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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.

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Greg Galer, Executive Director, Boston Preservation Alliance

Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

Restoring the Face of a Historic Boston Streetscape, Piece by Piece

Hong Lok House, Chinatown

September 30th, 2015  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

The Hong Lok Project consists of a series of historic storefronts within the Liberty Tree National Register District.

The Hong Lok House offers affordable housing to residents in the heart of Boston – but that’s not all that differentiates the residence from the neighborhood’s surrounding buildings. A blending of new construction and restored historic components, the recently completed housing project boasts a series of historic storefronts, maintained for their historic significance as some of the earliest commercial buildings within what is now the Liberty Tree National Register District.

It is hard to not be supportive of affordable housing, particularly here on the edge of Chinatown where development pressure continues to squeeze traditional residents. Yet the loss of particularly significant storefronts that are character-defining to this neighborhood was not an acceptable solution. The result is new affordable housing and the maintenance of the historic streetscape.

Successful restoration of the three façades was no easy feat. The project began in 2003, but halted in 2006 when a previous developer abandoned the project. Throughout this process, Building Conservation Associates (BCA) served as the project’s architectural conservators, focusing on the façades, all of which were severely deteriorated. Because the history and physical state of each building varied, the restoration of each façade required a different strategy. The three façades was surveyed individually, enabling BCA to develop a custom strategy for each.

11-13 restoration

11-13 Essex

The oldest wooden commercial building in the City of Boston, 11-13 Essex Street is estimated to have been constructed in 1871. After serving as a headquarters of Waterman’s & Co. Kitchen Supply between 1871 and 1905, the building housed a series of restaurants. The three-story, Italianate-style building that was originally painted with a brown sand paint to replicate brownstone.

For this project, the wood façade of the building was disassembled, restored and reinstalled. The restoration of the façade included the removal of its deteriorated exterior paint, carpentry repairs to replace missing and deteriorated elements, and repainting with its historic paint color. The building’s missing storefront was recreated to match the storefront depicted in a historic photo of the building.

15-17 Essex Street, circa 1900

15-17 Essex Street, circa 1900

15-17 Essex Street support by steel frame, while the new building is constructed behind.

15-17 Essex Street support by steel frame, while the new building is constructed behind.

15-17 Essex

15-17 Essex Street is an ornate, four-story masonry building constructed with brownstone, buff-colored sandstone and granite. For this project, the stone façade was preserved, as a modern building was constructed behind it. The stone was cleaned and repointed, and the missing and deteriorated stone elements patched or replaced. The wood windows, which had survived on the second, third and fourth floors, were restored. The missing storefront was recreated from limited surviving building fabric and photographic documentation.

Stone facade, disassembled and in the midst of conservation.

Stone facade, disassembled and in the midst of conservation.

25-31 Essex

Known as the Hong Lok Building, 25-31 Essex Street is a four-story, Second Empire Building. BCA noted that it had been significantly altered over time. For this project it was disassembled and the stone

façade rebuilt. The sandstone façade had ornamentally carved window hoods and belt courses that were salvaged and reinstalled on the building. The flat stone elements were replaced with new sandstone. In addition, the historic wooden cornice was restored and returned to its original paint color.

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