By Tom Acitelli of Curbed Boston
Geography, infills, independence movements—all played roles in shaping the city’s positional vocab.Felix Mizioznikov/Shutterstock
Boston is named after the town of Boston in eastern England. But what about the city’s neighborhoods? A lot of them have similar roots in old Albion, while a sizable chunk are tethered etymologically to geography.
Read on for the origin stories of Boston’s 22 large neighborhoods.
This neighborhood was for years simply the stockyards and rail yards of the town of Brighton. It also had a post office and quite a bit of woodlands.
One gentlemen who liked to hike the woodlands was the painter Washington Allston, who lived across the Charles River in Cambridge.
By the time Boston annexed the area in 1874, it was known by his surname.
This photo from 1858 shows the Back Bay on the left and the Charles River on the right. Public domain.
There is a reason many people call this neighborhood the Back Bay: From 1857 to 1882, one of the largest urban infrastructure projects in U.S. history filled in about 450 acres of pestilential tidal basin known colloquially as “the Back Bay.”
A depiction from 1811 of the reduction of Beacon Hill to 80 feet from 138. Wikimedia Commons
Multiple hills—some say three, some say five—comprised what became Beacon Hill, one of the first settled areas on the Shawmut Peninsula.
One of those hills became known as Beacon Hill because of a signaling beacon on it; and the name stuck.
The smallest neighborhood that the city itself breaks out, Bay Village was born in the 1820s as the collection of homes for the workers who built the tonier nearby Beacon Hill. Therefore the architecture looks similar.
Bay Village used to go at various times by the Church Street District, South Cove, and Kerry Village. Bay Village stuck, perhaps given its immediate geographic proximity to the pre-infill Back Bay.
Brighton was its own town until Boston annexed it in 1873.
By that point, it had been independent for only about half a century; and, before that, was known, along with what became Allston, as an agricultural and cattle-rustling appendage of Cambridge that went by the diminutive nickname Little Cambridge.
It changed its name to Brighton, after a town in southern England, upon independence in 1807.
Charlestown was named for—wait for it—an English king named Charles; in this case, Charles I, the Stuart on the losing end of the English Civil War.
Europeans began settling what became Charlestown in 1629—20 years before Charles I lost his head—and it remained an independent municipality until 1874, when Boston annexed it.
This neighborhood is named after its predominant ethnic group; though rising housing costs and other reasons for emigration have reduced the number of residents of Chinese descent.
A regional map from 1858. Walling, H. F.—David Rumsey Collection
Boston’s largest neighborhood by area is named for Dorchester, a town in southern England.
Dorchester, USA, was an independent town until 1870, when Boston gobbled it. As a town, it included parts of what became known as South Boston.
The infill-spurred linkage over 150 years of five islands east of Boston formed this neighborhood. And the “east of Boston” bit gave it its name.
The neighborhood’s private developers saw to its annexation to Boston in 1836.
Frederick Law Olmsted’s plans for the Back Bay Fens, circa 1887 Public domain
Take your pick: This neighborhood’s name came either from the Back Bay Fens, a park that landscape architect extraordinaire Frederick Law Olmsted designed, or from a road that ran along it. Fens, incidentally, is a term to describe a marshy or flood-prone area, which this eventual neighborhood was.
Boston annexed Fenway and its Kenmore Square and Audubon Circle areas from Brookline in the 1870s. It’s sometimes called “the Fenway”—often an unconscious nod to the theory that the neighborhood was named for the road.
Boston’s southernmost neighborhood—and the last to be added through annexation, in 1912—is named after the park in London dating from the 1630s.
This is another tossup in terms of origin. JP was either named after the Caribbean island from which some residents drew their wealth via the slave-driven rum and sugar trades; or after the Anglicization of the name of a Native American leader.
Or! As in the case of Jamaica in Queens, New York, it comes from the name of a Native American tribe called the Jameco.
JP became part of Boston in 1874. Interestingly, it was part of the town of Roxbury and parts of Jamaica Plain became the town of West Roxbury.
Today's housing market is arguably one of the most competitive in history. A record low supply of listings, coupled with extraordinarily high demand from the largest generation, mean fast-rising home prices and more people going after the hottest properties. Bidding wars are now the rule, rather than the exception.
So how do you win a bidding war? Best to be prepared before you even begin your search and to carry equal amounts of patience and humor with you … if possible.
Decide on your absolute maximum price. This factors in the monthly payment on your mortgage (if you need one), property taxes, homeowners insurance, potential homeowner association or condominium fees, and a general estimate of monthly upkeep (lawn care, pool guy, unforeseen repairs). Then start looking for homes priced slightly less than that maximum. This gives you some wiggle room in the bidding war.
1. Come with cash. Not everyone can do this, but if you can make an all-cash offer, you will have an advantage. In certain very hot markets, investors are heavy, and they usually come with cash. Sellers don't want to deal with the possibility that your loan might not come through, or they may not want to wait the extra time for the mortgage processing, so they prefer cash. In some cases they may even cut the price a bit to get the cash. Coming with cash can actually double your chances of winning a bidding war, according to Redfin, a real estate brokerage. You can always take out a mortgage after the deal closes.
