Alliance Archives

About AllianceViews

This blog is a place for dialogue on issues and actions relating to Boston's unique built environment and the preservation and continuing evolution of historic resources within it. My goal, as the Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, is to post timely, relevant and thought-provoking intelligence, ideas, and insights that will engage conversations, inform our actions, and broaden perspectives on preservation.

We want to hear from you — so start a conversation, share a thought or comment, and let us know what you think.

Greg Galer, Executive Director, Boston Preservation Alliance

Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

2017 Preservation Achievement Award Winner: Boston Public Library Johnson Building

In conjunction with our 29th Annual Preservation Achievement Awards, we are profiling each of this year's winning projects. Follow this series to get a special look at projects that honor and update the character of Boston.

September 18th, 2017  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

When the McKim, Mead & White building of the Boston Public Library’s Central Library opened its doors in 1895, it was proclaimed a “palace for the people,” and rightly so. As one of the first large free municipal libraries in the U.S., the first public library to lend books, the first to have a branch library, and the first to have a children’s room, the Boston Public Library began its tradition of innovation and pioneering early on in its history. In more recent times, however, the Central Branch struggled to harmonize the experience of its two Boston Landmark buildings: the beloved McKim, Mead & White building and the 1972 Phillip Johnson Addition. Built at a time when libraries were thought of as an oasis from the distractions of city life, the Johnson wing was inwardly focused.

There were no windows in the 1972 Johnson design.

The City of Boston and the Boston Public Library team bravely took on the challenge to synchronize the two buildings with a $78 million, 156,000 square foot renovation of the Johnson wing, preserving its historically significant features while transforming the isolated addition into an inviting, light-filled, public space. Now, the library is able to take advantage of the energy and vibrancy of the Back Bay. Within the expansive front-facing glass façade, library-goers feel as though they are on the very streets they look out on. From outside, the stone hightops just beyond the warm glass feel like an extension of the interior library spilling onto the Boylston street sidewalk. Whether they are studying, reading the newspaper or a book, listening to a live broadcast of a WGBH program, or observing the city they are looking out on, it is clear that Bostonians have quickly begun to take advantage of this fluid space.

The team honored Johnson’s Landmark design by preserving key features and principles in more accessible, inviting ways. The renovation retains Johnson’s nine-square grid using glass and pathways as partitions to replace heavy barriers. The renovation also connects the McKim and Johnson buildings through physical pathways, recurrent materials, and complimentary flows. The way in which the layers of the institution now fit together conjures a sense of harmony between classicism and modernism, past, present, and future. There are now two real entrances to the library, and though they offer different experiences, they finally operate as equals.












Project Details: 700 Boylston Street, Copley Square
Owner/Developer: Boston Public Library
Architect: William Rawn Associates
Project Team: Arrowstreet, Boston Landmarks Commission, Boston Public Library, Cavanaugh Tocci Associates, City of Boston, Consigli, Cosentini Associates, Darlow Christ Architects, Green Engineer, LAB [3.2] Architecture, LeMessurier, Nitsch Engineering, PMA Consultants, R.W. Sullivan Consulting Engineers, Reed Hilderbrand, Small Design Firm

Written and researched by Jessica Saunders


2017 Preservation Achievement Award Winner: Boston College McMullen Museum of Art

In conjunction with our 29th Annual Preservation Achievement Awards, we are profiling each of this year's winning projects. Follow this series to get a special look at projects that honor and update the character of Boston.

September 18th, 2017  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

Little Rome, transformed

When Boston College acquired the Archdiocese of Boston’s grand mansion, they were met with the feat of reinventing this symbol of Catholicism to serve a wider audience. The 1927 Renaissance Revival mansion was previously the home of Cardinal William H. O’Connell and successive Cardinals, and was once visited by Pope John Paul II. But after its sale in 2007, the future of the private residence was unclear. Once the centerpiece of the Archdiocese’s ‘Little Rome,’ the stately residence was in need of costly repairs and an adapted purpose.

