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

Recipe for Libations for Preservation

September 2nd, 2015  |  Posted by: Nicole Benjamin-Ma, Young Advisor

We love this fun, refreshing take on historically-inspired cocktails. We’re sure you’ll agree!

Base

6 talented bartenders

6 Boston neighborhoods (caution: competition helps bring out their flavor, we recommend exploiting this)

15-20 Young Advisors

8 craft cocktails

3 discriminating judges

1 local craft distiller known for classic spirits and new flavors

Icing

Live music, a raffle, food, and a surprise from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair

Filling

100 thirsty attendees who know the value of Boston’s heritage (the most important ingredient!)

Assembly

2 elimination rounds

1 head-to-head final round

1 surprise ingredient

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Step 1. Let the YAs loose around Boston to find our neighborhoods’ best bars.

Step 2. Invite some of Boston’s most celebrated bartenders to strut their stuff by creating their own historically-inspired cocktail.

Step 3.  Separate the bartenders and their creations into two heats. The winner of each heat, chosen by the competition attendees, advances to the final round.

Step 4. Throw the winners the surprise ingredient and have them craft a new cocktail on the spot good enough to impress our professional judges.

Step 5. Add a heavy dash of spirits from GrandTen Distillery in South Boston, which is proud of their home in an old iron foundry.

Step 6. Shake vigorously for about 2 ½ hours on Saturday, September 26th from 5:00-7:30 pm. Pour over ice at GrandTen Distilling, 383 Dorchester Avenue, Boston.

Step 7. Enjoy!*

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*Libations for Preservation brought to you by the Young Advisors of the Boston Preservation Alliance, in support of the Alliance’s educational outreach programming throughout the city. Side effects may include a deeper appreciation of Boston’s communities, entrepreneurs, and unbelievable talent.

Come join the Young Advisors for Libations for Preservation, our annual Cocktail Competition of Historic Proportions! We’ve gathered some of Boston’s best bartenders, now we need you to come vote for your favorite cocktails.

This year, we’re excited to welcome back last year’s finalists Canary Square and Ward 8, and some new faces, including Ashmont Grill, Carrie Nation, LOCO Taqueria & Oyster Bar, and Wink & Nod! Each ticket gets you a sample of every preliminary-round cocktail and a $5 voucher to our favorite fusion food truck, Mei Mei, which is catering this event. Live music will be provided by Babydriver. Who will you help crown Boston’s 2015 Historic Cocktail Champion?

Last year’s event sold out, so make sure you grab your ticket here.

Boston’s housing needs are clear. But faceless architecture isn’t the answer.

August 19th, 2015  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

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Take a quick look at the renderings for residential building projects currently under construction or review by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), and you might notice that a significant number share strikingly similar features. Prime examples include 180 Telford Street (Allston), 135 East Bremen Street (East Boston), 1505 Commonwealth Avenue (Brighton) and 3383-3389 Washington Street (Jamaica Plain). While functional, these designs have become trite, and certainly inconsistent with the historic and architectural fabric of the neighborhoods in which they have been proposed.

This trend is concerning for the architectural future of Boston’s outer neighborhoods such as Allston, Brighton, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain and East Boston. The character of these areas is presently defined by one- and two-story brick commercial and light industrial buildings, Victorian homes, and the quintessential New England triple-decker. With greater speed, these are being replaced with large, uninspired condo and apartment buildings that in effect, could be found in “Anywhere, USA.” Boston is rapidly losing its personality.

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Additional housing is a must…

As we’ve noted before, Boston has reached a critical point in its history when it comes to development and growth, and there’s no question that the city needs more workforce housing. We know that Boston’s rental units can’t keep pace with its population growth, as BostInno’s Nick DeLuca pointed out in May. He also notes that according to the latest census estimates for 2014, Boston’s overall population rose from nearly 618,000 in 2010 to over 655,000 in 2014. The need to increase the availability of reasonably priced housing hasn’t gone unnoticed by City Hall, either. A prominent piece of Mayor Walsh’s Imagine Boston 2030 plan includes the goal of improving the city’s housing situation.

…but Boston’s neighborhoods deserve better.

