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

Triple Deckers Redux

April 12th, 2012  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

Triple Deckers in East Boston / Photo credit: Boston Preservation Alliance

The three-decker is democratic architecture. It was built to give the average family the benefits of suburban life while living closely to city jobs. It was neither tenement nor mansion, but rather good solid housing. It was large enough to raise a host of children around a dining room table, but small enough to keep a pot of flowers on the back porch.

–  The Three-deckers of Dorchester, A report for the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Boston Landmarks Commission by Robert Krim, 1977

Mayor Menino has unveiled his new 3-D Program. The initiative offers financial and technical assistance to current and potential owners of triple decker homes in the city. It promises to assist in reducing blight in many of Boston’s neighborhoods, making homeownership possible to more families, and fostering pride in our communities. The program also represents a commitment to an architectural style that has long been under-appreciated.

Boston has almost 9,000 triple deckers, many dating back to the late-19th century. With a long history of housing the city’s newest immigrants, triple deckers promote affordability and density that are associated tight-knit, vibrant neighborhoods. From East Boston to Dorchester, triple deckers lend themselves to housing family arrangements beyond the nuclear, accommodating grandparents a they age and children as they grow. With efficiently stacked floors helping to retain heat in the winter and keep interiors cool in the summer, triple deckers may also be Boston’s “greenest” housing type.

The Mayor should be commended for this initiative. Through it, Boston residents will invest in our triple deckers, building on the city’s commitment to sustainability, community character, and affordable housing for all.

 

 

The Unsung Heroes Who Saved Fenway Park

April 1st, 2012  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

An Evening at Fenway / Photo credit: Sarah Kelly

Fenway Park is a little lyrical bandbox of a ballpark. Everything is painted green and seems in curiously sharp focus like the inside of an old fashioned Easter Egg. It was built in 1912 and rebuilt in 1934 and offers, as do most Boston artifacts, a compromise between man’s Euclidean determinations and nature’s beguiling irregularities.

— John Updike , “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” New Yorker, 1960

The centennial celebrations for Fenway Park have begun! A Special Section in today’s Boston Globe features all things Fenway in honor of the ballpark that has captivated the hearts of Bostonians, and visitors from around the world, for 100 years.

It’s a beautiful issue that covers great moments for the ballpark, praise for its many distinctive features, and reflections from notable Bostonians on what makes it so magical. But there is a story that the issue does not tell; it is the story of the ballpark that almost wasn’t and the regular people, under the banner of “Save Fenway Park!“, who fought hard against all odds to stop Fenway Park’s demolition.

Flashback to the mid 1990s. A new Fenway Park was planned. The 1912 ballpark was slated for demolition. Civic and business leaders lined up to support bulldozing the existing ballpark and the building a shiny new one next door. Local media published countless articles with headlines like “A new and better Fenway Park” and “New Fenway Park is a good investment for all.” Fenway Park had lost its sheen. Its seats were too cramped and its stands were too grimy. It wasn’t living up to the standards of the newer ballparks that were cropping up across the nation. And it just seemed too small to bring in the revenue that the ownership needed to keep it up.

But something wasn’t sitting right with Red Sox Nation, and a small group of concerned citizens decided to speak out about it. They believed that Fenway Park was forever intertwined with the legacy of the Red Sox as well as Boston itself, making it an invaluable landmark for the city. What made it challenging was also what made it special. Its irregular angles, its intimacy, its funny green wall. So they launched a campaign, using whatever platform they could find to call attention to their cause. Before long they had thousands of supporters. And when the new ownership took over in 2002 the tide of opinion miraculously turned. The new owners committed to investing in renovations and improvements to the ballpark, fixing its problems while retaining what made it so beloved. Fenway Park had been saved.

This Wednesday night, April 4, the Alliance will host our annual Gala & Auction at Fenway Park in honor of its 100th Anniversary. Some of our old friends from Save Fenway Park! will be there, and we can’t wait to recognize them, alongside the current ownership and others who believed in the little ballpark with an immeasurable spirit.

 

A Modest Modern

March 27th, 2012  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

The Boston Five Cents Savings Bank / Photo credit: Boston Preservation Alliance

Boston’s Mid-century Modern buildings get a bad rap. They’re big, bulky, and sometimes just look like bullies on a playground trying to boss the city’s quaint, little brick buildings around.

But the 1972 addition to the Boston Five Cents Savings Bank in Downtown Crossing (designed by Kallmann and Mckinnell, the same architects responsible for Boston City Hall) is something different entirely. The gentle curve of its facade embraces the public plaza in front of it. Its stainless steel and glass curtain wall, set back from a concrete colonnade, creates a transparency that welcomes visitors and draws them inside. Its human scale makes it feel like an approachable cousin to the historic buildings that surround it.

Since Borders Bookstore closed a few months ago the lower stories of the building have been vacant and it sure has been looking glum. But the Boston Redevelopment Authority has recently announced that a new tenant will soon occupy the building. A rebranded Walgreens flagship store will include not only the usual drugstore staples, but a wide range of luxury goods and services, from sushi to a hair salon.

Only time will tell whether this use will be befitting of a building that the architects viewed not just as a commercial space but as “a city room…entirely transparent to the life of the city street.”[1]  That’s why we at the Alliance are already talking with the Boston Redevelopment Authority about this building, and hope soon to chat with its owner, to make sure that the important features that make it such a positive contributor to the public life of the area are retained and preserved in the long term.


[1] Kallmann, McKinnell & Wood Architects. www.kmwarch.com Accessed 22 July, 2011.

