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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

GREG GALER
Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

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!

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