Potential issues arise, however, when the desire to address this need as quickly and inexpensively as possible leads to faceless, generic solutions. Such buildings – which move through the city’s approval processes with relative ease and are often constructed on an accelerated timetable – may help to meet Boston’s need for additional housing in the short term. But in too many cases, these projects demolish buildings with character and history only to replace them with overplayed designs.

199 Brookline Street

The former Concord Baptist Church will soon provide additional housing in Boston’s South End.

This building boom presents a great opportunity for developers. Rather than demolish buildings and truck Boston’s history to landfills, why not reuse what’s already there in creative ways? There have been some stand-out examples of such projects. Currently under construction in the South End is the adaptive reuse and rehabilitation of the former Concord Baptist Church at 199 West Brookline Street. Though still in the early stages, plans are underway to convert Jamaica Plain’s historic Goddard House into more than 100 residential units.

Is this the architecture of our time?

Generally, all time periods have a distinct architectural style representative of that era: Colonial Revivals from the early twentieth century, Midcentury Moderns from the thirties through the sixties, etc. We can’t help but wonder how the buildings going up today will stand the test of time – will preservationists, urban planners and residents be advocating for the maintenance and preservation of these buildings years down the road? If so, it won’t be because these buildings are aesthetically unique or contributing to their particular neighborhood’s distinctive character – these types of buildings are already ubiquitous. Should this trend continue, how long before Boston doesn’t look or feel like Boston?

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The Heroic Project, and why concrete architecture absolutely still matters

July 14th, 2015  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

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The Boston Preservation Alliance first met Chris Grimley, Michael Kubo and Mark Pasnik, the men behind the Heroic Project, when we collaborated in 2007 to voice our collective support for the preservation of Boston’s City Hall. If you’ve spent any time at all in Boston, you know that City Hall has been a point of contentious debate among architects and residents for years. Such debate is illustrative of a larger phenomenon: since the end of its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, concrete architecture throughout the United States has often been the unfortunate object of disdain and all too frequently, demolition.

So when we saw that the Heroic Project had a book in the works, focused entirely on the role that concrete architecture has played in Boston’s urban renewal, we were intrigued. The Heroic Project sheds light on and provides context to a style of architecture that is often misunderstood or disliked (or both), and the project seeks to clarify the role that these buildings have played in Boston’s revitalization. We sat down with Chris Grimley, to ask him a bit more about the Heroic Project.

Tell us about the genesis of the Heroic Project.

Chris Grimley: We started the project about eight years ago. When we first founded [our design firm] over,under and established the pinkcomma gallery, Mayor Menino had called for the demolition of City Hall. The gallery, along with ArchitectureBoston magazine, did an issue on City Hall in which seven young design firms proposed reuse and rehabilitation of the building, which was firmly embraced by Michael McKinnell, and Gerhard [Kallmann – architects of City Hall], when he was still alive. They wanted the building to be reused and rethought. We put on that exhibit, it was actually the first one that we did. Then this slow realization dawned that there were many more buildings, like Paul Rudolph’s Blue Cross Blue Shield, for instance, that are constantly under threat. We thought, “Okay, we really need to start documenting these structures in Boston.”

Our initial list was about 150 buildings. The first iteration of the project was a 2009 gallery exhibit, which we called “Heroic.” The project was then shown at Rudolph’s Second Church for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Modern Module in 2010, and recently at the Art Institute of Chicago. Throughout that time, we’ve been working toward the book, which has gone through a number of iterations…because this could easily have been a 1,000-page book!

Can you talk a bit about 1960s-Boston, and how this resurgence in planning and architecture played out and impacted the city going forward?

CG: Pre-1960s Boston was in real danger of economic and physical collapse. There was a lot of blight and rundown areas – there was not a lot of construction going on. The population was shrinking in various parts of the city, people were moving away – it was a real problem. In 1957, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) was established and then-Mayor Collins brought in Ed Logue, who began work on the general plan for the city of Boston, from 1965-1975. The BRA hired different people to look at different parts of the city, whether it was the waterfront, Charlestown, Roxbury, the South End, etc. and to determine how the city needed to grow up, and what needed to be done.

Logue was brought in to ensure that what had happened in the West End didn’t happen again. The idea that urban renewal was just a single monolithic phenomenon is not really true. It’s more nuanced, and there are remarkable histories to be told about that. As positive as we are about the architecture of the time, we also acknowledge the hubris. The project’s title, “Heroic Architecture,” was chosen because every hero as an Achilles Heel. We acknowledge that there are flaws, there are problems. Although, someone has to counteract the monolithic impressions associated with urban renewal.

