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Access building plans at the City Archives

Last updated:
Step
1

Before you start your search

Please note:

The City Archives holds Building Inspector's reports from 1879 to 1903 and plans submitted with permits for new construction and alterations from 1902-1969.  No building plans, drawings, or reports for pre-1879 buildings exist in the Archives. The Building Inspector's reports usually do not include a full set of plans.

Some records may be missing or incomplete. This is especially true if you are searching for records that date before 1900.

Some street names and street numbers have changed. There may also be streets with the same name in different City neighborhoods. For example, "Washington Street" is used in many different neighborhoods.

The Massachusetts State Archives has building plans for some buildings with public spaces. To browse their digitized card index of plans, visit their digital repository.

Step
2

Find the bin number for your building plans

When submitted, the building plans were filed in "bins" by the Building Department. Our archivists need the bin number, also called the file number, to find your building plans. The bin number can usually be found handwritten on building permits starting sometime after 1920. The Archives does have card index files for the Building Inspector reports, 1879-1903 and for the plans, circa 1902-1948.  After 1948, the bin number can only be found on the permit. The bin number includes one letter (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, J, L, M, N, O, P or R) followed by one to three digits.

Searching for the bin number online

You can find building permits for existing buildings online in the Inspectional Services Department's database.  To narrow the search, use the right drop down arrow in the "Document Type" line and select "Long Form Permit." Plans were submitted with long form permits only.  Plans were not submitted with short form permits. The bin number is usually found on the front cover or flipside of the long form permit which, in the database, follows the permit. The cover will appear sideways. Rotate it and look for a bin number in the lower left corner (one letter and one to three digits — for example, C32 or R267.)

Bin numbers are often in the "File number" or next to the "Plan number" field of the permit. See the examples below:

Example of building permit
Example of building permit showing bin number P47.

Example of building permit
Example of building permit showing bin number R231.

                                              

Step
3

Complete a request form

After you find your bin number, please complete an online request form:

Make an online request

Our archivists will search for the plans and notify you of the search results within five to ten days. We may find blueprints, architectural plans, plot plans, or a Building Inspector's report with information about the additions, repairs, or renovations that have been done to the property.

Please keep in mind:
  • Building Inspector's reports date from 1879-1903, but there are some gaps. The reports are bound in volumes and organized by year. The information is similar to the information in building permits. However, the reports give information about the building as it was built and not as it was proposed. 
  • Blueprints and plans date from 1902 to 1969. Some building plans are so fragile that we can't unroll them without destroying them. 
  • Our collection is incomplete. Plans may have been lost or misfiled over time. It is possible we may not find anything for the address you have requested even when we have a bin number.
Step
4

Make an appointment to visit the Archives

When we contact you with your search results, you may make an appointment to visit the Archives and view the documents. The City Archives is located at 201 Rivermoor Street. Appointments are available Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. 

You may bring your phone or camera to take photographs without flash of the blueprints. Unfortunately, because the blueprints are fragile, we cannot have them professionally reproduced.

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