(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)
A new owner plans an old look for a historic Hyde Park building.
Earlier this fall the Vertullo Building at 74 – 84 Fairmount Ave. was purchased by Historic Boston Inc., a non-profit historic preservation advocate and developer that plans to return the building to its past appearance, before the original clapboards were covered with cedar shakes and large storefront windows were partially covered.
Kathy Kottaridis, executive director of HBI, said the approximately 150-year-old building had a lot to say about how Hyde Park has grown and changed over time.
“You can tell all of these phases of the neighborhood’s history through this one artifact,” Kottaridis said.
The Second Empire-style wooden building is believed to have been constructed during Hyde Park’s early commercial development in the 1850s and 1860s, when some of the Fairmount Hill landowners who originally incorporated the town of Hyde Park became real estate speculators. (Hyde Park was annexed to Boston in 1912.) The landowners were wealthy and cultured; they named their town after the Hyde Park district of London, envisioning a community that would reflect their elevated tastes.
The core of the building was probably built around 1860 and expanded in the 1870s, with a first-floor bumpout added sometime between 1894 and 1898 to accommodate storefronts. The retail spaces originally had plate-glass windows that went almost up to the ceilings, but sometime after 1965 they were partially covered at both the top and bottom, reducing their size by almost half.
Today the building contains five storefronts on the first floor and four apartments above, including one where its previous owner still lives. Carmela Pearce, 80, has lived in the building almost her entire life. Her father, Pasquale “Patsy” Vertullo, bought the building in 1932.
Vertullo had been a cobbler in Salerno, Italy, before coming to the US. Upon his arrival, he first settled in East Boston, where he lived with his aunt and uncle, saving money that enabled him to buy the building on Fairmount Avenue and open a cobbler shop and shoe store on the first floor.
Pearce was born a block away, at the corner of Pierce and Walter streets, and grew up in the Vertullo Building. Her younger brother was born in 1936 in the apartment across the hall from her home. It was unusual for an Italian family to live on this side of Logan Square at that time, Pearce said, when most Italian immigrants lived around Hyde Park Avenue. Most of the neighbors when she was a girl were Polish and Irish.
Vertullo believed in education, and he paid $50 tuition to send Pearce to Cathedral High School in the South End at a time when few people in the community were sending their children to private schools. “That was a thing, to go to parochial high school,” Pearce said.
She met her future husband, Jack Pearce, a block away at Drakes Pharmacy. Because she was Italian and he was Irish, it was considered a mixed marriage at the time. After the wedding, she moved with her husband to her mother-in-law’s home on Maple Street for a couple of years, but they soon returned to the Fairmount Avenue building and raised their son and two daughters in the home. All three of the Pearces’ children, born from 1951 – 1955, still live nearby.
Today, Pearce is a feisty and active senior who bowls in a senior bowling league at Ron’s Ice Cream and 20th Century Bowling, is a member of the Hyde Park Historical Society, and sings in the choir at Most Precious Blood Church. She plans to remain in her home for a few more months and continue to collect the rent from the tenants, but she’s not sure where she’ll go after that.
“I haven’t got a clue,” she said, explaining that she had looked at some places but not found one that completely satisfied her. “I really don’t know. I don’t want to buy.”
Sometime next year, HBI plans to begin a historic preservation project that will return the structure’s exterior to its original character, based on physical and photographic evidence. They plan to restore the original configuration of the storefront windows and remove cedar shakes to expose the original clapboards underneath. With luck, they will be able to preserve many existing elements rather than replace them.
They plan to make upgrades to the interior as necessary and are considering a mural for the blank wall on the eastern side of the building, possibly one commemorating women’s suffrage and its historical connection to Hyde Park. If the building qualifies for historic tax credits, the requirements attached to the credits would guide many decisions.
HBI plans to maintain ownership of the building for several years but to eventually sell it — with preservation restrictions that would protect the restoration — and to reinvest the money in other historic properties.
Because the building is in such a visible location, they believe it can inspire others in the area to restore nearby historic buildings. “This is a great opportunity to show where this kind of work can achieve more value for the property owner,” said Kottaridis.
(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com/Courtesy Historic Boston Inc.)