When describing the Heroic Project, you’ve noted, “Our distance from the heyday of concrete construction further complicates the perception of such buildings, which are generally looked at with disdain.” What additional context would you like people to have about these buildings?  

CG: When these buildings were constructed, it was a remarkably civic gesture. It’s [an example of] the city, state and federal governments investing money in the future of urban places in America. That’s urban renewal in a nut shell, right? There’s rose-colored glasses about historic Boston; people tend to forget the state of affairs in the city [at that time]. There’s a quote that gets thrown around a lot: “Boston was in danger of being lost to the backwaters of history.” So these buildings were constructed with a remarkable civic pride.

From an architectural standpoint, it’s a really rich and dynamic language of building that a lot of these architects were using. Whether it’s Kallmann McKinnell at City Hall or Paul Rudolph at the Government Services Center, there’s a plasticity and formal interest in making shapes and forms that have remarkable nods to history and to the movement of body. For example, the top of City Hall is a riff on the dentals of a classical building. It’s super-scaled, but the larger gestures point toward the functions of the building, so there’s a real transparency with regard to what’s going on. Over time, people have lost that narrative.

What would you say to people who find these buildings difficult to enjoy from an aesthetic standpoint?

CG: We’re only about fifty to sixty years out from these buildings having been built. There’s always a cyclical turning of style of what people like; in addition to that, though, there’s a historical and cultural legacy. It’s necessary to embrace the history of a place in such a way that it ignores style for a while. So with the book, we’re trying to establish that Boston was really the epicenter of this kind of architecture in North America. Because of its international significance – with world-renown architects like Corbusier, Gropius and Rudolph working here – it really is a case study of a moment in history. So to just say, “It’s ugly, tear it down,” is myopic at best.

Calls for demolition of concrete buildings have gotten a lot of play in the media recently.

CG: That’s true, but there are several buildings that have been demolished with little media attention at all. There are a lot of people throughout the country who have their eyes on this, however. The next iteration of the Heroic Project is to do a website for these buildings. Every once in a while, something like Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center will catch the eye of the mainstream press and incite a lot of anger. But at the same time, there are things like Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments in Buffalo, which are being demolished as we speak, or the MLK School in Cambridge. There are a lot of these places that are under threat. We don’t say that they all need to be kept. There is quality and there is knockoff. But we’re hoping that the website can serve as a resource if there’s a building that someone needs a larger group to take a look at, and at the issues of preservation surrounding what kind of campaigns we could actively engage with, and how we could do it sensitively, so that we’re not jumping every time a building is threatened with demolition.

It’s a difficult project, because there’s so many of these structures and we’re at this moment – we like to say jokingly – where these buildings are in a historical “awkward phase.” It’s part of the story of Boston. You know, the conventional narrative of Boston is that it’s America’s original city, and that’s true. But that rich history is only able to be tapped now, because of the things like general planning, urban renewal and reinvestment. If these things hadn’t happened, Boston would be a St. Louis or a Buffalo, which is not to say that those cities don’t have value! But [architecturally] they definitely didn’t survive the transition from the era of industrial revolution-type work to industries like finance, medicine and education.

Have you seen an increased appreciation for concrete architecture?

CG: Definitely. When we started the project eight years ago, there wasn’t a lot of chatter going on about this kind of work. And in the ensuing years, there’s much more attention being paid – Clog doing an entire issue about these buildings and Tumblrs dedicated to brutalism. There has been a swell of support for this kind of work. I think it might be generational. I mean, our big issue is what we do with post modernism. What do we do with the era after this? Again, there’s this idea that it needs to be more than style. It needs to be viewed through the lens of historical and cultural legacy.

The Heroic Project was created by Chris Grimley, Michael Kubo and Mark Pasnik. For additional information, check out the project’s Kickstarter page. The monetary goal has been reached, and the Heroic Project book is scheduled to be published by The Monacelli Press in October 2015.

