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

GREG GALER
Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

Preservation Achievement Award Winner: Flagship Hill Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument

October 23rd, 2016  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

In anticipation of our 28th annual Preservation Achievement Awards ceremony on October 24, we are profiling each of the eleven 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.


We often focus on the many challenges to historic buildings in Boston, particularly in this period of rapid development where we see neighborhoods changing before our eyes. With that rapid evolution occurring so quickly it becomes harder to see the deterioration that occurs over longer periods of time: the wearing impact of weather, the buildup of corrosion, or the compounded impact of defacement and vandalism. It’s easy to forget that bronze sculptures weren’t intended to be green. With so many historic monuments in the city deciding how to focus limited fundsis not always straight forward. One would think a large, prominent memorial in one of the most popular spots in Boston would always be kept in pristine condition, but that hasn’t been the case. The Flagstaff Hill and Soldiers’ and Sailors’ had slowly fallen into disrepair withdamage so severe that some questioned how it could be restored.

Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument.

Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.

Located prominently on the highest point in Boston Common and dedicated in 1877 to commemorate American Civil War veterans., one would hope that keeping it in good condition would be a given, but the losses had become severe until this challenging project was undertaken.

The origins of the monument date back 150 years to the close of the Civil War. Mr. Willis Clement initiated the discussion of constructing of a monument to honor fallen Civil War soldiers and sailors on March 8th, 1866. Nationally prominent sculptor Martin Milmore was selected to design and construct the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. Born in Ireland, he immigrated to Boston at age seven became a well-known sculptor with seveal prominent works in the area as well as a bust of Senator Charles Sumner in the US Senate. (Sadly he died at 38 and more well-known-today sculptor Daniel Chester French created a memorial for him and his broher, sculptor Joseph Milmore.) This monument was dedicated on September 17th, 1877. It consistesof a Doric granite column surmounted by a bronze allegorical female figure (“Genius of America”) with four marble eagles at her feet along with four bronze figures (Army, Navy, Peace, and History) and four bas relief castings depicting Civil War events.

Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument.

Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.

The monument has graceful bronze figures along with massive stones that make it a quintessential tribute to fallen soldiers and sailors. However, what remained before this restoration began no longer honored the veterans as intended. Instead, the arms and heads of the bas-relief figures were lost, and the monument was marred with graffiti and the attempts of graffiti-removal. In 2004, vandals attempted to make off with the figure of Army only to drop it yards from the monument. At this point, the bronze figures were removed leaving the monument stripped of its celebrated sculptures.

Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument.

Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.

The preservation of Soldiers and Sailors prevented the bronze figures from living forever in a storage facility. Although the costs of a restoration surpassed the typical expenses for artwork in the Boston Common and Public Garden, additional sources of funds* thankfully allowed completion of the project. In addition to the return and restoration of the figures, a significant improvement to the landscaping surrounding the monument was fulfilled by providing universal access. Although the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument came dangerously close to perishing from neglect, the preservation efforts rescued this time-honored monument so that it can grace the Boston Commons for today and the future.

Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument.

Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.

*Funding provided by the City of Boston Parks and Recreation Department, the city’s Browne Fund, and the Friends of the Public Garden.

 

Preservation Achievement Award Winner: The Godfrey Hotel

October 22nd, 2016  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

In anticipation of our 28th annual Preservation Achievement Awards ceremony on October 24, we are profiling each of the eleven 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.


Few would argue that neighborhoods and buildings within can reach a point where they need a re-boot. But how can that be accomplished without losing the funky, pedestrian-scale character that brings distinctiveness to the various parts of the city? The Godfrey Hotel demonstrates how historic buildings play a central role in revitalizing the modern downtown district while keeping their historic flair and pedestrian scale. By inserting a new use into historic buildings, such as the Amory and Blake buildings constructed in the beginning of the 20th century the Godfrey has transformed tired offices spaces into a desirable boutique hotel and restaurant.

The Godfrey Hotel.

The Godfrey Hotel.

The Godfrey Hotel comprises two historic buildings that are significant examples of early 20th century high style indicative of the evolution of city commercial construction. The average passerby or hotel visitor likely won’t know the terminology or architectural history but will know these buildings just feel right within Boston’s Historic Ladder Block District. The Amory, built in 1904, showcases classical style elements including a finely detailed dentil and bracketed cornice, pedimented windows, and broken architrave at the entrance. In comparison, the Blake building though built only four years later reflects a more experimental style shown through its wide expanses of glass made possible by the development of high-rise steel technologies.

