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Beautiful Historic Church: Saint Ann's in Winter Hill Reconnects with History

Saint Ann's received a significant makeover that brought out its historic attributes.

The Somerville Historic Preservation Commission held its Historic Preservation Awards cermony in May, and this summer Somerville Patch will feature the homes and properties that won awards.

Somerville writer Marian Berkowitz interviewed the winners to create profiles of the historic Somerville properties and the people who care for them.

In this article, Berkowitz looks not at a home, but at a church: Saint Ann's in Winter Hill, which recently underwent a renovation that included disguising the elevator equipment to blend in better with the building, restoring windows, adding a garden and conducting important work to the facade. 

Here's what Berkowitz wrote:

On an overcast Sunday morning I am scheduled to interview Peter Regan, business manager for the parish of Saint Ann's Church, to discuss restoration work completed on the Roman Catholic church on Medford Street in the Winter Hill neighborhood. The parish received a 2012 Preservation Award from the Somerville Historic Preservation Commission for cumulative work done over several years. Mr. Regan asked to meet in his office in the rectory building of the sister church, Saint Catherine of Genoa, located at the crest of the hill on Summer Street. I love to walk up Summer Street from Union Square, rather than travel by car, particularly in the warmer months when you can see the diversity of architectural styles and flower gardens along the way. You know you're almost at St. Catherine's when a wide expanse of lawn suddenly becomes visible.  It’s such a pleasant and unusual sight in this dense city. I am excited to have an excuse to walk down the path along this great lawn that I've so often gone by, wondering what’s inside. But I digress because this church is not the subject of my interview.

Saint Ann's Church was erected from 1897-1899 to serve the then largely Irish community of Winter Hill. By the early 1900's, Catholic churchgoers were of both Irish and Italian descent. Demographics have shifted and enrollment has declined, to roughly 600 members total. Approximately 20% are Haitian, and the rest are drawn from the City’s new immigrant population of Hispanic, Portuguese, Brazilian, Indian and Nigerian descent. Mr. Regan and Father Hugh O'Brien consider themselves to be stewards of a property that has been entrusted to them from the past. In 2002, the site of another local church under their care on Temple Street, St. Polycarp’s, was sold to a community development group. Following extensive demolitions and renovations, it is now under mixed ownership and uses, including rental apartments and a Haitian church that has altered the main entry with little sympathy for the original Gothic Revival architecture. Proceeds from the sale, however, enabled the Parish of Saint Ann to take on long postponed needs at their remaining church properties on Thurston and Medford Streets, helping them to restore key architectural and landmark features.  

St. Ann's is considered to be a Romanesque Revival ecclesiastical structure. The most recent work was providing ADA access by relocating windows and installing a new door on the rear, and regrading the area. In addition, the hydraulic elevator equipment was disguised with brick to match the existing tower. The transept windows on either side of the building were restored and rebuilt by an internationally recognized firm for their design and restoration work on stained glass windows. Other significant restoration work included complete repointing of the building, and refinishing both the front and the two lower sets of oak church doors. Inside the sanctuary, the carpeting was removed, enabling the refinishing of the fir flooring underneath. The greatly altered parish hall behind the church was razed in order to provide critical parking for various Church users.  A new garden was created to grace the back of the building, with benches, new landscaping and two religious statues retrieved from other closed church properties, St. Polycarp’s Parish Hall and St. Ann's Convent, formerly on Thurston Street. It is now a beautiful and peaceful place to sit, and admire the restored church.  

As the photo vividly depicts, the work was extensive, impressive and reinforces the impression that this parish cares about its history and believe they have a long future here in Somerville.


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