The steel blue house at 88 Lambert Ave. might seem like nothing more than an unassuming dwelling to passersby along the Highland Park road in Roxbury.
But the centuries-old structure has risen to prominence in its own ways. It is a vestige of 1800s living in Boston’s suburban neighborhoods. The architect Richard Bond once called it home. And most notably, “Eyes on the Prize” documentary filmmaker and former owner Henry Hampton used to challenge guests to rounds of pingpong there, prepared ribs and ham, and provided shelter to whoever needed it — a home as a hub for Boston’s Black community.
Such a legacy warrants the Bond-Hampton House’s status as a Boston landmark, the city determined in a series of votes in November. The recognition gives the home, a rare surviving piece of local Black history, extra protections from demolition or changes by a developer.
The home also lies within the new Highland Park Architectural Conservation District (ACD), which safeguards the neighborhood’s unique historic makeup from further changes.
“Buildings are important, but the people and the stories around them are what brings them to life,” said Marita Rivero, a former GBH vice president and general manager for radio and TV and friend of the Hampton family. “This designation allows us to hold onto significant parts of the American identity that otherwise might be lost.”
While celebrating the recognition, family, friends, and mentees of the late filmmaker Hampton say the status is long overdue. Too many vital pieces of Boston’s Black history have already been lost to time or demolition, they say.
“Historic preservation is the one area where the clock is ticking,” said Derrick Evans, a longtime neighborhood resident and activist.
Built around 1830, the Bond-Hampton House is a relic of the Regency and Greek Revival architectural movements. Richard Bond, a local architect who designed sites like the Lewis Wharf Building and St. John’s Episcopal Church in Charlestown, built and occupied the home until his death in 1861. Bond transitioned from building to designing dozens of buildings during his career, and he attended the first gathering of what’s now the American Institute of Architects.
Andrew Shelburne, a Highland Park Neighborhood Coalition member and longtime neighborhood activist, said Bond’s groundbreaking accomplishments warrant national acclaim.
“A lot of architects nowadays don’t get a lot of hands-on training on how to build things,” Shelburne said. “And to think he’s one of 11 people that started [the American Institute of Architects] — that’s really, really impressive.”
By the 1970s, the house became known as the home and workspace of Hampton, a local community organizer and storyteller renowned for directing and producing the award-winning, Civil Rights Movement docuseries “Eyes on the Prize.”
Callie Crossley, host of GBH’s radio show “Under the Radar with Callie Crossley” and television series “Basic Black”, co-produced part of the acclaimed series. The praise the series received — for its pioneering reliance on everyday people rather than historians to tell the story, and its impressive use of archival footage ― she said, “was because of [Hampton’s] effort and determination to make sure that it happened.”
“We just wanted to do right by the people we were interviewing, to do right by the history,” Crossley said.
The property includes a 19th-century carriage house that doubled as office space for Hampton’s production company, Blackside Inc., until the company secured a larger space on Shawmut Avenue.
Leslie E. Harris, retired associate justice of the Suffolk County Juvenile Court, recalled when Hampton offered him a place at his seven-bedroom home.
“I said, ‘Henry, I couldn’t pay rent at the other place. How am I going to pay you rent?’” Harris recalled. Hampton’s response was, he said, “Don’t worry about it, you can catch up later.”
And with that, Harris moved into 88 Lambert Ave. in 1972 and remained for 15 years. There, he and Hampton would discuss current events over a game of chess or ping-pong. Sometimes, Hampton would reel him into his door-to-door fundraising efforts for “Eyes on the Prize.”
Living with Hampton, Harris said, introduced him to some of Boston’s most influential community leaders of the time, including Jean McGuire and Bill Russell, helping him expand his own professional network.
Judy Richardson, a civil rights activist and filmmaker who worked on “Eyes on the Prize” through its many iterations, remembered rummaging through one of Henry Hampton’s garages in search of footage. In a cardboard box they found the 16 mm film — intact — despite undergoing six Boston winters.
“Some of the footage that you see in ‘Eyes on the Prize’ were in those boxes in Henry’s garage, behind that Roxbury house,” she said.
Judi Hampton, the filmmaker’s younger sister, took many trips from New York City to review her brother’s work. He’d try and straighten up in anticipation of her visits, but magazines, blogs, and knick-knacks would be strewn everywhere, she said.
“I used to tease him, ‘How can you be such a brilliant filmmaker, and you need a cleaning woman?” Judi Hampton recalled.
Their playful relationship continued even as fragile health afflicted him, Judi Hampton said, and tasks like making it up and down the stairs became difficult. Hampton died in 1998 at age 58 of complications from lung cancer treatment.
When Roxbury-bred filmmaker Robert Patton-Spruill purchased the property in 2002 for $451,000, parts of the site were in severe disrepair. He spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on renovations. In 2017, he pondered selling its commercial garage space to developers.
Soon after, a group of residents, hoping to block such development, petitioned the Boston Landmarks Commission to consider the home for city landmark status — catching Patton-Spruill off guard.
Jeffrey and Susan Winston ultimately bought the property in 2017 for $2.22 million, according to county records. Michael Winston, the pair’s son and beneficiary, occupies the space with his family and other tenants. Three garage buildings were demolished and razed over the years, though the Winston family has considered replacing them with housing units.
On a recent Friday, Michael Winston led guests through a tour of the property.
If you look past the renovations that took place over the years, some hints of the home’s storied history remain. White paint covers a service bell, used by previous owners to summon in-house servant. A carriage house, like the kind that used to hold horse-drawn wagons, is part of the co-living space.
The Winstons have invited Judi Hampton to her brother’s former home, but she said she is not yet ready for such an emotional visit. Until then, she’s content knowing that Henry’s impact has been honored in some way.
“[Henry] loved the house, so anything that honors him and the house is a wonderful idea,” Judi Hampton said. “It’s an incredible achievement.”