The Godfrey Hotel.

The Godfrey Hotel.

Both the Amory and Blake buildings were designed by Arthur H. Bowditch, the notable Boston Architect who also designed Washington Street essentials such as the Paramount Theater, the Jeweler’s Building, and Old South Building. His impact on today’s Boston extends past Downtown Crossing with the Lenox Hotel in the Back Bay. The construction of these two historic buildings occurred during a period of increasing urban density. This restoration mirrors a similar trend occurring over a century later with more and more people enjoying the benefits of Boston’s downtown area. The Godfrey Hotel is part and parcel of that trend, both responding to the rejuvenation of the neighborhood and spawning greater vibrancy itself, all while reflecting Boston’s historic legacy.

The renovation project designed by Finegold Alexander joins the Amory and Blake buildings into one use while preserving their individual historic features. A building system challenge of the project involved integrating new MEP/FP for the two separate high-rise structures. Structural upgrades to protect the buildings from seismic and wind forces involve the insertion of two massive concrete shear walls that extend throughout all 11 floors. In addition to bringing structural upgrades, the project balanced modernization with retention of character through repair, preservation, and restoration solutions. Interior features designed in collaboration with the Gettys Group include a lobby featuring 16.-ft. ceilings, coffee tasting bar, and restaurant. Most notable interior restorations include the historic elevator lobby and marble stair.

The Godfrey Hotel.

The Godfrey Hotel.

As part of the Downtown Crossing district, the Godfrey Hotel brings additional new life to Washington Street by attracting both visitors and residents in the City of Boston. The 242 room boutique hotel serves a functional purpose while the decorative and historic elements of the buildings weave into the city’s historic visual fabric. This project demonstrates the ability for historic buildings in the downtown context to find new uses so that they can add to the neighborhood’s revitalization efforts.

Do you think the Godfrey Hotel is the best of the best? Then vote for it for this year’s Fan Favorite! Vote once per day until October 24. Join us that evening at the Paramount Theater to find out if your favorite won, and to celebrate the preservation of Boston’s vibrant built environment. Tickets on sale now!

Preservation Achievement Award Winner: The Carriage House at 31 Ocean Street

October 21st, 2016  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

In anticipation of our 28th annual Preservation Achievement Awards ceremony on October 24, we are profiling each of the eleven 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.


A relic of an automobile-free time long past, the carriage house (and like it other outbuildings like barns and early automobile garages) has posed a particular preservation challenge. Because these buildings’ original purpose is now obsolete, these structures are prone particularly to neglect, misuse, ill-guided repairs from well-meaning homeowners, or demolition through neglect.  We are losing these idiosyncratic, funky and viable resources at a rapid rate, many already gone. Such challenges to adaptive reuse make successful preservation of carriage houses, such as the one at 31 Ocean Street in Dorchester, all the more significant and exciting and a great example of creating much-needed housing without negatively impacting neighborhoods.

The Carriage House at 31 Ocean Street.

The Carriage House at 31 Ocean Street.

Constructed in 1894 as a carriage house for the property next door, the building at 31 Ocean Street suffered extensive damage from pests, including termites, and root growth into the original foundation, and crumbling wood and iron work. When Nancy Anderson purchased the property, she says her friends and family thought she was “crazy,” but she had a vision to turn this neglected property into a home.

The Carriage House before.

The Carriage House before.

 

The Carriage House before.

The Carriage House before.

31-ocean-street-interior-before-3

The Carriage House before.

Anderson quickly set to work with the team from Castlemaine Construction to create a single-family home from what was used in recent decades as a garage with minimal (and barely acceptable) modifications for living on the second floor . With the scent of horse urine still in the air, Anderson and her teams created an open floor plan that kept the original sliding barn door and “magnificent” beadboard intact. They created custom door openings in order to use the building’s original doors (fit for a horse). They replaced original, unsalvageable trim with meticulous reproductions. Upstairs they removed 1970s-era wood paneling to uncover the building’s original walls. When she had finished her work, Anderson had highlighted the unique character of this historic structure for a modern city lifestyle with a vision all her own.

The Carriage House after.

The Carriage House after.