“Finding successful new uses for large, monumental, institutional buildings isn’t easy, and the cost to rehabilitate them and the value of the land on which they sit often leads to unfortunate outcomes for historic fabric,” said Greg Galer, Executive Director of the Alliance. But when the college decided on an arts district for their newly acquired Brighton Campus, this historic building became the obvious choice for the centerpiece of the project. Already recognized nationally and internationally for its inventive interdisciplinary exhibitions and showcases of archaeological and material culture, the project now positions the museum to capitalize on its momentum and expand its reach.

Before: exterior

Restoration + Expansion

Restoring the grandeur of the façade and the original limestone, marble, and mahogany finishes was first on the list. The roof was realigned, interior ceilings were heightened, and the space was made more energy efficient, all the while preserving the primary view and entrance of the building. But restoration was not the singular intention of the project. Re-use of the space to best serve the museum and its community was a top priority.

By adding a three-story, 7,000 square foot glass circulation space to the existing 23,000 square foot structure, the project team infused natural light and accessibility into what was previously an inward-facing structure. The glass addition contributes an elevator, processional stairway, expansive views, and an inviting entrance to the museum’s new home on the second and third floors of the residence. The residential scaled structure was transformed into a flexible and fluid gallery with double the space the museum had previously at Devlin Hall. “The concept of the addition is centered on clarity between old and new. Visitors can easily understand the limits of the existing building through the incorporation of the existing façade within the glass-enclosed addition,” says one project member. “The new addition is designed such that the details are respectful of the existing structure, both in proportion and materials with detailing that is of a contemporary nature, rather than a confusing replication. The brightness and accessibility of the addition transforms an introverted private mansion into an extroverted art and University Conference Center.”

The new and improved McMullen Museum of Art rivals the finest university museum institutions and is positioned to better serve students, faculty, Bostonians, and visitors. The museum inspires a dynamic appreciation of old and new and fulfills its duty of education to BC students and the larger Boston community. With the dedication of Boston College and benefactor Jacqueline McMullen, an introverted, private residence is now thoroughly accessible, carefully restored, and sustainably programmed for the active use of future generations.




Project Details: 2101 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston College
Owner/Developer: Boston College
Architect: DiMella Shaffer
Project Team: Consigli Construction, CRJA, Gary Wayne Gilbert, Howe Engineers, LAM Partners, McPhail Associates, Nitsch Engineering, Robert Benson Photography, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, Thornton Tomasetti, Vermeulens, WSP


Researched and written by Jessica Saunders


2017 Preservation Achievement Award Winner: Shawmut Design and Construction Headquarters

In conjunction with our 29th Annual Preservation Achievement Awards, we are profiling each of this year's winning projects. Follow this series to get a special look at projects that honor and update the character of Boston.

September 18th, 2017  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

Shawmut Design and Construction has offices in Boston, West Springfield, New Haven, Providence, New York, Miami, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. Since 1994, the headquarters for this national construction management firm have been located in a classic brick-and-beam warehouse at 560 Harrison Avenue. The imposing South End structure was originally built in 1890 for the Emerson Piano Company. Rather than moving to a different space, the Shawmut team envisioned updating their existing offices to suit the company’s evolving needs, while embracing the building’s historic, industrial character. With the help of CBT Architects, the team capitalized on the original aspects of the building while simultaneously creating a thoroughly modern workspace.

Before: Shawmut Headquarters



The new renovation highlights iconic features of the warehouse like its brick masonry, ornamental metal, historic wood floors, and original beams, while also using constantly evolving spaces to inspire collaboration and energize the working environment. Not only did the team transform a disjointed office into a fluid, light-flooded, and employee-focused space, they also overcame the logistical challenges of working in the occupied company headquarters. The project team carefully strategized and phased the renovations to preserve a high-quality, productive environment for employees working adjacent to an active construction zone.

