Why Save the Powder House Now

12 Sep

Dear City Council Members,

Tonight you will be asked to approve the designation of CPA funds for various purposes. This includes dedicating $25,000 towards an historic structure report and the repair of the Powder House at Magazine Beach. I hope you will vote in favor of this appropriation. Below is my argument for it. The photos below are, however, perhaps, the strongest argument!

There is no question that repairing the roof to the 1818 granite Powder House at Magazine Beach is a good idea. It is a monumental structure that could be–if revived–the centerpiece of this 15-acre open green space along the Charles River, a heavily used, sorely needed urban park and natural refuge. The roof has been open and exposed to the elements for years. Repairing the roof will preserve the structure and an historic structure report will serve as a roadmap for future work on the building.

Why do this now? Because we have momentum. The Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association has been able to forge alliances with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Riverside Boat Club, the Charles River Conservancy, and working together, we have organized four Magazine Beach cleanups since November 14, 2010.

Appalled at the condition of the roof at the Powder House, the CNA raised $1,900 in four days!, (including $1,500 from the Cambridge Heritage Trust) to do a temporary fix of the roof in December 2010. 

In April 2011 the CNA received a grant from the New England Grassroots Environmental Fund to work with the community to revitalize Magazine Beach. A survey of users, local residents and businesses; a plan for the park; and a funding proposal will be the products of this grant.

The CNA held a community meeting about Magazine Beach in April 2011, featuring presenters from DCR and the Cambridge Historical Commission. Over fifty community members and many local and state politicians attended to show their support for improving Magazine Beach that very rainy night.

On June 10th two instructors of Preservation Carpentry at the North Bennet Street School, along with representatives of the Cambridge Historical Commission, Cambridge Historical Society, DCR and preservation architect David Torrey met at the Powder House to look at it inside and out and to see whether reroofing the structure might be an appropriate project for students at North Bennet Street to engage in. They are interested. North Bennet’s involvement in this project is a win win. North Bennet students would learn to stabilize a roof and reslate it for the cost, mostly of materials, greatly reducing the cost of this project WHILE ensuring top quality workmanship. (The North Bennet Street School has already worked on a number of DCR historic properties and DCR welcomes their involvement.)

In June 2011 David Torrey of Menders, Torrey & Spencer, developed a proposal to do an historic structure report of the Powder House. This proposal would review historical information relating to the Powder House, document the historic fabric of the building, and propose–with cost estimates–ways to adapt the building for a modern use. (Note: Frederick Law Olmsted converted the Powder House into a bath house in 1897.) This report would serve to guide the North Bennet Street School’s work on the Powder House and future revitalization efforts there.

The total cost for the proposed historic structure report is $23,000 and the estimated cost to repair the roof of the Powder House is $45,000. DCR has suggested that this project would qualify for a 2:1 matching grant. So the proposed CPA funding will provide essential seed money to stabilize and preserve the Powder House.

Please vote YES tonight and support the historic structure report and roof repairs for the Powder House at Magazine Beach. By partnering with our friends and neighbors, we are getting a lot of bang for our buck and work could start on the Powder House as early as the spring of 2012. Let’s fix the roof NOW!

Thank you for your consideration. I attach photos of the Powder House in its current state.

Cathie Zusy

Board Member, Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association

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