2. If you don't have all-cash, try waiving the financing contingency.That is when the deal is contingent on your loan being approved by the lender. Be careful though, you don't want to end up on the hook for cash if the loan doesn't come through, so get a fully underwritten loan pre-approved from your lender before submitting your offer. This could improve your chances of winning a war by 58 percent, according to Redfin.
3. Try a personal letter to the seller. I did this once myself, and it worked on a deal I never expected to win. Selling a home is just as emotional as buying one, especially for sellers who have lived in the home a long time and have raised their kids there. Sellers want to know a little about the people taking over their precious nest. If you're a young family, write about how you can see raising your children in the cozy family room and how you already envision them playing in the back yard. Write about how much you love the neighborhood and want to become an active part of it. DO NOT tell the seller if you plan to gut the home. That could gut the deal.
4. Finally, don't be afraid to walk away. The last thing you want to do is get over-emotional and overstretch your budget. Don't be house-poor. That defeats the whole purpose of the investment.
And remember, there will always, always be another perfect home.
By Tom Acitelli of Curbed
Major projects are driving a lot of change in different areas of the Boston region—in some more than others.
These are the six neighborhoods and one city everyone should be watching right now.
The under-construction Four Seasons Hotel & Private Residences One Dalton Street—a.k.a. One Dalton—will be Boston’s tallest new building since 200 Clarendon in 1976.
The 742-foot tower with 160 condos and a Four Seasons hotel is expected to open within the next 12 months.
The neighborhood is also due to host a veritable forest of new towers around Back Bay Station.
That project, which includes a redevelopment of the Clarendon Garage, is expected to total 1.26 million square feet of housing, offices, and retail, with at least one tower stretching toward 400 feet.
The 30-story, 340-foot Pierce Boston condo and apartment tower, the tallest building in Boston west of Back Bay, officially opened at Brookline Avenue and Boylston Street in Fenway on March 1.
Four weeks earlier, one of the biggest—and longest-in-coming—new projects in the Boston region got officially underway: The five-building, 1.1 million-square-foot Fenway Center where Brookline and Commonwealth avenues meet in the Kenmore Square area.
The South End
Together, the fresh projects are adding thousands of condos and apartments, never mind hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail (and, inevitably, thousands of residents).
Then there’s the recent proposal for redeveloping the 5.6-acre site of the former Boston Flower Exchange. What’s now dubbed the Exchange South End would run to nearly 1.6 million square feet and contain four new buildings.
These buildings would total more than $1.48 million square feet of commercial, technology, and life science research space—the idea is to rival other regional commercial hubs such as Kendall Square and the Seaport.
Finally, a “millennial resort” is headed to the still-emerging Ink Block development. Don’t get more game-change-y than that.
A wave of new development is sweeping much of Eastie, but no single development—or potential development—is as portentous as what’s unfolding at the 160-acre site of the shuttered Suffolk Downs racetrack.
It’s there that owner HYM Investment Group has put forward a general redevelopment plan with two paths. Both paths include 16.5 million square feet of new residential, retail, office, hotel, and lab space built out over as long as two decades. (Eleven million square feet of that would go in Boston and 5.5 million in adjoining Revere.)
Now, should e-retail sasquatch Amazon pick Boston as host of its second headquarters, HYM would go with a so-called pro-commercial approach.
That pro-commercial path would be paved with the up to 8 million square feet of office space that Amazon is seeking in a new HQ. It would, too, include 7,500 residential units, 550,000 square feet of retail, and up to 830 hotel rooms.
But suppose Amazon choose Dallas or some such exotic placeinstead of Boston. In that case, HYM would take a pro-residential path, with 10,000 housing units, 450,000 square feet of retail, and 670 hotel rooms.
There would also be 5.25 million square feet of office space.
Kendall Square-based M.I.T. is driving much of the change in the Cambridge neighborhood.
At the start of 2017, the university paid the federal government a mint to take over the 14-acre Volpe transit center site, and then floated plans for what would be, at 500 feet, the tallest building in Cambridge.
The plans, which won a key zoning approval from the city in October 2017 (and which are rendered above), also call for about 1,400 housing units and 1.7 million square feet of offices and research space as well as acres of new parkland and plazas.
The university, too, plans to build several buildings south of Main Street, including a 28-story dorm.
Finally, there is the bigger-than-expected 19,000-square-foot Brothers Marketplace—part of the famed Roche Bros.’ chain—that is expected to open in the summer of 2019 at One Broadway. It is part of a larger M.I.T.-driven project called the Kendall Square Initiative.
Silver Line service from downtown Boston into Chelsea is expected to start this spring. The five-mile route will run from South Station to a stop just west of Everett Avenue, and will facilitate connections to the Red and Blue lines.
An estimated 8,700 people will use the route daily, a figure sure to further boost Chelsea’s status as a Plan B for buyers and renters priced out of Boston proper.