AFTER: Shawmut Headquarters

The renovation managed to reconfigure the offices form 69% private offices and 31% isolated workstations to 9% private offices and 91% fluid workstations embracing the openness of the industrial space. Previously, natural interaction was limited by the fractured environment, but now communication between team members occurs organically. The project team created a flexible array of workstations to accommodate the various needs and working styles of this multi-generational user group. To do this, they developed a simple furniture kit that can be easily reconfigured to accommodate the needs of any employee. These individual workstations feature sit-to-stand desks and minimal obstruction to the rest of the office. Most importantly, the kits adapt to fit the working style of the employee.

The project team was also able to create an assortment of collaborative spaces for company meetings, social gatherings, and casual conversations. Employees enjoy the eighteen types of multi-use areas now positioned throughout the headquarters, including a no-talk/no-phone room dedicated to individual, focused work. There are also now ten different types of work areas, as well as an increase in total open space.

“The building is a set of contradictions: it is a solid structure that still remains flexible enough to successfully survive decades of transformation,” says Shawmut. 560 Harrison serves as a reflection of Shawmut’s identity, craftsmanship, and respect for Boston tradition within the ever-evolving SoWa Art & Design District. Now the company itself benefits from the outstanding skillfulness, agency, and consideration that they are known for. They can demonstrate themselves why preservation works to meet—and even enhance—modern life and work styles.


Project Details: 560 Harrison Avenue, South End
Owner/Developer: GTI Properties
Architect: CBT Architects
Project Team: Red Thread Spaces Shawmut Design and Construction

Written and researched by Jessica Saunders

2017 Preservation Achievement Award Winner: Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston

In conjunction with our 29th Annual Preservation Achievement Awards, we are profiling each of this year's winning projects. Follow this series to get a special look at projects that honor and update the character of Boston.

September 5th, 2017  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance


2017 is the first time the Alliance has recognized a book with a Preservation Achievement Award. Yet the right book and an opportune time can do as much to encourage quality preservation as any physical structure. Here a book opens eyes to the context and value of a long-challenged architectural style of great significance to Boston’s evolution.

“Heroic is a story about a material, a city, and a movement. Told in many voices, it examines a bold legacy of Boston’s concrete architecture during a brief but critical era between 1960 and 1976, when the city witnessed a wholesale transformation through powerful and often controversial policies of civic intervention,” begins the book which was eight years in the making.  In Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, Mark Pasnik, Michael Kubo, and Chris Grimley examine this Brutalist chapter in Boston’s architectural history and make the case for reclaiming and relabeling it as ‘Heroic’ instead. The three authors are architects, teach regularly, and offer their insights to the public via magazines, journals, and this collaborative work. When the late Mayor Thomas Menino announced in 2007 that he intended to replace Boston’s iconic City Hall, the authors united to research and assign value to this previously disregarded and misinterpreted era of architecture. The threat to Boston City Hall illuminated a popular aversion not only to the building itself but to the trend of concrete civic structures that represent a pivotal moment in Boston’s evolution.

The ‘Heroic’ buildings that the team studied emerged from the stagnation and government corruption of Boston’s post-war era. Many other American and international cities partook in the trend of concrete modernism, but Boston built more concrete civic and academic buildings than any other city in the United States.  What followed was a city reignited by imagination and growth, which the authors claim was in part a result of this new architecture. Even when Boston City Hall, the John F. Kennedy Federal Building, the Government Service Center, and many more buildings with similar, bold sentiments were built, they were received with the same uncertainty that they conjure to this day. Some people identified these buildings as symbols of Boston’s growth and modernism, while others argued that they took away from the aesthetic of Boston’s historic brownstones, rowhouses, and landmarks. Nearly the same difference of opinion has been sustained by Bostonians through today.

