After over 30 years of vacancy and deterioration, the historic Alexandra Hotel, which is within the South End Landmark District, is now part of a new project proposal. Evidence suggests that the 1875 Alexandra Hotel, also known as the Walworth Building, was designed by prominent architecture firm Peabody & Stearns. The proponent is striving to retain and restore the two most prominent facades of the original building (Washington Street and Massachusetts Avenue) and construct a 150-key hotel, approximately fourteen stories, on the lot behind and adjacent to the facades. The building beside the hotel was demolished several years ago leaving a vacant lot. The proposed development would infill that lot with an entrance to the hotel while a restaurant would occupy the ground floor of the Alexandra Hotel building.
The Alliance has been eager to see the Alexandra Hotel rehabilitated. We have concerns about the project setting a precedent for height, not only in a historic district but also glass towers attached to historic buildings throughout the city. We feel that the proponent has been thoughtful in their design process given challenging parameters and responsive to many concerns. After further modifications and refinements to the design and additional justification for the proposal's need to violate historic district guidelines to save the historic hotel, the Alliance could feel comfortable supporting the project. It should be noted that if we determine this project is acceptable it will be because of a unique set of circumstances and may not be the right solution at other sites. Several questions remain unanswered about ownership of the site and the approval of a project that would seemingly grant profit to an owner who has neglected historic buildings for decades, leading to the loss of one and the substantial loss of another.
Find project documents like the Project Notification Form and public presentations including BCDC at the BPDA website.
Highlights from our activity log:
- May 22, 2019
The Alliance meets with the project team. The slideshow from the May 22 SELDC meeting is presented and confidential financial documents are shared. The Alliance asks the team to explain their analysis into other options for this site that could lead to a project with less impact such as condos, a smaller hotel project, and utilizing historic tax credits. The team explained how they had looked at all of these options, going back some time. For a number of reasons, including location, the constrained size of the site, the expense of restoring the long neglecting historic building, etc. the team outlined why their proposal for an approximately 150 room hotel is the only feasible option to save the historic facades. Given, in particular, the significant restoration cost of the poorly maintained facade, development cost is high. Purchase price is not a major driver of the financial challenge. As requested by SELDC, the team mapped other buildings within the South End Landmark District that are above the 70' height limit and showed that these taller buildings are also at key intersections and gateways to the neighborhood. They feel this project will help better knit together the Roxbury and South End neighborhoods and provide amenities, such as a bar, restaurant, and public rooftop lounge, to residents.
- May 22, 2019
The South End Landmark District Commission meets with the proponent for an advisory review of the proposed project. Though open to the public, the meeting is not widely advertised and the Alliance is not present. The meeting reportedly focuses on financial information relating to the proposal.
- March 15, 2019
The BPDA board votes to approve the proposal. The proponent will also need approval for the necessary zoning variances from the Zoning Board of Appeal before beginning the review process at the South End Landmark District Commission. The commission has the option to approve, suggest revisions, or disapprove the proposal. If the commission disapproves, the project cannot move forward.
- February 27, 2019
Alliance staff attends an advisory review meeting of the South End Landmark District Commission. Commissioners and members of the public express concerns about the proposed height of the tower and setting a precedent for the approval of projects that do not meet the standards and guidelines for the historic district, especially for height. Alliance staff suggests, and commissioners reiterate, that the while all want to save the building with a high quality restoration, the bar is high to allow new construction of this scale in violation of the District guidelines. Therefore the proponent should be required to demonstrate all other alternatives explored and why this is the only viable solution to save the Alexandra. Some other details are addressed, such as the western wall of the proposed new tower, but most design details are deferred pending further discussion on the allowability of a tower concept. The project will return for another advisory discussion before the applicant submits an application for formal consideration. The proponent is expected to continue to pursue approval from the BPDA and the Zoning Board of Appeals, as required before approval by the SELDC.
- February 13, 2019
The Alliance submits a comment letter to the Boston Planning and Development Agency, attached below.
- February 12, 2019
Alliance staff attends the design review subcommittee of the Boston Civic Design Commission. The latest iteration of the project is presented by CBT Architects. Responding to earlier comments, the design team has deepened the setback of the tower from the facade of the historic building, now 10' on both the Washington Street and Mass Ave sides of the building. To offset this loss of interior space, an additional floor was added to the tower. Other changes have been made in an effort to ensure the historic building is prominent on the site and the new tower becomes a background building. There was a request to increase the setback at the top of the tower on the Washington Street side. The group discussed the most appropriate material for the reveal on the western side of the Alexandra; currently inferior party wall brick is exposed since the building was constructed to be abutting another building. The proponent will seek a variance to allow for more glass on the western side of the tower that faces Roxbury to avoid a blank wall, though it is important that the wall not compete with the Washington Street facade of the Alexandra. After discussion of small changes, the commissioners felt the project could proceed to the full commission for review. Nick Armata, staff at the Boston Landmarks Commission, was present to share concerns from the South End Landmark District Commission. That commission is not yet fully comfortable with the proposal.
- January 22, 2019
An Alliance subcommittee meets with the proponent to discuss the project in detail. The Alliance was clear that the project must feel like a restored historic building with interesting new construction behind it, rather than a new, modern tower with an odd historic remnant. The historic Alexandra must remain prominent, although we recognize that the new construction is what facilitates preservation of a building seriously compromised by over 30 years of neglect. We therefore reiterated concerns already expressed by BCDC and SELDC that the tower should be pushed back further from the Washington Street facade of the Alexandra Hotel. The group also discussed options for the party wall that faces Northampton Street and other details. The Alliance will prepare a formal comment letter to submit to the BPDA.
- January 22, 2019
Alliance staff attends a joint meeting with the Boston Civic Design Commission (BCDC) and the South End Landmark District Commission (SELDC). The latest iteration of the project is presented with changes based on previous feedback from both commissions. Some of the commissioners expressed concerns that the tower is too close to the facade of the Alexandra Hotel on the Washington Street side and should be set back several more feet, even if it means an additional floor or two on the tower. There was also a request to better articulate the party wall that faces Lower Roxbury so that the tower is engaging on all sides. The proponent will address these concerns and return to BCDC with a revised proposal.
- January 14, 2019
Alliance staff speaks with staff at the Boston Landmarks Commission to understand the concerns of the South End Landmark District Commission.
- December 4, 2018
Alliance staff attends a Boston Civic Design Commission meeting to hear the proponent present the project; comments that the Alliance is generally supportive of the concept but has concerns about precedent for height.