Opinion: Two points of view on historical Marsden House

Posted 8/31/23

A letter from the Chestnut Hill Conservancy.

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Opinion: Two points of view on historical Marsden House


Chestnut Hill Conservancy supports Chestnut Hill Hospital as that historic institution seeks to provide the best healthcare to surrounding communities, and hopes that the hospital will find inspiration from the many institutions that have done so through successfully adapting significant historic buildings. 

Two otherwise separate issues here are the future of the historic Chestnut Hill Women’s Center, and of the formerly open green space at 8820 Norwood Avenue became connected when the hospital proposed withdrawal of the Women’s Center designation application, presenting the Conservancy with an agreement as an alternative.

Women’s Center

Conservancy staff was surprised to discover in 2021 that the Hospital had secured a state grant to “replace” the existing historic Women’s Center building at 8811 Germantown Avenue with another building. We acted on this imminent threat and nominated it for historic status. 

The Hospital requested that we withdraw our nomination by proposing a Memorandum of Understanding that would leave the property unprotected but for a promise by the Hospital to do nothing to the building without welcoming community input, and to consider a re-nomination in three years.

The Historical Commission often allows designated historic buildings to make major alterations for modern needs, so long as they are sensitive to the parts of those buildings visible from public streets. Although we would lament the loss of the Center’s rear façade's historic fabric, we would support a careful expansion at the building’s back, guided by the Historical Commission.

Norwood Avenue open space agreement

When this demolition funding was discovered, the Conservancy, along with several other local organizations and near neighbors, had been trying since 2016 to get the hospital’s attention on another issue - the hospital-owned property at 8820 Norwood Avenue.

A 1999 letter of agreement between the Conservancy and the Hospital established that the hospital, and all future owners, would forever maintain the 8820 Norwood Avenue lot as open green space and that it would sign an easement when the Conservancy presents it with one. This perpetual open space was part of a community benefits agreement worked out with and signed by the hospital – a condition of our community supporting a variance for a new emergency room and a parking structure (now built) that left the campus with too little open space by code.  

This agreement was broken when the hospital graded and graveled 8820 Norwood Avenue for parking and dumping. Variances required for the hospital to use the lot for parking and dumping were never sought, despite at least one City violation.  A draft Conservation Easement presented to hospital leadership, and subsequent phone calls, emails, and neighbor petitions were not responded to. 

The Conservancy could not enter into another agreement until this first issue was acknowledged and addressed.

Chestnut Hill Conservancy’s mission is not simply to save old buildings and green space for preservation’s sake, but to encourage development that benefits both the owner and the community. 

Lori Salganicoff and Eileen Javers, Chestnut Hill Conservancy