Pasnik, Kubo, and Grimley argue that the public recoils at the sight of what they perceive as heavy, harsh, and oppressive in part because of the term used to describe them. ‘Brutalism’ conjures a negativity that leaves little room for debate from the moment it is uttered. The team says that it also gives way to interpretations of these buildings as overbearing and heavy, or in other words, brutal. The authors emphasize that in reality, the architects aspired to create an optimistic civil realm suitable for its citizens and for its own growth in the future. The authors find the term ‘heroic’ to better describe the complexities of these buildings within the social realities of their time. The term’s lineage comes from Reyner Banhma and then the Smithsons, but it evolves in the eyes of the authors as a representation of the complicated relationship between aspirations and legacies. Mark Pasnik says, “For us, ‘Heroic’ has this kind of duality—it’s an aspiring term but there’s also a critique in it. If you think of ancient Greek heroes, they have an Achilles heel and I think that fits well with this work because it’s aspiring to a lot but it also had a sense of hubris and maybe failure within its aspirations.” The term simultaneously highlights the dignified aspirations of concrete modernism while ceding the vulnerabilities of the nuanced architectural period.

Pasnik, Kubo, and Grimley challenge the far too common distaste and discomfort with 1960s and 1970s concrete construction. Through an extremely thoughtful lens, the authors are able to impart their understanding of the material, design, and sociological period as a representation of one previously vilified chapter in Boston’s architectural history. This book demonstrates that these misunderstood buildings deserve careful examination and that they contribute a distinct legacy to the evolution of the city.

Project Details: Authors & Editors: Mark Pasnik, Michael Kubo, Chris Grimley
Publisher: The Monacelli Press

Written and researched by Jessica Saunders.

2017 Preservation Achievement Award Winner: Harvard Medical School Gordon Hall Marble Restoration

In conjunction with our 29th Annual Preservation Achievement Awards, we are profiling each of this year's winning projects. Follow this series to get a special look at projects that honor and update the character of Boston.

August 28th, 2017  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

The first of its kind 

When Harvard Medical School established new clinical departments and rewrote its curriculum in the early 1900s, it became clear that a new campus was needed to match its new, elevated medical program. Out of this, two legacies—world-class medical care and exemplary education institutions—converged in the Longwood Medical Area, site of Harvard’s Medical School since 1906. The five structures that were built were the first in the area; they were initially surrounded by swamp land or farms. Together they formed the quadrangle on Longwood Avenue, with Gordon Hall serving as its focal point. Now Gordon Hall has once again been revived as the white icon so central to the Longwood Medical Area.

The building was designed by Shepley Rutan and Coolidge (now Shepley Bulfinch) in neoclassical revival style. The marble used to construct the building was provided at a discounted rate by the builders after it had been deemed unsuitable for their New York City Public Library project. In the ten years following the construction of Gordon Hall, the swamp and farm lands of Longwood were transformed into Beth Israel, Deaconess, Robert Beck Brigham and Children’s Hospitals.  The construction of the quadrangle sparked the creation of Boston’s interconnected center of medical treatment, research and education.

BEFORE: Deteriorating carved panels

AFTER: Panels were cleaned, restored, and, where necessary, replicated

19th century craftsmanship + 21st century technologies 

The design team at McGinley Kalsow & Associates was originally engaged to assess the condition of the marble exterior and key historic elements within Gordon Hall. Upon inspection they determined that a comprehensive repair and restoration project were needed. Together with McGinley Kalsow & Associates, Shawmut Design and Construction, and Haven Restoration, Harvard Medical School embarked on the process with precision and quality in mind.

Great care was taken by an extraordinary range of specialists to restore the original material, and when aspects were beyond repair, the team carefully utilized original materials as models for replacement elements. Stone carvers and local masons hand carved and in-place carved, conservators veined and tinted replacement marble, and sculptors recreated missing details. Meanwhile, the building was laser scanned, models were 3D printed, and countless other modern technologies were used to cut marble, prevent rust and decay, and secure the largest Dutchmen ever installed in New England. The result is a seamless transition between the restored and the replicated.

The challenging scale, detail, and original craftsmanship of the project were balanced by the team’s skill, care, and devotion. Throughout this project, Harvard Medical School and the team it enlisted recognized and matched the quality of materials and craftsmanship of the original icon. That investment is a victory for the building, campus, Longwood, and the tradition of excellence that they each represent.