The route will include an exclusive right-of-way for Silver Line buses once in Chelsea, where there will be four stops total. And, as part of the extension, the state will relocate Chelsea’s commuter rail station westward and spruce it up quite a bit.
Also, there are several small condo projects going up or recently opened in Chelsea, especially in the areas closer to Boston (though with decidedly un-Boston prices).
The West End
Enormous new developments around North Station and TD Garden are driving lasting changes to the West End’s streetscape and traffic.
These developments including the Hub on Causeway, the first phase of which is under construction and is due to include the city’s largest supermarket; a 15-screen movie theater; 10,000 square feet of outdoor space for a new entrance to TD Garden and North Station; and 175,000 square feet of what the developers are calling “creative office space.”
Then there’s the 44-story, 469-unit tower set to rise in place of the Garden Garage.
The greater Boston real estate market often logs in the largest number of sales closings in the Spring (2nd) Quarter each year; as the cold weather and snow give way to blooming flowers, warmer weather...and eager buyers!
Often buyers want to enjoy the Summer in their new digs. Some want to have their children in place for the next school year, while others strategize to maximize their tax write-offs for the calendar year. Many just want to get their home purchase project done and over with!
If you want your property sold during the 2018 Spring market you need to get started. Spruce up your property, assemble all the pertinent documents, hire a real estate broker and put your property on the market ASAP.
The following topics are some of the most crucial elements that you should attend to before that first showing appointment of your single family home, townhouse, condominium or cooperative.
As the buyer walks up to your property, their first impression often becomes their most lasting one. Make sure that their first view is as appealing as possible. It may determine whether the buyer will 1) go through with viewing the property. 2) make an offer...or not. 3) be willing to pay you a strong price.
I'm talking about increasing curb appeal with ideas like: repair cracks in the walkway, repair and paint the front steps, clean the litter and leaves out of the front garden of your building, replace worn hardware and touch up the chipped paint on the front door and make sure the entry foyer to your condo building is spotless. Not only does this first look affect the buyers initial emotional attachment to your property, it says a lot about how well the property has been maintained. In the case of a condo or coop building, it signals how willing your fellow owners may be to chip in on future repairs and general upkeep of the common areas; elements that directly affect the future value of your unit.
Let's Go Inside
Inside your property, there are numerous inexpensive ways you can make it show better. Clean your windows. Have your home professionally deep-cleaned. Place a few vases of fresh flowers in the main rooms. Increase the wattage of your light bulbs so the property appears bright and cheery. Clean the fingerprints off all doors, kitchen appliances and the bathroom mirrors. Clean out and/or reorganize your closets; a lot of buyers are coming out of large suburban houses where they are used to having a lot of closet storage.
Most buyers are very critical when it comes to the kitchen and bathrooms. Be sure every surface is uncluttered and spotless. Store the extra kitchen appliances and put all the personal items in the bathroom away. Limit the number of personal photos on display; you want the buyer to focus on your property and not who owns it. And if you have some rainy-day money stashed away, freshen the paint with neutral colors and refinish your hardwood floors!
Repair those little problems that don't really bother you but that all buyers seem to notice. Repair that dripping kitchen faucet. Seal and repaint that water stain from the leaky toilet upstairs that you had fixed last Fall.
If you’re aware of more costly repairs, consider doing them before you go to market. If the buyer doesn’t notice them, their inspector most likely will. And that can lead to unexpected renegotiations or even kill the deal. Replace that old hot water tank. Repair a roof leak. Repair or replace the decking or railings to that palatial deck.
Pets. Whether a prospective buyer is a pet lover or not, they want to buy a home that is immaculate. Pet odors, toys strewn about and damage to furniture, carpeting and woodwork can be a big negative. Some buyers are afraid of animals in general; they can be a real distraction. Although sometimes a logistical nightmare, best to not have the pet at home during showings. At the very least, have them crated somewhere private.
Assemble the documents and information you'll need to give to your real estate Broker.
Prior to going to market with your property, an experienced agent will ask you many questions about your property, from a dated list of your improvements to the age and condition of the heating system. Arm your broker with all the information you can. This way you'll shorten up the buyer's discovery period and get them to the offer stage quickly while their excitement level is still high!
In the case of a condominium, put together a package including a copy of recorded condominium documents such as the Master Deed, Declaration of Trust & Rules and Regulations. Assemble the last two years of financial statements, association meeting minutes and the current budget. Make sure you know whether there are any upcoming assessments for capital improvements and/or whether your condo fee, coop fee or any other fees attached to your property will be going up within the next twelve month period. For all properties, give your broker copies of your utility bills (gas, electric, etc.) for the last twelve months and a copy of your latest real estate tax bill.
Click on the following link to check out our new mid-year issue of The Real Estate Insider. We've been providing our readers with timely data, offerings and sales reports on the Boston real estate market since 1992.
This new issue includes some very interesting, if not unexpected, data on the following topics:
Five-Year Sales Summary of Boston's Tier-1 Doorman Condominium Buildings.
Mid-Year Condo Sales Review of each major Boston Neighborhood in the <$1M, $1-3M and $3+M price ranges.
The Best Time of Year to Sell.