An Interview with City Archaeologist Joe Bagley

June 15th, 2015  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

Photo courtesy of Boston Archaeology

Though it’s one of America’s most historic cities, Boston certainly hasn’t stood still over the past four hundred years, and sometimes it takes a little digging to uncover the past. Puns aside, the intimate connection between archaeology and preservation has been on our minds over the past two weeks, as we’ve got an archeological dig underway just outside our office at Old City Hall! City archeologist Joe Bagley is leading a team of volunteers in the excavation of the former site of the Boston Latin School. We caught up with him recently to learn more about how the project’s progressed thus far.

Your team is about two weeks into the project – can you give us an update on what you’ve found? Any surprises?

Joe Bagley: As of this moment, we’re sitting on top of a cobblestone courtyard that was built as part of the 1810 construction of the former building to the Old City Hall, Johnson Hall, which was the courthouse. Just to the east of that, we have what looks like the foundation of a building. It’s a cut granite building. It might not be the building that we’re looking for, because cut granite tends to be a bit more on the later side. The building that we’re looking for [was built] in 1701, and that would be a little early to have this type of monumental block.

Tell us about the pros and cons of overseeing a dig in an area that’s as well-traveled as Old City Hall’s courtyard.

 JB: Because this is a public archeology program, the pros and cons are the same: the sheer volume of people. We want as many people as we can possibly get to be on this site – it’s one of the reasons that we put our pits where we did, right in the middle of the courtyard. We want the public to come out, and we’re really excited about having a dig that isn’t in a locals-only area or an area that’s more touristy. Old City Hall is definitely frequented by both. So we’re attracting tourists from around the world, but we’ve also gotten a ton of local workers and residents coming out to see the dig daily, on their lunch breaks.

Photo courtesy of Boston Archaeology

Most people probably don’t realize the city has an archaeologist on staff. How does archaeology fit into larger efforts by the Landmark Commission to protect and promote the city’s history?

JB: This is our 32nd year of the City archaeology program, and I think because of social media, we’re really just starting to get the word out and people are starting to pick up on what it is we do. I think that this fills in some of the gap in preservation and the preservation movement. I don’t think that everybody realizes the role that archaeology plays in preservation. It’s not just the buildings, although those are incredibly important. There are other aspects to it, too. I think people tend to write off historic sites when the buildings are gone. One of the things that we can demonstrate is that yes, the building may be gone, but there may actually be something remaining that’s still interesting and worthy of preservation. For instance, if this [Boston Latin] were a standing building, this would likely be a city landmark. But it is still here, just not in the way that we generally think of. We consider the landscape to be part of the historic components of these buildings. But I consider the landscape to contain additional information about the architectural components of the buildings. So for me, archaeology is an integral part of preservation.

After the conclusion of the dig, what are the next steps for analyzing what you’ve found?

 JB: We’ll take July to review what we’ve done. All of the artifacts will be transferred back to the lab. The same volunteers that are our here digging will then wash, sort and catalog the artifacts. Ultimately, we’ll be producing a report that goes to people at Old City Hall and others, but it will also be available to the public. So everyone will be able to access the data on what we actually pulled out of the ground.

After that, we have to determine whether we can or should come back to dig a bigger hole. We do have questions that may only be answered if we dig a larger hole. For instance, we found the edge of a foundation. But which building is it? It’s in the right spot for the 1701 rebuild of the schoolmaster’s house, it’s just not the material that we would have expected. We expected a fieldstone foundation, we’ve got cut granite. We might not be able to answer that until we make a bigger hole. So we’re thinking about where we could place a big hole and if we do place it, what would be the point? We’re not going to dig any more than we have to – meaning, unless we can justify it. We will destroy whatever we come across, so we if we can’t justify that that this is the right time to dig this stuff up, then we’ll just leave it there, because that’s the best way to preserve it.

Photo courtesy of Boston Archaeology

What else is on tap the season?

JB: Our next dig will start on July 7th. We’ll be digging at the Epiphany School in Dorchester at the Industrial School for Girls site. We’re going to be teaming up with the students at the school to excavate what we hope to be an 1850-1870s site associated with the girls’ school. If we find what we’re looking for, which is the outhouse, it should only be associated with the girls at the school ages 6-15 from a 20-year period. If that’s the case, we’re going to have [information about] a very tightly controlled data set, which will enable us to learn quite a bit about that specific group during that period of time.

