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Design guidelines for commercial property improvement: centre street, Jamaica Plain online

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Design Guidelines
for Commercial Property Improvement

Centre Street
Jamaica Plain




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City of Boston

Kevin H. White, Mayor


This publication was prepared by the
Mayor's Office of Program Development,
with funding from the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development under
the Housing and Urban Development Act
of 1974.

Centre Street
Jamaica Plain

Design Guidelines

for Commercial Property Improvement

Boston has reached a new stage in its renais-
sance as one of America's most livable
cities. Its downtown skyline has been trans-
formed through more than a decade of
unprecedented office and retail growth. Its
neighborhoods have been strengthened by
an infusion of public and private investment
in housing rehabilitation, street lights, and
other public facilities and improvements.

This renewed urban vitality will prove
increasingly valuable for Boston's neighbor-
hood business districts. The customer
market is again growing, as long time resi-
dents — reassured of the benefits of city
living — are here to stay. And joining them
are a whole generation of homebuyers,
attracted by the affordability of the city's
housing and individuality of its

The economics of energy also favor neigh-
borhood business districts. Skyrocketing fuel
costs are making local shopping more attrac-
tive than ever and are helping to make the
conservation and rehabilitation of the busi-
ness districts' older commercial buildings
one of the best bargains around.

For an owner of a neighborhood business or
commercial property, there has never been a
better time to invest in Boston.

Table of Contents

Introduction 2

Revitalization Approaches 3
Blocks, Buildings & Storefronts

Design Guidelines 10

Energy Conservation 16

Materials and Methods 20

Design/Construction Process 23

Glossary of Terms 24

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To the visitor, Boston's image is one of
winding streets, apartments tucked into un-
expected alleys, and small shopping areas
which appear from nowhere. But to the
people who live here, Boston is a city rich in
neighborhood substructure, lending order to
the whole and giving the city its manageable
and intimate quality.
Over the past five years, new patterns of
investment have blossomed in Boston's
neighborhoods, resulting in greater stability
and renewed optimism. Young homebuyers
impressed by the assets of older neighbor-
hoods, have been choosing a house in the
city over the suburban dream home. These
new residents are in turn investing heavily
in fixing up and maintaining their newly
acquired property.

Long-time residents — reassured by their
new neighbors and further convinced by the
city's major investments in housing pro-
grams, streets, sidewalks, lighting and com-
munity facilities — are also making financial
commitments to stay.
For both current and potential residents
perceptions of city neighborhoods are
heavily influenced by the commercial areas
which occupy focal positions in the com-
munity. Often, the first thing an outsider
sees upon entering a neighborhood is the
business district. First impressions tend to
stick, however rehabilitated the housing
stock or restored the tot lots may be.
If the commercial area has a negative visual
image the result can be confusing with the
business district appearing to decline while
nearby residential areas enjoy a fast-paced

Attractive and well-designed signs, enticing
window displays and consistency along the
street can go a long way in turning around
some of the psychological assumptions
potential shoppers may harbor about a
business area.

The Design Guidelines contained in this
booklet are intended to provide assistance to
the individual merchant or property owner
who wishes to improve and build upon one
of the best assets his or her business district
has — the special character of its street and
shops — thereby creating a more favorable
climate for increased retail trade.
The guidelines were developed during the
fall of 1979 by a group of Centre Street
merchants, property owners and residents,
working with City of Boston staff and local

Early meetings of the group focused on a
general review of the options available to a
shopkeeper wishing to renovate a building.
Slideshows of storefront improvements
around Boston showed some of the possi-
bilities. Photos of storefronts in Centre
Street itself helped people both identify their
own needs and begin to set design criteria
for the local business area. This working
team — called the Centre Street Design
Advisory Group — was composed of six
community members, three business people
and three residents.

If merchants and property owners look to
these guidelines when making their reno-
vation decisions, the results can be an
exciting and quantifiable boost to the busi-
ness area and the community. A coordinated
appearance makes a statement of confidence
and provides visible proof of merchants,
property owners, residents and the city
working together.

1 .uridines

Revitalization Approaches

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The design guidelines described later in this
booklet are based on three principles.
First, deterioration and irreversible damage
should be prevented. That is, the basic
materials of a building should be well main-
tained and, if necessary, repaired to prevent
any decay. For instance, roof leaks should
be repaired to prevent rotting in the frame-
work, there should be adequate drainage
around the foundation to prevent failure at
the base of a building, and broken windows
should be replaced to prevent water damage
and deter vandalism.

Second, the function of a building should be
improved. Obsolete structures or signs
should be removed, electrical and mech-
anical systems should be updated when nec-
essary and lighting and hardware for
security or handicapped use should be
installed as needed.