Project Details: 25 Shattuck Street, Fenway
Owner/Developer: Harvard Medical School
Architect: McGinley Kalsow & Associates
Project Team: Building and Monument Conservation; Haven Restoration; John Canning & Company; Les Pierres Technoprofil Inc.; Silman; Shawmut Design and Construction; Skylight Studios Inc.

Written and researched by Jessica Saunders




2017 Preservation Achievement Award Winner: Paul Revere House

In conjunction with our 29th Annual Preservation Achievement Awards, we are profiling each of this year's winning projects. Follow this series to get a special look at projects that honor and update the character of Boston.

August 9th, 2017  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

5 and 6 Lathrop Place

So much has happened here

Unique in its ability to give visitors a glimpse into 17th and 18th  century life—and a hero’s life at that! —the Paul Revere House (1680) is the oldest building in downtown Boston and, as the only house on the Freedom Trail, a main attraction for visitors. Paul Revere bought the house in 1770. He and his family lived there off and on from 1770-1800, when Revere sold it.  Shortly after the Revere family moved, the house served as a sailor’s boarding house; in the second half of the 19th century the downstairs was also variously converted into a candy store, Italian bank, cigar factory, and vegetable and fruit business. Eventually, beginning with Paul Revere’s grandson purchasing the building in 1902, the house was turned into a historic house museum, saving it from demolition. Soon the house was not suited to accommodate all those who wanted to visit, which has been a challenge for many decades…until now!

In order to install necessary accommodations, ensure accessibility, and capitalize on its educational potential, the stewards of the site, the Paul Revere Memorial Association, purchased two adjacent row houses built in the 183os. The row houses at 5 and 6 Lathrop Place were originally built on land that was once owned by Paul Revere himself but over the years had deteriorated at the rear of the Paul Revere House complex. In addition to providing room to grow, these two structures stand as rare survivors of their era, serving as a model of the row house architectural style and as a representation of its use as a boarding house and then two-family home.

Restoration + Excavation

Restored twin 1835 fireplaces

The project wasn’t just about expansion, however. Over the years, the row houses had been incrementally renovated and enlarged, making the project not only a restoration but also somewhat of an archaeological excavation. The team meticulously discovered and retained significant characteristics of the home and adjacent courtyard area during the process of rehabilitation. In addition, the team sought to represent the choices that the different owners made to improve their half of the two-family home. On the exterior, designers highlighted the 19th century windows, exterior masonry walls showing evidence of the building’s evolution from a two-story to three-story structure, decorative roofline trim, and two generations of clapboards. On the interior, the floor plan and spatial relationships, twin 1835 fireplaces, and color palette were the inspiration of the respectful design. In addition, balusters, paneling, posts and railings (which were removed during a previous renovation and stored in the home), patiently awaited reinstallation. Each of these thoughtful decisions represents different periods and facets of the building’s history and use.

One of the primary considerations of the project was the dynamic relationship among the Paul Revere House, the renovated building, the private way, and the conjoining courtyard. The almost 175-year-old connection among the structures influences the character of the 19th century streetscape legacy as well as the views from the perspective of the central Paul Revere House. The project included an extensive renovation of the courtyard located between the Paul Revere House and the new education and visitor center placed within the row houses. The team was able to simultaneously and seamlessly redesign the courtyard as an open gathering space and create accessible entrances to the Revere House. The new space even exhibits part of a cobble path uncovered by archaeologists during construction.