If you’re in Downtown Crossing this June, stop by Old City Hall on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to see the dig for yourself. To follow along from afar, connect with Boston Archaeology on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for daily updates and photos.

A look back at some stellar preservation projects

June 3rd, 2015  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Next week we’ll announce the winners of our 2015 Preservation Achievement Awards – an annual program in which we honor achievements in historic preservation and compatible new construction in Boston. We’re looking forward to announcing this year’s outstanding projects and honorees, but in the meantime, we wanted to share some highlights from last year’s group of award-winning projects.

Walgreens – Downtown Crossing

Walgreens

We loved the way that this project demonstrated a unique juxtaposition of midcentury modernism and classical revival buildings – not to mention the fact that Walgreens’ occupancy has contributed to the revitalization of Downtown Crossing. It highlights the fact that preservation is about classically-designed buildings as well as more-modern architectural gems. Walgreens undertook restoration of both the original 1925 bank building and 1972 addition embracing the features of the modern, innovative design.

The architects of HPA Design, working with Shawmut Design and Construction, guided the restoration of the stone surfaces, ornamental brasses, hanging light fixtures, decorative plasterwork, and marble tile floors of the interior. To reinforce the building’s original identity as the Five Cents Savings Bank, they restored the front revolving doors and the bank vault that now exhibits artifacts and information about the history of the site.

 Liberty Mutual Boston Headquarters – Bay Village

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The new Liberty Mutual building proves that not all of Boston’s best buildings are old. Rather, CBT Architects designed the twenty-two story structure to facilitate the needs of a modern office building, while incorporating design elements and public spaces that are especially compatible with the neighborhood. The Liberty Mutual building was constructed at the juncture of three different historic districts, so we were impressed with the sensitive design that respected the unique qualities of each.

The building’s distinctive triangular massing and curved edges are a direct response to the area’s diagonal street grid, while the Indiana limestone façades are a welcome site in an era dominated by man-made materials. With its attention to detail and thoughtful design, Liberty Mutual’s new building sets a high standard for sensitive, appropriate development in Boston’s irreplaceable historic neighborhoods.

 Fort Hill Tower – Roxbury

Fort Hill Tower_After

Originally designed in 1869, the Gothic Revival-style Fort Hill Tower stored water from Lake Cochituate in Natick for local residents. The tower was soon rendered obsolete, when Roxbury was annexed by Boston and the structure and grounds fell into disrepair.

In 2013, an extensive restoration effort was undertaken by the City of Boston. Historically appropriate methods and materials were extensively employed by Russo Barr Associates and Building Conservation Associates. This work included the removal of paint and the restoration of period-appropriate mineral coatings, replacement of window glazing, and repairs to the cast iron staircase, metal roof, and arched wood windows. Now, the restored tower once again stands proudly as a beacon above Roxbury.

Boston development boom spells opportunity for preservationists

May 28th, 2015  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

We’re living in Boston at a pivotal time. The city is experiencing one of the city’s most extensive development booms in history. If you feel like the skyline is in a near-constant state of change – you’d be right. According to Boston Redevelopment Authority spokesman Nicholas Martin, the amount of new office, lab, residential, and retail space currently under construction has nearly quadrupled to 15.6 million square feet, up from 4.5 million in 2012. In 2014, the BRA approved 62 projects across the city, totaling more than $3 billion.

Additionally, Mayor Walsh last week introduced Imagine Boston 2030, a public engagement initiative to create a comprehensive city plan for the lead up to Boston’s 400th birthday. Though still in its beginning stages, this announcement  indicates that City Hall is promoting  thoughtful, community-focused development throughout the city and seeking enhanced citizen engagement beyond debates on individual projects.

While this rapid pace of development certainly poses some challenges to preservationists, such dialogue about Boston’s urban fabric and city planning presents a unique opportunity. As David Eisen pointed out in the Boston Globe this week, “There are important commercial corridors and underutilized industrial areas that would benefit from new housing, businesses, and medical or college expansion. And there are wonderful smaller scaled neighborhoods whose character should be protected.” Eisen, a principal at Abacus Architects + Planners, also calls for rewritten zoning and streamlining procedures to support development while ensuring that it meets high standards, noting that “growth versus preservation battles should not have to be fought on a parcel by parcel basis.” This planning process should identify areas where new development would better meet our needs, and those where protection of existing fabric is of greater value to the city’s continued success.

