League gets large CPA grant to help with preservation of Chester Square building

The momentum continues to build for the League of Women for Community Service and their long-vacant building on Chester Square – landing a $400,000 Community Preservation Act (CPA) grant to get the historic rehabilitation going on their grand old headquarters.

The City’s Community Preservation Committee (CPC) met on Feb. 11 to review all of the new applications, and the League was granted $400,000 as part of the Historic Rehabilitation category. That garnered more momentum for the organization which made a very optimistic and exciting presentation to Chester Square Neighbors on Feb. 3 at that group’s monthly meeting.

“We are just really thrilled,” said Executive Director Gina Gomes Cruz. “I’ve been with the League since 2018, but I’m with these women who have been here many, many years and decades. I am thrilled and they are thrilled with getting this grant. For them, being here so long, this was a very important time for them and a sign of a new leaf being turned. Because we are a non-profit, it’s a lot to maintain a building like this one. The nature of Brownstones in Boston is that it falls apart. It’s a difficult material to maintain…To get the grant, it gives us this optimistic feeling for the future.”

The grant will partially fund the rehabilitation and restoration of the outside of the 1857 home, which was built by Richard Carnes – an influential luxury wood important who also used the home as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The grant project will focus on stabilizing repairs to the masonry, Brownstone façade at the 558 Massachusetts Ave. building.

“We will be focusing on the façade with the grant,” she said. “That’s what people see first when they approach and that’s important.”

The entire repair and reconstruction of the building, Gomes Cruz said, would cost about $3 million. With design and other soft costs, it is estimated to cost about $5 million in total.

The interior is in very good condition, in part because the roof was recently replaced and any water leak damage was stopped and repaired. The interior is said by member Adrienne Benton to be one of the most intact homes left in the South End from its original construction due to the fact it was not used as a residence after the early 1900s, when the League was founded there.

The League was a hub of activity in Boston’s Black community from 1920 to the 1970s. There were recitals, poetry readings, functions and fraternal meetings there frequently. After World War II, many Black women attending universities in Boston lived at the League as they were not permitted to live in student housing due to their race. At that time, Coretta Scott King was attending the New England Conservatory and living at the League. It is believed that Martin Luther King Jr. often came to the home to take her out on dates after they met in Boston.

The grant is still contingent upon a vote of the City Council and the signature of the mayor, which are both expected.

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