IN 1960, one of Boston’s oldest buildings, the Old Corner Bookstore, was slated to be torn down to make way for a parking garage. A group of concerned citizens rallied to save it. Their efforts evolved into Historic Boston Incorporated, a nonprofit organization that buys historically significant buildings and rehabilitates them for modern use. Next week, Historic Boston will celebrate another success — the revitalization of the Hayden Building in Chinatown, an architectural landmark that symbolizes the neighborhood’s escape from the ghosts of the seedy Combat Zone.
Historic Boston has played a major role in restoring older structures that once would have been lost forever. Rather than simply raise charitable donations and give away grants, it also serves as a nonprofit developer that buys buildings, improves them, and plows the profits back into new projects. Its nonprofit status means that it preserves the history of all neighborhoods, not just upscale ones. It helped save the Eustis Street Fire House in Dudley Square, the “Stone House” in Charlestown, and the Roxbury home where Malcolm X spent part of his childhood.
The Hayden Building was built in 1875 by Henry Hobson Richardson, one of the most celebrated American architects, who counts the Trinity Church in Copley Square among his accomplishments. But the once-majestic Hayden Building eventually fell into serious disrepair. It became host to an X-rated movie shop. After a fire, the city threatened to condemn it. In 1993, Historic Boston got involved, recently spending $5.6 million to restore its past glory.
The building’s facelift has helped revive the whole neighborhood. Boston, which owes so much of its charm to the historic treasures in its midst, also owes a debt of gratitude to the people who fight to preserve them.