Finding a Future for a Little Farmhouse

March 21st, 2012  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

 

Lewis Farmhouse ca. 1900/Photo credit: Arnold Arboretum archives

Lewis-Dawson Farmhouse sits at the edge of the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain. Visible from Centre Street, it was originally built for the caretaker of the Arboretum and is still owned by Harvard University. It is a rare surviving house from its era (early 1800s), and is in relatively good shape. (It always reminds me of the children’s book, “The Little House,” with the big city growing up around it!)

Back in 2005, Harvard released plans indicating that it wanted to tear down the house to make way for…a maintenance shed. For obvious reasons, the Alliance and many neighbors objected. Following years of outcry, Harvard relented and called off the bulldozers. Community residents, led by the Jamaica Hills Association, petitioned the building for Boston Landmark status, and succeeded in seeing the building designated in 2007 thereby protecting it in perpetuity. (Hooray!)

But landmarking does not a development project make, and here we are in 2012 with a little building that remains vacant. While it has been “buttoned up” pretty well, an empty building is always in danger of vandalism, fire, animal infestation, and various other problems. The good news is we’ve recently been chatting with the Arboretum’s new director, and he seems quite fond of the place. We’re just starting some conversations, brainstorming, and beginning to bring the right people to the table to envision a new future for this great little building that so clearly just wants to be loved.

A (Better) Walk in the Park

March 15th, 2012  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

Current condition of Storrow Drive passing under the Longfellow Bridge/ Photo credit: Goody Clancy

The rehabilitation of the Longfellow Bridge is quite possibly one of the most important preservation projects moving forward in Massachusetts at this time. Designed by Edmund Wheelright in 1908, the bridge is a marvel of engineering, an architectural gem, and an iconic fixture spanning the Charles River and connecting Boston to its sister city of Cambridge.

Over the past several decades, lack of ongoing maintenance of the bridge has caused it to deteriorate to a dangerous state of disrepair. Its timely restoration is absolutely essential in order to ensure that it is returned to a safe condition.

The rehab of the bridge is also an opportunity to improve its connections to the Charles River Esplanade. Right now, getting to and from the park near the bridge is not a positive experience. Going under it as a pedestrian walking along the park is even worse. Walkers must pass through an uninviting, dark, narrow pathway that was squished to one side of a single archway of the bridge when the park was reconfigured in the 1950s to make way for Storrow Drive.

Possible future condition of the Esplanade near the Longfellow Bridge/ Image credit: Frank Costantino

The experience could be much improved by pushing both directions of Storrow Drive under a single archway so that the entirety of the river-side archway could be reallocated to the Esplanade. (The Esplanade Association’s recent publication Esplanade 2020: A Vision for the Future explains this on pages 54-57.)

The Alliance recently submitted comments on the Longfellow Bridge Rehabilitation Environmental Assessment and asked the Federal Highway Administration and MassDOT to seriously explore reclaiming this parkland in conjunction with the bridge work. MassDOT is going to have to reroute traffic on Storrow Drive temporarily and create a staging area for the rehabilitation anyway. Clearly, this is the ideal time to fix what was damaged sixty years ago.

 

Hooray for the BSA

March 9th, 2012  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

The New BSA Space with INFORM Exhibit Installed / Photo credit: Keith Lagreze, over,under

Here at the Alliance, we could not be more excited about the new Boston Society of Architects headquarters at Atlantic Wharf. There’s really so much to be excited about. To begin with, it is housed in what is surely one of the most important preservation projects of 2011 (and the winner of one of the Alliance’s Preservation Achievement Awards). Developed by Boston Properties and located on the Downtown side of Fort Point Channel, the project  consists of three historic buildings that are remnants of Boston’s 19th and early 20th century maritime industrial history. Thanks to our friends at CBT Architects, the warehouse buildings have been remarkably restored, but they’ve also been transformed by contemporary interventions, from an enclosed courtyard with a stunning water feature to the glass tower that seems to float on top of the weighty, brick structures. Somehow the new and the old are ideally balanced, juxtaposed to each other in a way that is perfectly harmonious.

If you have not yet been to see the exhibit INFORM, curated by Chris Grimley, Michael Kubo, and Mark Pasnik of over,under, you must go now. The new BSA Space‘s inaugural show, which opened in early February (see photos from the opening party here) tells the story of the city’s past, present, and future through the eyes of designers. Part of what makes it so successful is its outward-looking orientation, as it seems to extend well beyond the realm of architecture to other activities that make Boston so vibrant, or, as the exhibitors put it, “combining architecture and urban planning with the design of information, exhibitions and events.” What an encouraging message from the professional association for Boston’s architecture community, and what a signal that Boston is trying to shed its image of conservatism in design and insularity in culture. The exhibit works so naturally in the exhibit space, designed by Howeler  + Yoon, that it’s almost hard to imagine anything else taking its place. But somehow I have a feeling this is just the appetizer.

HI Boston!

March 2nd, 2012  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

Rendering of the New Boston Hostel / Image credit: Bergmeyer Associates, Architects

We recently interviewed Drew Leff, principal of GLC Development Resources (and Boston Preservation Alliance Board Member), for our upcoming issue of the AllianceLetter. (Stay tuned – it comes out in April!) It was a great chance to learn about a very cool preservation project on Stuart Street, the conversion of the 125-year-old Dill Building into a 450-bed hostel by Hostelling International (HI). Nestled in the Theater District, the new Boston Hostel was partially financed by both State and Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits and is slated to open late Spring 2012.

The Alliance has supported the project in its application for tax credits by writing recommendation letters to the Massachusetts Historical Commission. We are certain that the project is going to be just fantastic for the area, and such a great launchpad for tourists due to its central location.  At 55,500 square feet, this will be the third largest hostel in the US, roughly twice the size of the existing hostel in Boston on Hemenway Street in the Fenway.

Oh yeah, and it’s also going to be the first LEED certified hostel in the US. Can’t beat that!