With an open mind and imaginative vision, Anderson was able to adapt an outmoded structure into a chic living space. She worked collaboratively with teams from preservation and construction companies, as well as the Dorchester Historical Society, to realize this vision. With tenacity and diligent work, historic structures such as carriage houses may be re-imagined for the 21st century. The Carriage House at 31 Ocean Street is a testament to the fact that if there’s a will, there is a way to creatively preserve buildings and create housing in buildings currently underutilized and being lost.

The Carriage House after.

The Carriage House after.

Do you think the Carriage House at 31 Ocean Street is the best of the best? Then vote for it for this year’s Fan Favorite! Vote once per day until October 24. Join us that evening at the Paramount Theater to find out if your favorite won, and to celebrate the preservation of Boston’s vibrant built environment. Tickets on sale now!

Preservation Achievement Award Winner: Boston Light

October 19th, 2016  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

In anticipation of our 28th annual Preservation Achievement Awards ceremony on October 24, we are profiling each of the eleven 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.


It’s not particularly well known that Boston Harbor is the site of America’s first lighthouse, and Boston Light on Little Brewster Island celebrates its 300th birthday in 2016. The beacon of Boston Light has provided navigational guidance at the entrance to Boston Harbor and welcomed sailors and passengers to our city since before our country existed. In fact, its history is intimately associated with the Revolution. The original rubble stone, granite, and brick structure lit the way for the first time on September 14, 1716, and heralded the start of Boston’s success as a port city. However, the light we see today had a break in service during the Revolutionary War when the British had captured the island and American troops on two occasions in 1775 destroyed it to keep it from functioning to benefit the British. Construction of a new lighthouse, following closely to the original plans, began in 1783 on the original site, and this is the structure that still stands today.

Boston Light.

Boston Light.

One can imagine, though, the punishment that the lighthouse and its support structures face given the building’s island location exposed to the elements of the sea and weather. Imagine facing a Nor’Easter on Little Brewster Island at the far edge of the Harbor. Significant wear and deterioration had occurred over many years. A large team of Coast Guard staff and contractors contributed over several years to make this challenging project (imagine the difficulties of getting materials and equipment to the site) a success, from Coast Guard Sector Boston which oversees the operation of the Light, to the Coast Guard’s Civil Engineering Unit in Providence which managed the project.

Boston Light.

Boston Light.

The US Coast Guard looked to the future of this site from two angles. The first was the preservation of the historic structure through structural and cosmetic repairs, and the second was to make it more environmentally friendly for a sustainable future. The structure’s exterior wood trim rotted from years of exposure to sea spray was replaced to replicate the original; building roof was resurfaced with cedar shingles. Inside, the light itself underwent a complete resurfacing of the mortar to seal the granite bricks that comprise the lighthouse tower. Solar power is now used for the light’s emergency beacons, and the waste water treatment system was completely replaced in order to ensure that no pollutants enter the Harbor. Outside of the building, an old underground fuel take was removed to guarantee no fuel would enter the site’s soil.

A central illustration of Boston’s reputation as an international port, the Boston Light embodies the tradition of its commercial and maritime history alike. And Boston Light remains the only one in the nation still “manned,” in this case a woman, keeper Sally Snowman.

Sally Snowman with visitors.

Sally Snowman with visitors.

As the first of America’s lighthouses, it has guided many boats safely to shore in its 300-year history and will continue to do with this successful restoration and upgrade project. Open for tours seasonally, visitors can visit to learn about our country’s commercial and Colonial history. With its completion, Boston Light will continue to be an aid to navigation and a site teaching Boston and our nation’s maritime past for generations from a real place where history happened.

The view from Boston Light.

The view from Boston Light.

 

Do you think Boston Light is the best of the best? Then vote for it for this year’s Fan Favorite! Vote once per day until October 24. Join us that evening at the Paramount Theater to find out if your favorite won, and to celebrate the preservation of Boston’s vibrant built environment. Tickets on sale now!

Preservation Achievement Award Winner: The BU Law Tower

October 18th, 2016  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

In anticipation of our 28th annual Preservation Achievement Awards ceremony on October 24, we are profiling each of the eleven 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.


The tallest building on Boston University’s central campus, the school’s Law Tower, is an excellent example of mid-century modern “Brutalist” architecture. Built in 1962 and designed by Josep Lluis Sert, the building’s combination of a dominant concrete structure with glass, masonry, and modular elements are characteristic of the “Brutalist” architectural movement that was flourishing at the time. Along with the surrounding four modern buildings, the Law School Tower is indicative of the change being introduced to traditional campus planning throughout America in the 60s, Sert’s work at BU among the first for the Boston area. Yet it has also been indicative of the challenges to buildings of this era.

