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Historic Districts and Neighborhood Conservation Districts in Cambridge, MA

In addition to the districts named below, individual properties can be protected by preservation easement or landmark designation.  Please review the Designated Property List for a street listing of properties protected by district, landmark, easement, or other designation status.

Online CHC brochures: "Cambridge Historic Districts" and "Neighborhood Conservation Districts"
MAP of Historic Districts and Neighborhood Conservation Districts and Window Guidelines and HVAC Guidelines

View the individual homepage for any of the following districts or district studies (scroll down to see full list):

Avon Hill Neighborhood Conservation District

Avon Hill NCD Boundary Study

Fort Washington Historic District Homepage

 

Half Crown -Marsh Neighborhood Conservation District

Half Crown/Marsh Consolidation Study

Harvard Square Conservation District

 

Mid Cambridge Neighborhood Conservation District

 

Old Cambridge Historic District Homepage

 

(general district info below)

Read the local ordinances and state laws under which the Historical Commission and the neighborhood conservation district commissions operate.

Download application forms online.

View the permit procedures brochure.


HOW CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT THE AVON HILL NCD BOUNDARY STUDY?

On August 4, 2005, the Cambridge Historical Commission voted to accept a petition and initiate a study of the boundaries and amendments to the Avon Hill Neighborhood Conservation District, per the procedures of Ch. 2.78, Article III of the city code.  Seven study committee members have been appointed by the City Manager. Please click here for a list of meeting dates and discussion topics.

HOW CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT THE LOWER COMMON NCD STUDY?

On October 8, 2004, the Cambridge Historical Commission voted to accept a petition and initiate a neighborhood conservation district study, per the procedures of Ch. 2.78, Article III of the city code, for the Lower Common neighborhood.  The study was suspended by vote of the Historical Commission on June 28, 2007.

WHAT ARE HISTORIC DISTRICTS AND NEIGHBORHOOD CONSERVATION DISTRICTS?

Historic Districts:
Historic districts are areas in which historic buildings and their settings are protected by public review. Historic district ordinances are local laws that are adopted by communities using powers granted by the state.  Historic districts comprise the city's significant historic and architectural resources. Inclusion in a historic district signifies that a property contributes to an ensemble that is worth protecting by virtue of its historic importance or architectural quality. Historic districts deserve special protection because they enhance our shared quality of life.

Neighborhood Conservation Districts:
These districts are groups of buildings that are architecturally and historically distinctive. There are four NCDs in Cambridge: Mid Cambridge, Half Crown-Marsh, Avon Hill, and Harvard Square.   A different commission administers each of the four NCDs. These NCD commissions are empowered to approve new construction, demolition, and alterations that are visible from a public way. The establishment of an NCD recognizes the particular design and architectural qualities of special neighborhoods in Cambridge and encourages their protection and maintenance for the benefit of the entire city.

WHAT PURPOSE DO HISTORIC DISTRICTS AND NEIGHBORHOOD CONSERVATION DISTRICTS SERVE?

These designations were created to preserve buildings that are architecturally and historically significant. The establishment of such districts and landmarks recognizes the particular historic and architectural qualities of neighborhoods and buildings in Cambridge and encourages their protection and maintenance for the benefit of the entire City.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A HISTORIC DISTRICT AND A NEIGHBORHOOD CONSERVATION DISTRICT?

The regulations in the neighborhood conservation districts are tailored to the needs of the particular neighborhood and are generally less strict than those in historic districts.

I'M THINKING ABOUT REPLACING MY WINDOWS. WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE ME?
We have a brochure all about windows, their repair, and considerations you should think about before choosing a replacement. Click here for more information.

DO I HAVE TO BRING MY BUILDING PERMIT APPLICATION TO THE HISTORICAL COMMISSION OFFICE EVEN IF THE PROPERTY IS NOT ON THE DESIGNATED PROPERTY LIST?

No, you only need to bring your building permit application to the Historical Commission Office if your property is subject to Historical Commission review. When you apply for your building permit, the staff of the Inspectional Services Department will tell you whether you need to see the Historical Commission. If your property is not on the list of properties under the jurisdiction of the Historical Commission,  you will not have to bring the permit application to the Historical Commission Office. Some alterations (such as fences) in historic districts are subject to Commission review even if no building permit is required for the work.

**All demolition permit applications must be reviewed by Historical Commission staff and may require review by the Historical Commission at a public hearing if the structure is over 50 years old.  Follow this link for more information on the  Demolition Delay Ordinance.

DOES BEING IN A HISTORIC DISTRICT MEAN THAT I CAN NEVER CHANGE THE APPEARANCE OF MY PROPERTY?

No. Properties in historic districts are not frozen in time. Historic district protection is designed to ensure that when changes occur, they do not destroy the unique qualities of the district.

WHERE ARE CAMBRIDGE'S HISTORIC DISTRICTS?

Cambridge has two historic districts.  An online map of the historic districts and neighborhood conservation districts is now available.

  1. The Old Cambridge Historic District includes most of Brattle Street, the Cambridge Common and its surroundings, Berkeley and Follen Streets, and parts of Elmwood Avenue, Craigie Street, Garden Street, and Harvard Yard.  The district has recently been expanded to include several properties surrounding Arsenal Square.  Some of the properties in this district are important to the City's pre- revolutionary past; others illustrate aspects of Cambridge's 19th- century development.
  2. The Fort Washington Historic District is located on Waverly Street in Cambridgeport. This small district protects the remains of a Revolutionary War earthwork fortification erected by soldiers of the Continental Army under the direction of George Washington.  (Read more about Fort Washington on the FAQ page.)

DOES BEING IN A NEIGHBORHOOD CONSERVATION DISTRICT MEAN THAT I CAN NEVER CHANGE THE APPEARANCE OF MY PROPERTY?

No. Properties in neighborhood conservation districts are not frozen in time. Neighborhood conservation district protection is designed to ensure that a neighborhood's distinctive qualities are taken into account when changes occur. Most routine and minor changes are reviewed on-the- spot by the Historical Commission staff. Many other changes are reviewed by the neighborhood conservation district commission in an advisory, non-binding capacity. Binding review in a public hearing is generally reserved for major changes, such as demolition, new construction, and major exterior alteration, that would affect neighborhood character.

WHERE ARE CAMBRIDGE'S NEIGHBORHOOD CONSERVATION DISTRICTS?

Neighborhood Conservation Districts are comprised of groups of buildings that are architecturally and historically distinctive. There are four NCDs in Cambridge: Mid Cambridge, Half Crown-Marsh, Avon Hill, and Harvard Square. An online map of the historic districts and neighborhood conservation districts is now available.

  • The Mid Cambridge NCD is bordered by Prospect Street to the east, Prescott Street to the west, Kirkland Street and the Somerville city line to the north, and Massachusetts Avenue to the south.
  • The Avon Hill NCD, near Porter Square, is approximately bordered by Raymond Street to the west, Massachusetts Avenue to the east, Upland Road to the north, and Linnaean Street to the south.
  • The Half Crown-Marsh NCD is is made of of two areas, formerly each designated as a separate NCD, located west of Harvard Square between Brattle Street and the river, with Hilliard Street on the east and Lowell Street on the west. The consolicated district is bisected by Longfellow Park, which is located in the adjacent Old Cambridge Historic District.
  • The Harvard Square Conservation District is an area of mixed-use buildings in the historic center of Cambridge, and it is approximately bounded by Massachusetts Avenue and Mount Auburn, Eliot, Bennett, Story, and Church streets. It is administered by the Cambridge Historical Commission.
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