The third principle is to improve the appear-
ance of a building. In some cases this
involves preserving the qualities that make a
particular building special, such as well-
crafted or historic detailing. In others it calls
for replacing a confusing array of signs with
a single message to simplify choices for the
shopper. The scope of work may vary from
replacing loose mortar in masonry walls to
construction of a new storefront.

Rehabilitation can result in not only
increased property values, but also more
business. Regular customers, noticing the
changes, feel that a merchant cares about
making their shopping more pleasant and
comfortable. New customers will be encour-
aged to stop in and survey the merchandise.
And as an added incentive, a single well
executed renovation project can frequently
be the catalyst for similar work along the

For many people, the idea of building reno-
vation conjures up overwhelming images of
disrupted business, chaos, and heavy bills.
Yet the truth is not every building needs
major work, and even minor repairs can
sometimes make a big difference. Therefore,
the purpose of these guidelines is to describe
a range of options an owner or merchant has
in improving their Centre Street property.

The simplest form of property improvement
is to remove obsolete or unwanted elements.
These may range from trash around the
building to equipment left by previous ten-
ants. Allowing old signs, hardware and
frames to remain bewilders customers, over-
loads their capacity to receive information,
and detracts from the primary message of
the store display.

Since most removal work can be done with-
out the help of professionals, this can be a
low-cost and easily performed part of a
building improvement program.

• Trash littering the ground around the
store should be removed.

• Weeds growing between bricks or cracks
in the pavement should be removed.

• Old and outdated signs, along with hard-
ware and frames, should be dismantled.

• Hardware from broken awnings and
security grilles should be removed when
these are no longer used.

Centre Street Design Guidelines


Repair and Maintenance

A good maintenance program will extend
the life of a building, save money in the long
run and contribute to the continued vitality
of a neighborhood.

• The roof, gutters and downspouts and
foundation walls should be checked for

• Walls around windows, porches or fire
escapes, and seams within exterior panel-
ing, siding or brick facades should be

• When moving into a new space or adding
new equipment, the heating, ventilating,
air conditioning and electrical systems
should be checked and upgraded as

• Wood siding and trim should be scraped,
cleaned, painted or stained regularly.

• Broken bricks should be replaced and
masonry repointed as the mortar

• Stucco should be patched and painted.
When necessary a wall should be

• Windows should be checked to see if
rehanging, sealing, caulking or replacing
is required.

• Wood clapboards or shingles should be
cleaned, repaired, replaced or painted.

Original decorative elements such as col-
umn capitals; cornice moldings and
brackets, and moldings around doors,
windows and signs should be repaired and

As lightbulbs burn out, they should be

Windows should be cleaned regularly.
Signs should be cleaned, repainted or
repaired as necessary.
Displays and advertising should be
changed or updated regularly.
As awnings rip they should be patched or

Door hardware should be maintained in
good working order.


Renovation and Reconstruction

Renovation involves a general upgrading of
a building's external appearance. It can
consist of accentuating the existing features
of the building through painting, replace-
ment, or other treatment; the addition of
design elements which may or may not have
appeared on the original building but which
are in keeping with the building's character,
and a general revamping of signage.
Renovation should not be confused with
restoration or historic preservation, in which
meticulous care is taken to return a building
to the design and condition in which it
existed at a particular point in time. Rather,
renovation is a. contemporary solution which
emphasizes long-term, yet economical,
improvements. It respects the architectural
features which enhance the building and
removes those — such as "false fronts" —
that detract or conceal it. The height, width,
original proportions, construction materials,
textures, lines and width of an existing
building are some of the factors which must
be taken into account prior to starting a
renovation project. Also, old photographs, if
available, can be very helpful in assessing
the building's potential and making
decisions about the type of changes to

• Buildings which are historic or old but in
excellent condition should be restored
rather than modernized.

When restoring an older building new

walls should be built of traditional

materials such as brick, stone or wood.

Signs should be located in the panels or

bands provided for them in the facade of

older buildings.

Historic details should be repaired or


New features should be either simple

enough to accentuate historic details, or

modeled after the details of the original


New additions and details should be

matched with the existing building. Take

into account the existing details and the

period in which the building was


The number of different colors and

materials on a building should be limited.

Sign materials, colors, locations and

typeface should be unified across a

building facade.

Shops housed in the same building should

be unified with similar awnings.

plantings, lighting and siding.

Bright and bold graphics may be used to

give a modern feel to a building.

Let the different functions in a building

be expressed on the facade — residential,

commercial and office areas should be

clearly differentiated.

Centre Street Design Guidelines


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Online LibraryBoston Mayor's Office of Program DevelopmentDesign guidelines for commercial property improvement: centre street, Jamaica Plain → online text (page 1 of 3)