The BU Law Tower.

The BU Law Tower.

Despite being “cutting edge” design at the time of its construction, the BU Law Tower and its Brutalist peers quickly fell into disfavor. The lack of general appreciation for these buildings as well as their lack of flexibility for modification gave rise to decades without significant upgrades and maintenance with colleges and universities hesitant to invest in them but also not wanting to lose these significant parts of their modern campuses. With their worth and their ability to be rehabilitated in question their futures are uncertain.

BU Law Tower before.

BU Law Tower before.

This conundrum leaves us with a significant preservation challenge: How to preserve buildings that today may be unfavored in their neglected, outmoded form, and are therefore underappreciated and often misunderstood? (Given their typical need for major upgrades, some fifty years after construction, negative opinion is understandable.) What to do with buildings that aren’t much loved but are an important part of the story of architectural design? How do we preserve  buildings that demand significant changes to meet today’s program needs but given their inflexible                                                                                                         concrete construction do not take such change readily?
BU embraced this preservation challenge with the Law Tower and in the process broke new ground with methods applicable to other buildings of this ilk. Eager to create a progressive learning environment that invigorated a neglected space, they worked with Bruner/Cott and Associates to “imbue our twenty-first century values of community, functionality, and environmental sensitivity to ensure their longevity.”

BU Law Tower after.

BU Law Tower after.

A multipurpose fusion of community spaces and functional administrative areas has provided a reboot of the Law Tower. With harmonious new construction in the adjacent Sumner M. Redstone Building, the team transformed the interior and exterior concrete into a mellow and laid back atmosphere encouraging collaboration and communal space. With the preservation of the BU School of Law Tower, a new recognition for the “Brutalist” style buildings that surround us here in Boston has emerged. BU and its project team have demonstrated that a transformed mid-century building can become a more functional, shared space that can be a treasured addition to the atmosphere and environment on campus as well as a structure we can embrace to demonstrate that “Brutalist” architecture should be re-envisioned, not belittled.

BU Law Tower after.

BU Law Tower after.

We hope the success by BU as well as the many technical lessons learned here bodes well for the new perspective on Boston City Hall and other mid-century modern buildings in Boston.

Do you think The Burnham Building is the best of the best? Then vote for it for this year’s Fan Favorite! Vote once per day until October 24. Join us that evening at the Paramount Theater to find out if your favorite won, and to celebrate the preservation of Boston’s vibrant built environment. Tickets on sale now!

Preservation Achievement Award Winner: Burnham Building

October 17th, 2016  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

In anticipation of our 28th annual Preservation Achievement Awards ceremony on October 24, we are profiling each of the eleven 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.


Once upon a time, at the turn of the 20th century, the chicest-of-the-chic shopped in department stores, where they sampled the latest styles in clothes, hats, furniture, and more. Filene’s Department Store was one such shopping destination, with a flagship location at the corner of Washington Street in Downtown Boston. Opened by William Filene and Sons’ in 1912, this store eventually expanded to the whole block of Washington, Summer, Hawley, and Franklin Streets. In its early years Filene’s customers would have recognized the architectural significance as they approached the dramatic building, and the more sophisticated ones would have likely known that the store was housed within famed Chicago architect Daniel Burnham’s last building (he passed away in 1912), and his only design in Boston, thus making Filene’s a truly unique emblem of Beaux-Arts architecture in the city.

The Burnham Building.

The Burnham Building.

Burnham was well known in his day for his central role in the planning of the World’s Columbian Exhibition in 1893, as an urban planner whose work set the tone for several cities, and his leading place in in the development of skyscrapers in Chicago.

Despite Filene’s centrality to Boston’s downtown shopping district, Burnham’s building faced the decline in central- city shopping seen by most American cities. As department stores lapsed into malls, thankfully Boston’s retraction wasn’t entire as it was in other urban cores. Yet, traffic significantly decreased and department stores closed and consolidated, exacerbate by the increase in online shopping in more recent times. Filene’s sold to Macy’s who elected to sell the building in 2008. The original, Burnham-designed building was placed on the National Historic Register in 1986 and protected from demolition when it was made a Boston Landmark in 2006. The property was purchased by Millennium Partners, who saw the potential to return the Burnham Building back to the lively, fashionable shopping destination it once was. And the restoration of the Burnham was essential to the success of the adjacent 60 story Millennium Tower, a great example of old and new successfully working together.