After: Renovated Courtyard


Project Details: 19 North Square, North End
Owner/Developer: Paul Revere Memorial Association
Architect: Mills Whitaker Architects
Project Team: Acentech Incorporated; Andre Frosch and Sons Painting; Atlantic Hardwoods; Available Light Inc.; Beacon Hill Lock & Key; C.D. Plastering; Critchfield and Company; Ebacher Plumbing & Heating, Inc.; Elcon, LLC; Feldman Land Surveyors; Forte Engineering; Garaventa USA, Inc.; Gilbert and Becker; H.W. Moore Associates Inc.; Home Co Remodeling LLC; Independent HVAC; Instant Signal and Alarm Company, Inc.; Internet & Telephone LLC; Johnson Engineering & Design, Inc.; Koetteritz Land Design Inc.; Mystic Scenic Studios; Pelch Marble and Tile; PJ O’Connell Mechanical; Richard Irosn Restoration Mason; RSI Metal Fabrication, LLC; Stone Surface; Structures North Consulting Engineers Inc.

Written and researched by Jessica Saunders

2017 Preservation Achievement Award Winner: Four51 Marlborough

In conjunction with our 29th Annual Preservation Achievement Awards, we are profiling each of the winning projects. Follow this series to get a special look at projects that honor and update the character of Boston.

August 3rd, 2017  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance


Design Solutions

Infills can be tricky. Even more so in a historic district like Back Bay. Yet when faced with a choice to align with the eclectic seven-story Charlesgate building on one side or classic three-story brownstones on the other, the project team behind Four51 Marlborough playfully opted for neither. Instead they crafted a design that nodded to both sizes, deftly mediating the difference in heights and styles between its neighbors on either side.

This is not a simple building designed for quick construction or which let cost drive out subtlety and craft. The way in which the design team straddled these site challenges is especially noteworthy given the project’s location. This particular stretch of Marlborough is lined with four-story brownstones, brick sidewalks, wrought iron fences, and classic bay windows, all of which assert the history and iconic charm people associate with Boston. It is this diversity of texture that makes historic neighborhoods so enticing. While desirable, such an iconic streetscape also presents challenges for infill construction when the standard is, as it should be, not simply to mimic the past, but also not to ignore the context with a modern building that shouts, “Look at me! I’m new, bold, and my neighbors be damned!”

1967 educational building

Four Original Townhouses







Threading the Needle 

In 1967, four townhouses were demolished in this spot and replaced with a one-story school building that did not jibe with the historical charm of Marlborough’s collection of brownstones. In fact it took away from the historic block, adding a disruptive, nondescript brick mass. Reintroducing a contextual, yet thoroughly contemporary residential space into the tightly woven fabric of this neighborhood meant that builders would need to pivot between the two heights and also mediate its façade. Focused on detail, depth, and shadow to give the project a richness and dimension that could stand up to the 19th century context, Four51 incorporates dimensional granite details, custom metal, precast limestone, and black steel windows into the new construction. The gracious main entry is framed in cast stone and granite, and the street façade even displays Flemish-coursed roman brick patterns.

Reinforcing the character of the neighborhood 

The project team honors the building’s architectural context by focusing on quality and durability, and their thoughtful efforts permeate through the exterior into the building’s common spaces and residences. The wood paneled main entrance is enriched by both modern, clean lines and a mosaic mural inspired by the historic use of Amsterdam’s delft tile in the Back Bay. Each of the residences is outfitted in a rich palette of materials with custom millwork and marble accents. The interiors boast the same intricate balance of respectful reflection and contemporary detailing, extending the balanced design of Four51 throughout the project. “Four51 Marlborough shows that careful consideration of context and significant detailing can be respectful and appropriately referential to historic design while creating a thoroughly modern building,“ said Greg Galer, Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance. “The building is fascinating to examine in the richness of its façade and how it plays off its surroundings.”


Project Details: 451 Marlborough Street, Back Bay
Owner/Developer: The Holland Companies
Architect: Hacin + Associates
Project Team: Allied Consulting Engineering Services, DeCelle-Burke and Associates, Solutions in Metal, Souza True & Partners, Tangram 3DS, Trent Bell Photography
Trickett Woodworks Co., William Bray Cabinetmaker

2017 Preservation Achievement Award Winner: Boston Public Library Philosophy Mural

In conjunction with our 29th Annual Preservation Achievement Awards, we are profiling each of the 2017 winning projects over the next several weeks. Follow this series to get a special look at projects that honor and update the character of Boston.