At the Alliance, we’re constantly talking about the ways that old and new can coexist beautifully and functionally. In fact, we’re looking forward to sharing a few of these examples with you in the coming weeks when we introduce our 2015 Preservation Achievement Award winners. We have the chance to make Boston a model for older cities looking to undergo renewal in a way that strengthens the city, contributes positively to its citizens and incorporates our historic heritage. Successful preservation and adaptive reuse projects thoughtfully integrated with new construction are crucial components of a comprehensive city plan – and will provide the character and distinctiveness we should maintain in Boston in 2030. We welcome the opportunity to participate in this process.

Our decision regarding the Prouty Garden landmark petition

May 1st, 2015  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Photo courtesy of The Cultural Landscape Foundation

Photo courtesy of the Cultural Landscape Foundation

On Tuesday evening, the Boston Landmarks Commission ruled not to landmark the Prouty Garden, a well-loved healing garden belonging to Boston Children’s Hospital that has served as a restful place for sick children and their families since its construction in 1956. During this meeting, I shared that the Boston Preservation Alliance is not in support of the petition to landmark the Prouty Garden.

For two years, the real estate team at Boston Children’s Hospital – along with the Boston Landmarks Commission, the Alliance and other stakeholders – has grappled with this difficult dilemma. Many versions of an expansion were explored in an attempt to preserve the historic Wolbach Building and the Prouty Garden while allowing children’s to build its much-needed new clinical building. Ultimately, it was determined that none of these iterations would fully meet the needs of the patients, families and staff of the hospital, and that the only viable option was for the building to be constructed where the Wolbach Building and the Prouty Garden now stand.

This was not a decision made lightly or in haste. The debate surrounding the fate of the Prouty Garden reminds us all that preservation can be painful, messy and involves balancing competing needs. In this case, we understand that the Prouty Garden’s loss will be deeply felt by many families, children and staff members. Though the Prouty does have historic significance, we as preservationists must measure the loss of this historic resource against the loss or compromise of critical medical facilities. New green spaces at the hospital will never fully replace what is lost, but our hope is that future patients will also have access to the power of green spaces that the Prouty has so well demonstrated.

We will continue to have conversations with the hospital’s architect to ensure that the historic materials of the Wolbach and the statuary and plantings of the Prouty are incorporated into new building and green spaces. We look forward to working with Boston Children’s Hospital to design spaces that will one day be praised for embracing the healing qualities that can only be found in nature. Our hope is that the new healing gardens evolve to create their own legacies and emotional connections.

Because it’s not “just a building” – considerations for church conversions

April 22nd, 2015  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Dan Adams’ recent piece in the Boston Globe highlights the complexities associated with developing vacant churches – the latest article of several reporting on a development trend playing out across the city. In recent years, several churches have closed their doors permanently in Boston, citing low attendance, high maintenance costs and/or consolidation efforts of the Catholic Archdiocese. Combine these financial sustainability challenges with the fact that many of these buildings are located on what’s now prime real estate, and it’s no surprise that developers see opportunities in buying up these lots.

However, churches aren’t just any building to those in surrounding neighborhoods, as evidenced by the reaction of community members throughout the city when church buildings are threatened by demolition or significant changes to their exterior.

Consider the outcry among South Boston residents in response to a plan to tear down the shuttered St. Augustine’s Church and erect a new building in its place. The Alliance was pleased to facilitate dialogue between the developer and the neighborhood, which ultimately convinced him to pursue an adaptive reuse option – an alternative that hadn’t initially been considered. Renovation that preserves St. Augustine’s exterior and creates condos inside is currently underway. In Jamaica Plain, residents formed the Hyde Square Task Force to purchase the historic Blessed Sacrament Church after years of holding off redevelopment plans, which at one point included market-rate housing, offsetting affordable housing elsewhere on the redeveloped church compound.

Such examples suggest that residents do value the presence of these buildings as a critical connection to their neighborhood’s past, when churches frequently served as vibrant centers of community life. Church buildings hold deep, emotional ties for people, families, and neighborhoods; in many cases they define the communities that grew up around these religious and cultural icons.