The Burnham Building before.

The Burnham Building before.

Stabilizing the structure, Millennium Partners collaborated with Handel Architects to return the building to its original glory. Fine, original Beaux-Arts terra cotta details were carefully washed, cleaned, and reglazed. Other exterior elements were recreated after examination of Burnham’s original designs, along with period photographs and drawings. Original construction methods were utilized on the façade, imbuing the restoration with historic ambiance and integrity. The result is a meticulously rehabilitated homage to not only Burnham’s work, but American life at the start of the 20th century, as well vanguard preservation techniques and methods. Its style that has inspired and reenergized the entire shopping district.

The Burnham Building after.

The Burnham Building after.

In the fall of 2015, Irish retail chain Primark opened its only location in the United States on the ground floor of the Burnham Building, transforming the old department store back into the cutting edge of technology, design and fashion. Now, once again a hub of Boston retail, thousands of shoppers stream in and out of the Burnham Building daily, enlivening Downtown Crossing with activity. With a grocery store replacing the famed “Filenes Basement” the Burnham Building is playing a central role in making Downtown Crossing a true neighborhood. The retail building’s restoration highlights the way in which existing commercial structures can be sensitively restored to meet today’s needs while and also provide invigorating, engaging, and profitable spaces for businesses and their customers.

The Burnham Building today.

The Burnham Building today.

 

Do you think The Burnham Building is the best of the best? Then vote for it for this year’s Fan Favorite! Vote once per day until October 24. Join us that evening at the Paramount Theater to find out if your favorite won, and to celebrate the preservation of Boston’s vibrant built environment. Tickets on sale now!

Boston Preservation Achievement Award Winner: Lovejoy Wharf

October 14th, 2016  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

In anticipation of our 28th annual Preservation Achievement Awards ceremony on October 24, we are profiling each of the eleven 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.


When is a historic building too far gone that it’s not savable? Many looking at the Hoffman Building, and in particular its pier, probably thought it was a goner when the Related Beal purchased the property in 2012. Its pier had been rotting into the harbor for a generation. Built in 1906 as a confectioner’s warehouse, operated during the 1940s to manufacture submarine parts, and later used as office space, over 100 years of haphazard renovations and additions and lack of upkeep obscured the value of bringing this industrial structure back to life. And with the completion of the Zakim Bridge and the Big Dig there were more eyeballs on this building than ever before.

Lovejoy Wharf. Photo by Gustav Hoiland.

Lovejoy Wharf. Photo by Gustav Hoiland.

Seeing potential to rehabilitate an artifact of Boston’s industrial history, Related Beal, The Architecture Team and Copley Wolff Design Group collaborated to not only revitalize the building, but to reactivate the surrounding space. Part of Boston’s Harborwalk, the building’s wharf was transformed into a vibrant, dynamic public space for office workers and passersby alike to enjoy lunch, conversation, or Boston views.

Inside the Hoffman Building, crews set to work installing new structural steel to re-mediate 1925 additions. Carefully selected period industrial materials—from charred Western Red cedar and refurbished original columns to reclaimed wood from the original wharf to concrete flooring—provided a corporate setting sensitive to the building’s industrial origins. Exposing rich, original brick created an ambiance of both history and business.

Lovejoy Wharf Before. Courtesy of The Architecture Team.

Lovejoy Wharf Before. Courtesy of The Architecture Team.

Lovejoy Wharf's pier before. Courtesy of The Architecture Team.

Lovejoy Wharf’s pier before. Courtesy of The Architecture Team.

With the idea in place to rehabilitate both the building and wharf to benefit from its now highly visible location, Lovejoy now needed a tenant who wanted to capitalize on the visibility and accessibility of the site. Converse, a shoe brand many now associate with California counter-culture – skateboarders and surfers wearing they “Chuck Taylors” – actually was formed locally, and was the perfect match. The company desired a world headquarters that was accessible to both car and foot traffic, and that cultivated connectivity between employees and customers Using reclaimed wood from the site’s old wharf, The Architecture Team created a custom serpentine staircase to maximize transparency and collaboration between Converse teams.