July 27th, 2017  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

The sense of grandeur the path of procession into the McKim building of the Boston Public Library’s Central Library conjures is the result of careful design upon its creation and at every step of its recent (emergency) restoration. Architect Charles Follen McKim believed that in order for citizens to become educated, they had to be inspired by both their studies and their surroundings. For this reason, he commissioned the great nineteenth century muralist, French painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898), to adorn the grand staircase with eight murals emblematic of intellectual disciplines. His depictions of pastoral (Virgil), dramatic (Æschylus and the Oceanides), and epic poetry (Homer), history, astronomy, philosophy, chemistry, and physics represent the quests for knowledge that this space is meant to inspire. The murals became so integral to the space and were united with the architecture to such an extent that in an 1896 letter to John Singer Sargent about the entrance, McKim wrote, “The public have hailed it by common acclaim. He has made it his staircase rather than that of McKim, Meade & White and I am sure that it cannot fail to deeply impress you.”


Although the mural cycle appears to be painted directly on the walls, the series was actually created using oils on linen canvases in France and installed using the marouflage technique. Nearing the end of his life, Chavannes was reluctant to make the trip to Boston when the work was commissioned. Instead, models, dimensions of the space, and samples of the staircase’s yellow Sienna marble were sent to the artist so that he could consider the aesthetics and proportions of the far away site. The cycle remains the artist’s only work preserved outside of his home country. Although these fresco-like murals were constructed in an untraditional way, they were certainly never meant to be separated from their walls once they were installed.

In late 2014, it was determined that one of the murals had slowly been amassing water damage over the last decade from the elevator shaft behind it. The Philosophy Mural, one of the most acclaimed items in the collection, is a representation of conversation and debate within a setting that is reminiscent of the Ancient Greek Lyceum. About eighty percent of the mural had detached from its plaster backing, leaving the entire panel at risk of collapse. Boston Public Library’s team sprang into action and enlisted the help of the head of conservation at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Gianfranco Pocobene, who in turn enlisted his seasoned mentor, Ian Hodkinson. This conservation emergency was even more intimidating because the construction, scale, and fragility of the mural was unprecedented. In order for the restoration to begin, the mural had to be taken completely off of the plaster wall that it had been adhered to for over 120 years. The conservators built scale models to test their plans before attempting to apply the procedure to the actual mural. This process required extremely innovative thinking from the team. Even with their care and precision, there were unknown variables hidden behind the mural itself. The team had no way of knowing the condition of the brick and ironwork which lay beyond the damaged plaster. Fortunately, the brick and iron—which were exposed for the first time since the construction in 1896—were intact, and so the team began to gradually free the mural’s panel from its niche.

Pre restoration

Color indicates water damage

Post restoration












The team successfully removed, restored, and reinstalled the mural with a new honeycomb backing to protect it, saving it from disintegration and returning it to its rightful place among the series. Even under the pressure of this emergency conservation predicament, the team’s work was poised, thoughtful, and exhibited groundbreaking technique. With the major renovation of the Johnson in full swing, this project was still afforded the immediate attention it deserved. That balance demonstrates the sincerity of the library’s devotion to its responsibility for protecting and sharing the treasures it possesses.



Project Details: 700 Boylston Street, Copley Square
Owner/Developer: Boston Public Library
Project Team: D. Fisher Construction LLC,  Fields of Vision, Gianfranco Pocobene Studio, Heritage Planning & Design, Ivan Myjer Building & Monument Conservation, Marr Scaffolding Company

Written and researched by Jessica Saunders

2017 Preservation Achievement Award Winner: Terminal Storage Building

In conjunction with our 29th Annual Preservation Achievement Awards, we are profiling each of the 2017 winning projects. Follow this series to get a special look at projects that honor and update the character of Boston.

