Preservation in Lowell
National RootsLowell is similar to many communities across the country that have sought to identify, protect, and preserve their historic resources. In 1931, the first historic preservation review board in the United Stated was created in Charleston, South Carolina to preserve and protect the historic resources of the Old and Historic Charleston District. Other early efforts included the establishment of the Vieux Carre Commission in New Orleans' French Quarter in 1937 and the creation of preservation ordinances in San Antonio, Texas in 1939.
Today, more than 3,700 communities across the nation have created historic preservation commissions like the Lowell Historic Board (LHB) to protect their historic resources and are a critical component of community planning and environmental efforts.
Lowell BeginningsUrban disinvestment and decline were a familiar sight in America's older cities in the mid-20th century. Lowell was no exception as the collapse of the city's once-thriving textile industry in the 1920s and 1930s resulted in empty mill buildings and a decaying downtown. During the 1950s and 1960s, federal urban renewal funding became available to Lowell but unfortunately, this funding did not stimulate economic renewal and resulted in the demolition of some of the city's most significant millyards and tore apart several ethnic neighborhoods.
The establishment of the Lowell Heritage State Park in 1974 by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts further reinforced ongoing City efforts and projects, adding credibility to efforts to establish a National Park in Lowell.
Growth and ExpansionThe establishment of the Lowell National Historical Park (LNHP) in 1978, along with the simultaneous creation of the LHNP's sister federal agency the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission (LHPC), solidified and expanded the city's preservation efforts. The LHPC was created to assist in the park's development, stimulate preservation of Lowell's downtown buildings, and develop cultural programs.
Success and National ModelToday, preservation is the basis of much of Lowell's economic development, tourism, and marketing efforts. The community's revitalization is a tribute to the highly-successful public/private partnerships that have been a central ingredient in every project undertaken.
Since the creation of the LHB in 1983, over 2,600 permits have been issued in the DLHD, indicating an extraordinary level of change. Nearly $1 billion in development activity has taken place within the DLHD while nearly 98% of 5.2 million square feet of mill space has been rehabilitated.
In addition, since the mid-1970s the number of districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places has grown to 14 and individually-listed properties to 26, spread throughout downtown and the neighborhoods. The City has also been instrumental in the preservation and rehabilitation of historic landscapes in these districts including Tyler Park and Rogers Fort Hill Park.
Appleton Block screen removal (1980)
Appleton Block with facade screen removed
Kirk Street Row Houses before rehabilitation (ca. 1990)
Kirk Street Row Houses after rehabilitation
Boott millyard before rehabilitation (1978)
Boott millyard after rehabilitation
Boarding House Park
Homage to Women by Mico Kaufman
Lowell has succeeded in reclaiming the attributes that makes it a special place, using heritage as a very successful economic development strategy. The city has set a standard and model for excellence that other communities have sought to follow.