Bringing new energy to an underutilized if not derelict buildings requires vision and partners who can see the opportunities and value embodied in our city’s unique historic structures. Lovejoy Wharf, completed in April of 2015, is testament to the power of such a vision and a team who has brought this building and its wharf and site back to the city of Boston and the employees not just of Converse but the entire neighborhood, bringing back this historic building to the thousands of commuters who see it daily at its gateway entrance from the north. Now they too can see that buildings that seem too far gone to save can in fact be pulled from the harbor and brought back to life.

Lovejoy Wharf After. Photo by Gustav Hoiland.

Lovejoy Wharf After. Photo by Gustav Hoiland.

Do you think Lovejoy Wharf is the best of the best? Then vote for it for this year’s Fan Favorite! Vote once per day until October 24. Join us that evening at the Paramount Theater to find out if your favorite won, and to celebrate the preservation of Boston’s vibrant built environment. Tickets on sale now!

Preservation Achievement Award Winner: The Verb Hotel

Preservation Achievement Award Winner: The Verb Hotel

October 3rd, 2016  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

In anticipation of our 28th annual Preservation Achievement Awards ceremony on October 24, we are profiling each of the eleven 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.


Situated just a block from Fenway Park in the heart of old Kenmore’s once vibrant car and music scenes, The Verb Hotel pays homage to not only mid-century design, but to 1950s-1960s Americana. The Verb Hotel is a tribute to the Fenway experience of decades past, when gas stations, car dealerships, music venues, radio stations and music magazines were the lifeblood of neighborhood’s energy, particularly on non-game days.

The Verb Hotel before restoration. Photo credit: Mike Diskin.

The Verb before restoration. Photo credit: Mike Diskin.

The Verb marks the rebirth of the former Fenway Motor Hotel originally designed by Irving Salsberg and Ralph Leblanc. Built in 1959, the motel was among the first in the city after World War II, and abutted not only Fenway Park, but Boston’s famed alternative rock station, WBCN. Eventually the original developer sold the building to Howard Johnsons, an emerging power in the motel business. As the popularity of motels declined, the site’s owner sold it in 2013 to Samuels and Associates. In partnership with Weiner Ventures and Spot-On Ventures, the firm hired Elkus Manfredi Architects to lead the restoration, interior design, and architecture of the new hotel. Elkus Manfredi elected to keep the building’s footprint and height, and retained and restored exposed brick original to the 1959 interior, school-house style blue brick, and the unique, irregular Mondrian-like pattern of solid color stained glass on the building’s façade.

The Verb’s decor includes archival records, Boston Phoenix covers and other ephemera curated by rock and roll memorabilia and former Phoenix Director of Special Projects David Bieber. Bieber, who started working WBCN in 1978, collected show posters, set lists, photographs, magazine articles surrounding Boston bands and shows for almost thirty years. Part of his archive is now housed at Northeastern University, while part of it rotates through The Verb. Beiber’s posters, magazines, and photographs, are alongside pieces such as a Modernica saucer light pendant and cigar table lamp, designed by George Nelson in 1947.

The Verb after restoration. Photo credit: Adrian Wilson.

The Verb after restoration. Photo credit: Adrian Wilson.

“I could tell right away that this was meant to be a celebration that came out of the community, and an opportunity to talk about Landsdowne Street, Allston and Central Square,” says Bieber about bringing his collection into The Verb. “I was always the intermediary, taking possession of posters and things before they went to the dumpster.”

This funky, boutique hotel, gushing with mid-century styling, a generous smattering of whimsy, and unsurpassed local music-scene memorabilia has been a huge hit. It demonstrates that unique historic character, even when it isn’t all that old, can be a winner.

The Verb lobby. Photo credit: Adrian Wilson.

The Verb lobby. Photo credit: Adrian Wilson.


Do you think The Verb is the best of the best? Then vote for it for this year’s Fan Favorite! Vote once per day until October 24. Join us that evening at the Paramount Theater to find out if your favorite won, and to celebrate the preservation of Boston’s vibrant built environment. Tickets on sale now!

Why Save the CITGO Sign?

June 29th, 2016  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Last Thursday, the Alliance started an online petition in support of designating Boston’s iconic CITGO sign as a protected Landmark. Since then, we’ve received significant support for saving the sign from people around the country. With over 3,000 signatures in a matter of days, it is clear the sign means a great deal to the people of Boston and beyond.