July 12th, 2017  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

Industrial Charlestown

Built in 1912, the Terminal Storage Building is both one of the oldest and one of the few remaining structures from this industrial moment in Boston’s history. It represents the era during which railroads and ships served the city as predominantly as cars and the T do today. Situated amid the Mystic River, Boston Harbor, and the Boston & Lowell railyard, this building and a few like it attracted other industries to create a hub of productivity around them. Originally constructed as a wool warehouse, it soon became a distribution point for Boston during the era of railroad and ship transport.

By the 1940s, the area had begun to evolve, and a carnival toy manufacturer called Nancy Sales Company occupied the building. When Nancy Sales moved its production elsewhere in the early 1980s, the building begun an era of idleness that would last over thirty years. What was once a bustling, invigorating center of industry slowly diminished into a symbol of deterioration.

Boston Public Library, Aero Scenic Airviews, 1929


Persistence Pays

It took nineteen years, six lawsuits, and the tremendously admirable determination of the owner to assemble the permitting required to revive the building. The building itself had decayed to such an extent that a tremendous amount of preparatory work had to be done to make the building safe for construction workers. Many recommended the demolition of the building. Yet, despite these setbacks, the developer envisioned a restoration project that would restore and re-use the only heavy timber masonry building left in the neighborhood. Work began and, in the end, 112 apartments and two commercial spaces emerged from the abandoned structure. The team was even able to recycle thousands of feet of original Heart Pine decking for flooring and paneling as a nod to the building’s past. As life was brought back into the Terminal Storage Building, it also infiltrated the surrounding area of Charlestown and once again sparked a trend of advancement in the neighborhood.

BEFORE: For 30 years the building sat vacant

AFTER: Fully restored, the Terminal Storage Building has turned a derelict corner of Charlestown into one where neighbors and residents take pride












As an additional outcome of this lengthy process, the area was designated as the Terminal Storage Warehouse Historic District and granted historical status by the National Park Service. Although the path to such a success was neither clear nor simple, the result exemplifies the value of persistence in the balancing act of restoration and evolution.



Project Details: 271 Medford Street, Charlestown
Owner/Developer: Suffolk Companies
Architect: bargmann hendrie + archetype
Project Team: Matrix Enterprises; People’s United Bank; Stateside Construction; Suffolk Companies; Tremont Preservation Services

Written and researched by Jessica Saunders.

A Russian, A Tower, and the 4th of July

July 4th, 2017  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

Only in Boston

In every city, there is a sentiment that binds the bones of its history with the growth of its people and the development of its landscape. In Boston, it is our physical fabric—brimming with reminders of patriotic rebellion—that heightens the enduring pride we feel toward our city and our country on Independence Day. These buildings remind us of the delicate interplay between Boston’s history and continued growth.

Tonight, Boston’s skyline will stand tall in the background of the spectacular illumination, enveloped by the intrigue of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.” As we celebrate two hundred forty-one years since the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, we thought it fitting to take a look at the built environment that shapes this awe-inspiring show…

John Hancock Tower

When Boston Pops started the 1812 Overture tradition in 1974, the supreme John Hancock Tower was in the process of being built.

John Hancock Tower and Prudential Center (1976)


Citgo Sign

Mid-century pop art was already on the scene. The 1965 Citgo sign (originally a Cities Service sign, 1940-1965) welcomed visitors for miles.

Massachusetts State House

Charles Bulfinch, renowned architect and designer of the State House, watched the Battle of Bunker Hill from his boyhood home on Bowdoin Street. Today, the State House, Old North Church, and Custom Tower still catch the eye, ground the skyline, and contextualize the city’s history.

A patriot spy group devises a plan

Here, on April 18, 1775, two lanterns signaled how the British would reach Lexington and Concord, igniting the American Revolution.


Custom House Tower

Now a Boston Landmark, the 16-story tower would become Boston’s first skyscraper. Look for it at tonight’s firework display.


Photo credits: Ed Jenner (Hancock Tower); Steve Dunwell (Old North Church); Susan Cole Kelly (fireworks night)