Visual inspection of the exterior of the houses shows them to be in good shape (particularly for houses from the 1880s), despite several claims to the contrary.
Does BC have no option but to raze these houses in order to accomplish their proposed development project? Doubtful. For example, I submit two alternative approaches that Harvard has pursued in order to maintain historical houses while still progressing with their development plans. BC officials would do well to investigate options such as these.
Option 1: Keep the houses, and build around them
Harvard pursued this option with their University Place development in the 1980s. It was considered a success:
The first major project under the new rules was University Place/University Green on the Baird Atomic site. The Holiday Inn having been rejected, in the mid-1970s a developer planned to build an office complex and two twenty-one-story apartment buildings. Harvard University was persuaded to develop the property, and early in 1980 bought the site as an investment for $4 million.
University Place was the first commercial development project in Harvard Square to include historic preservation as an objective. The plans were close to approval when the Cambridge Historical Commission opposed the demolition of two houses on the site. In the end, the university's developer not only restored the houses but built a complementary Greek Revival building (a replica of 8 Ellery Street) in the landscaped forecourt of the condominium structure, University Green. In addition, Harvard purchased and restored two houses and built three compatible town houses to create a buffer zone on adjoining Gerry Street. In 1984, this area was secured against further adverse development by a neighborhood conservation district administered by the staff of the Historical Commission and the Half Crown Neighborhood Conservation District Commission.
University Place was considered a success. The overlay district accommodated a huge project in a process that took only two years to reach final agreement, compared to six years for Charles Square; both began construction in the spring of 1982. The productive involvement of the university with the community brought about a better design that created a permanent buffer against commercial expansion into a residential neighborhood.
Option 2: Move the houses to a different site
Harvard moved three houses to a site a couple of blocks away in order to make way for its Law School expansion.
(photo credit: John Tlumacki of Boston Globe)
A large collection of photos of the move was posted here.