“I’m signing because anytime I’ve traveled to Boston the CITGO sign welcomes me to the city,” commented Olivia from Dallas, Texas. “The CITGO Sign is as much a part of Boston as Faneuil Hall,” said Bryan in Brookline.

We’ve heard from others, however, who think that it’s time for the CITGO sign to come down. “Why save an aging advertisement?” they ask. Others wonder what makes a sign for an oil company worth preserving. All that aside, say a few others, the sign is downright ugly.

We’d like to answer some of these questions here, and to explain a bit more about how we are working to save the sign.

The sign in 1970. Via Boston Magazine.

The sign in 1970. Via Boston Magazine.

“Why save an advertisement?”

The sign’s emblematic “trimark” was part of the 1965 CITGO marketing campaign, and its primary colors and simple geometric design is characteristic of 1960s pop art. The sign is therefore an artifact of mid-century marketing. In 1983, architectural historian Arthur Krim called the sign “one of the finest examples of corporate neon art in America.”  Since the graphic design remains from the 1960s, generations of Bostonians have grown up with it. Visible beyond Fenway Park’s Green Monster, it’s a part of Fenway Park’s iconic landscape, and has been emblazoned on post cards, posters, T-shirts, mugs, and featured in books, magazines, newspapers, and films. It was called an “Object d’Heart” by Time magazine, and in 1983, appeared in a Life Magazine spread.

Measuring 60 x 60 feet, the current sign underwent a major energy efficiency and technology upgrade in 2005 and is now completely reliant on LED bulbs and entirely computer-operated. The sign is visible for miles, advertising not only a company, but the whole city. Along with images of Boston such as the Swan Boats and Old North Church, the Citgo sign has become one of those sites that people from around the country see and, in an instant, know they are watching something about our city.

 

Citgo at night via Globe

“Is the sign historic?”

The original sign included 5,878 glass tubes of neon and was lit by 250 high-voltage transformers controlled by an automated mechanical system. With bold graphics, neon illumination and animation, the sign represented the cutting edge of advertising when it was installed in 1965. The mechanism lighting the sign now is today’s cutting edge. That, coupled with the sign’s visibility through its brilliant placement within the Boston skyline, makes the CITGO sign a truly historic icon of the city. It is a landmark in the most literal sense of the word.

 

“But the sign advertises an oil company with ties to a Venezuelan dictatorship.”

The sign’s long contribution to the city skyline has made it a feature that transcends its original intent. More than saying “buy CITGO gas” it now says “Boston.”  In fact, there isn’t even a gas station at the sign! It’s no longer about advertising CITGO.

What happens next with the online petition? How does a site become an official Landmark?

The next meeting of the Boston Landmarks Commission is on Tuesday, July 12. There, the panel of 13 architects and experts will decide if the process should move forward: is there sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the sign is likely to meet the criteria for becoming a landmark – and that further study is warranted to prove the case.  The commission will, we hope, formally accept the petition for further study. After that study report is completed and reported out to a future Landmarks Commission meeting, and assuming the report and staff recommend landmarking, the Commission members will vote to make the sign an official Landmark . If the landmarking is approved by two-thirds of the commissioners, the designation will go to the Mayor and City Council.

The Mayor has 15 days to disapprove of the designation or to transmit it to City Council. Council will have 30 days to overturn the designation with a 2/3 vote.

The Alliance will attend the July 12 meeting and convey the remarkable enthusiasm to designate the CITGO Sign an official landmark as represented by the thousands of signatures we’ve collected on our online petition. Your vocal support for designating the sign a landmark will powerfully demonstrate that the sign is part of what makes Boston, Boston, and should remain part of the city and skyline.

The Boston Skyline.

The Boston Skyline.

The Future of Downtown Boston Is …. Its Past!

June 22nd, 2016  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

A remarkable thing happened to me yesterday. I attended Bisnow’s morning gathering on “The Future of Downtown Boston.” Bisnow is a company that facilitates online and in-person discussions about real estate. Their morning meetings are typically healthy networking among, maybe, a few hundred real estate and development professionals followed by presentations and panel discussions for folks in this professional space.

While the Alliance holds good relationships with many people in development and real estate I wouldn’t say that they are necessarily a crowd I would characterize as inherently pro-preservation. In conversations, I typically have to remind them why Boston’s character is so important to the city’s continued success. With a little poke like that, they usually come around.

