hill Dog, a group fighting for more green space to walk and run their dogs. She quickly settled into the culture of the Hill, she says, hiring a dog walker, walking instead of driving, and most importantly, learning how to drink coffee.

"Out in Missouri, we all drive and drink diet soda," she says. "Here, we all walk and drink coffee and make fun of people who drink diet soda."

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 3/02/2002.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company
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