With such strong cultural bonds to these buildings, one can understand the responses brought about by proposals to change or even demolish them – reactions that are often more vocal than efforts to bring about change in other parts Boston. Therefore, the debate surrounding how to appropriately develop underutilized historic buildings is heightened in these situations. Adapting churches to new uses reinforces the importance of striking a balance between preserving the historical integrity of culturally significant buildings, while meeting the needs of Boston’s communities today. The sensitivity required for successful church conversions simply highlights the necessity to work collaboratively and to maintain an open dialogue between neighborhoods, developers, architects and other key stakeholders.

To be sure, converting churches into housing or community space frequently includes a unique set of challenges. But if that dialog and the compromises that result allow us to continue to use and enjoy the buildings that have served as the heart of Boston for the past century or more, those are challenges worth overcoming.

Considering Solutions for the Northern Avenue Bridge

February 3rd, 2015  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

The Northern Avenue Bridge under snowfall earlier this year. Photo by Dan McNichol (2015).

Since its closure this past December, Bostonians have been eager for information about the city’s plans for the Northern Avenue Bridge. The bridge was built in 1908 to span the Fort Point Channel and provide multi-modal transport even back then: road, rail and pedestrian traffic above, and when swung open, a channel for boat traffic in what was once a bustling commercial area. Since 1997, when it was closed to road traffic, the bridge has been an important throughway for pedestrians and cyclists – commuting workers, tourists, and those heading to the restaurants, the ICA, and other attractions at the now-thriving and growing Seaport and Innovation Districts. With the boom we have experienced in these parts of the city, it’s no wonder that residents, workers, tourists and preservationists alike have come to regard the bridge as an essential character-defining feature of Boston’s downtown.

We are pleased to report that the Alliance – along with numerous other organizations and advocacy groups – are collaborating with Mayor Walsh and his staff to develop an expedient and viable reconstruction plan for the Northern Avenue Bridge, with an eye toward preservation. While public safety is of the utmost importance, we are working hard to develop a solution that will deliver a secure, functional bridge that preserves as much of the historic character of the bridge as possible and returns this wonderful, unique asset to the city functioning better than any of us can remember. We hope we can turn what has long been a well-loved but physically challenged part of the city into a well-cared-for treasure.

At the Alliance, we believe that the preservation of the past and enhancement of Boston’s future are integrally linked and can successfully coexist to add value to our city’s distinctiveness. In considering the options for the future of the Northern Avenue Bridge, we believe that it’s not only possible to strike balance between a practical solution and one that preserves the landscape of the Seaport District, it’s essential to maintaining Boston’s historic fabric.

To this end, we are in support of a prompt, thorough evaluation of the bridge that will enable the city of Boston to make an informed decision regarding the most appropriate solution to ensure that the Northern Avenue Bridge remains a functional, iconic part of the city for many more years to come.

The Rapidly Changing Emotion of a City – Thank You Tom Menino

October 31st, 2014  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Menino receives the Codman Award for Lifetime Achievement, 2013

Menino receives the Codman Award for Lifetime Achievement, 2013

What a difference a week makes. Last week the Preservation Alliance was cheerily celebrating with the city and over 400 of our diverse friends and supporters from across the city, as we hosted our 26th Annual Preservation Achievement Awards. Only 45 people short of 10,000 engaged with us in voting for our “Fan Favorite” from amongst our award winners (Congratulations to the LogMeIn Headquarters)

(http://www.bostonpreservation.org/programs/awards-2014.html to learn about all our winners).  But, today we mourn the loss of a friend, supporter, and last year’s recipient of our Codman Award for Lifetime Achievement in Preservation, Mayor Tom Menino. How rapidly emotions change in a dynamic city like Boston.Menino’s legacy is legendary, as has been demonstrated by the outpouring of remembrances since news of his passing spread like wildfire through the city and beyond mid-day yesterday. The amazing thing is, while much of the discussion has been on his tremendous positive impact on the city over his 20 year tenure as Mayor, I think many people are closely holding more personal memories, and that includes me. Whether it was some witty banter back stage between the Mayor, our founder Susan Park, and me last year before our ceremony began (I vividly remember him gesticulating with that unique Red Sox-signed Louisville Slugger bat-turned cane)…. or a lengthy and far-ranging discussion I had with him and my colleague Kathy Kottaridis of Historic Boston Inc. as we “hung out” before his speech to the “Preservation Matters” Conference in New Orleans, just five months ago. In these moments he really did make you feel like he was just “that guy from Readville.” Sure he spoke with the knowledge and experience of a man with his hand on the tiller of one of our great cities, but not in tone. In tone he was just one of the guys, to the point where you almost shook your head to yourself in amazement that here he was, “Mr. Mayor,” but he was really just one of us. Another one of the throngs who clearly loves his city, our city … a city he literally devoted himself to with heart and soul, doing what he could to make it a better place. Doing what he thought best because he cared.