However, yesterday was different. Panelists time and again, really from out of the gate, extolled the benefits of the historic building stock in downtown:

Scott Pollak, Arrowstreet Architecture and Design, and working on Congress Square’s redevelopment of the 1906 Shawmut National Bank in addition to six other early 20th Century buildings, commented on the importance of “context and authenticity” that come from the historic buildings, and a character of these buildings that is enticing to the creative-economy businesses and their employees. Given the ecology of these businesses, many starting very small and growing, the variety of office spaces in the downtown neighborhood provides healthy support for growth within the same neighborhood.

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The Godfrey Hotel.

Projects such as the Godfrey Hotel–1904 and 1908 office buildings recently converted into a thriving boutique hotel within the historic building envelope–were noted as indications that, as Larry DiCara of Nixon Peabody noted, Downtown Boston now has “cache.” It’s a place with more lattés and craft beer and fewer suits and ties.

Maura Moffitt, Synergy Investments, who own several historic buildings Downtown, noted that smaller, historic buildings provide branding and self-identity to small start-ups moving from incubator space into their own offices and that the retail of the neighborhood is changing to reflect their influx. The employees of these businesses value opportunities to “collide and collaborate” and that means first floor retail of lunch and happy hour opportunities, which are popping up in many older buildings. Rosemarie Sansone, , Downtown BID, said the young people flowing into the neighborhood embrace its historic vibe.

Placemaking in Downtown is an evolution driven by efforts of schools like Emerson College, noted Lee Pelton, Emerson’s President. Pelton discussed how the college helped drive and continue to push with their projects, what he described as “people development” as much as “real estate development.” Emerson continues to invest in its historic properties including plans to restore and rejuvenate the Little Building (1917) on the corner of Boylston and Tremont.

Over and over again we heard about the fact that the historic buildings in Downtown have good bones that provide flexibility and desirability in today’s market. Scott Pollak even reiterated a point preservationists have been making for years: renovating existing buildings is far more environmentally responsible than demolishing and building new ones. And he noted that Boston isn’t a museum, but a living, breathing ecology in which the buildings that exist form a central component.

When asked about the introduction of new construction and significant height, the group agreed that there is a delicate balance, an ecosystem that we need to monitor and foster. New construction and some height could be ok but in the right places and right doses. Historic fabric shouldn’t be destroyed without very careful consideration of its impact on that balanced urban ecosystem.

Even John Usdan, President of Midwood Development who is proposing a 700′ tower at Bromfield and Washington Streets, a project which we have opposed due to its impact on the historic Ladder District, and in particular Bromfield Street, noted that design is so important to Boston and why Bostonian’s feel so passionate about the city. He said the sense of place and history anchors the city and is “integral to its vitality.” Usdan acknowledged a challenge in Downtown is how to integrate the demands of a modern city with the historic context “of an almost sacred place.” How to engage and enliven the street without overwhelming pedestrians … how to make sense of a large tower only a few hundred feet from the Old South Meeting House.

Usdan concluded by noting that figuring out how to manage these challenges of balancing old and new are “essential to what makes Boston, Boston,” a phrase we often use at the Alliance.

See our video on that very topic!

Even the preservation regulatory process was portrayed in the positive light we try to shed. Steve Faber of Related Beal said as clear as day something I should put on a bumper sticker, “Don’t be afraid of historic preservation and development.”  He shared a story about their project at Congress Square and their initial concern when they learned that the Boston Landmarks Commission planned to Landmark the building:  “We thought the process would be stifling to rejuvenation and exactly the opposite took place.”

The Boston Business Journal (Catherine Carlock, 6/20/16) recently noted that the desirability for office space high in towers has weakened, with people wanting to move from the clouds “back into the fabric of the city.”  In May Carlock similarly wrote “Why tech companies have left the Innovation District for downtown Boston” (5/6/16) quoting Carbonite’s VP and General Council Danielle Sheer, “I really hope that Downtown Crossing doesn’t lose any of its grit anytime soon. That’s a huge part of why we want to be here. We need to make sure landlords understand that if it becomes commercial, I think you’ll see companies like us find another space.”

It’s always nice when a position for which you’ve been advocating for years makes its way into the dialog and lexicon of others in the community, particularly a group that isn’t always the first to support what they believe to be your cause. I’m glad they’ve seen the light and we look forward to working together to make Boston shine.