About the Cambridge Historical Commission

The Cambridge Historical Commission (CHC) is the city's historic preservation agency. This city department protects more than 3100 buildings in two historic and four neighborhood conservation districts, as well as individual landmarks and properties governed by preservations restrictions. The staff investigates potential additions to the historic inventory through public engagement, planning, and designation studies. The department supports the administration of the citywide Historical Commission and three neighborhood conservation district commissions.  Each commission's volunteer board reviews applications for exterior changes at monthly meetings. All buildings over 50 years old are protected by the city's demolition delay ordinance; demolition of preferably preserved significant buildings may be delayed to explore preservation alternatives. The staff meets daily with property owners, architects, and local institutions to offer technical advice on preservation issues, sustainable building practices, and historic paint colors. The CHC's annual Preservation Awards honor outstanding historic preservation projects throughout the city.

The CHC promotes the restoration of significant historic properties by administering grants funded by the Community Preservation Act (CPA), which benefit city-owned buildings and landscapes, as well as properties owned by affordable housing agencies, income-eligible homeowners, and non-profit organizations. The CHC also oversees the restoration and maintenance of historic public sites, monuments and statues.

The CHC maintains a dynamic public archive focusing on the architectural and social history of Cambridge and including information on all 13,000+ Cambridge buildings, thousands of historic photographs and maps, and information on many individuals and organizations. Research aids are available online for many of the archival collections and photos are shared on the CHC's Flickr page.

Each year, the staff assists over 450 researchers, from academics to amateur genealogists and Cambridge homeowners. CHC publications invite readers to explore Cambridge in depth through the architectural history series and through the personal accounts of the neighborhood oral history series. The staff presents 35+ programs annually to more than 1500 people in local school and community groups and participates in annual citywide events such as the Open Archives Tour and Discovery Day. The CHC website offers regulation and preservation information, interactive maps, staff reports, and articles on local history.