Like anyone who is in charge of a huge entity, it’s impossible to always make everyone happy all the time (heck, I have trouble making everyone happy deciding what to make for dinner!), and let’s be honest, there were some decisions he made in his 20 years that made preservationists unhappy (the loss of the Dainty Dot Building or his tepid support of the Community Preservation Act come to mind), but as I say frequently in preservation work, “You need to focus on the forest and not the individual trees,” and in the forest we call Boston the overall result of his 20 years is one in which city character was cherished and supported. Menino brought the Main Streets Program to Boston, energizing neighborhoods and in the process creating a national model to use this program in urban settings.

Menino brought back theaters with one foot already in the grave that had been given up as hopeless causes. He worked with the Alliance and a host of others to replace pigeons with students and throngs of adults and children. These theatres are not now just homes to learning and culture, but they are magnets that draw people, energy and investment to course through the veins of the city. They bring nutrients to a neighborhood and have transformed the former Combat Zone into a new pulsing heart of Boston. “The Forest for the trees” … and what a thriving forest we have thanks to Tom Menino.

This year we honored three individuals at our Awards event last week at historic Faneuil Hall, interestingly where Menino announced his decision not to run for reelection.  We honored Menino’s right-hand-woman on issues of city park management and protection as well as a leading voice on preservation in the city Toni Pollak, the city’s longest-serving Parks Commissioner. Menino stole Toni from the Preservation Alliance, where she became Director of Environment for the city and ultimately Parks Commissioner.  As Susan Park noted in her presentation to Toni, “She helped shape the underlying culture of preservation today, a culture of respectful engagement and one where city government invests in its historic resources.”  So Menino’s hand was very much imprinted on our awards again this year.

 

Preservation Alliance President, Susan Park, and Codman Award winner Toni Pollak, Courtesy Renee DeKona

Preservation Alliance President, Susan Park, and Codman Award winner Toni Pollak, Courtesy Renee DeKona

 

And this year, we gave our new “President’s Award” which could equally have been called the Menino Award, I suppose. The idea behind the award is the fact that Historic Preservation cannot succeed just by restoring old buildings or transforming them with new uses. In order for preservation to be a successful component of a city, that city must have a vibrancy, a life, an energy, an economic engine. As I said from the podium at Faneuil Hall, “Preservation cannot go it alone.” Menino understood that. He understood that city character and the uniqueness of Boston and its neighborhoods are just one piston of the engine, necessary but dependent on other aspects of the city. Our inaugural winners this year were architects Howard Elkus and David Manfredi. I spoke of their interest in “placemaking.” I noted that they recognize that design and planning is about buildings and spaces, but it’s really about people. How people interact with buildings and spaces and how people interact with each other within these places. That the uniqueness of character which derives from our historic sites and the interplay between old and new is energizing, inspirational, and catalytic.  Thoughtful design which considers people, which considers us as inhabitants of these places, can be positively transformative  — and elevate our historic city to even greater success.

Howard Elkus, Greg Galer, David Manfredi, Courtesy of Renee DeKona

Howard Elkus, Greg Galer, David Manfredi, Courtesy of Renee DeKona

 

They “get it” like Menino “got it.” … they understand that the preservation and feeding of our city’s historic character are essential aspects of what makes Boston the city that we love. The City that Tom Menino loved and cherished. I don’t think he had a chance to see our new video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNjFfH2Ln6A&feature=youtu.be), but I think he would have felt it aligned with his heart, which he gave so generously to our city, to us.

Thank you Tom Menino. Thank you for giving of yourself to us and the city we all love so dearly. We will miss you, but your hand and face are written on this city forever in a way in which you will not be forgotten.