Kenmore Square North | 533-541 Commonwealth Ave | Fenway

bdurden

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BU did not develop this parcel.
Blame the city and the developer for it.
 

Beton Brut

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If you are in CLF then yes you are part of the problem.
I’ve no affiliation with CLF. I do spend a fair amount of time interacting with the Boston Preservation Alliance. I spend a lot of my discretionary time on community preservation activities in my neighborhood, and advocating for architecturally significant buildings that deserve a second life. If any of this irritates you, perhaps a tube of Preparation H will help.

BU did not develop this parcel.
Blame the city and the developer for it.
That’s a less than intellectually honest response. Boston Univesity owned the block, allowed the buildings that have been demolished to decay during their ownership, sold them to Related-Beal, and has agreed to be the anchor tenant in both new buildings.
 

bdurden

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I’ve no affiliation with CLF. I do spend a fair amount of time interacting with the Boston Preservation Alliance. I spend a lot of my discretionary time on community preservation activities in my neighborhood, and advocating for architecturally significant buildings that deserve a second life. If any of this irritates you, perhaps a tube of Preparation H will help.


That’s a less than intellectually honest response. Boston Univesity owned the block, allowed the buildings that have been demolished to decay during their ownership, sold them to Related-Beal, and has agreed to be the anchor tenant in both new buildings.
It may be a response that doesn’t fit well with your narrative. That’s all that can be said about it aside from what I’ve stated.
 

Rover

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I’ve no affiliation with CLF. I do spend a fair amount of time interacting with the Boston Preservation Alliance. I spend a lot of my discretionary time on community preservation activities in my neighborhood, and advocating for architecturally significant buildings that deserve a second life. If any of this irritates you, perhaps a tube of Preparation H will help.
Doesn't irritate me in the least, since you NIMBY'S have been impotent when it comes to preventing development in an attempt to keep the city like it was in 1950.

Perhaps while I'm buying some preparation H I'll see you line at the pharmacy picking up some Viagra! ;)
 

Rover

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Let's bring this back to the point, the building in Kenmore square. I've seen various interest groups do everything in their power to delay or kill projects to replace two parking garages and a power plant. I've also seen the IMAX built with nary a peep out of anybody. I don't see what the standard is here. Who can honestly say the self appointed preservationist put more than a minimal effort into this one? Why are parking garages getting more love than stately old apartment buildings?
 

stefal

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Let's bring this back to the point, the building in Kenmore square. I've seen various interest groups do everything in their power to delay or kill projects to replace two parking garages and a power plant. I've also seen the IMAX built with nary a peep out of anybody. I don't see what the standard is here. Who can honestly say the self appointed preservationist put more than a minimal effort into this one? Why are parking garages getting more love than stately old apartment buildings?
Where was this sense of urgency and anger in 2018? When Beton, a well-admired poster/contributor, and others took time out of their schedules and showed up to public meetings, and Drubinoff organized and promoted a petition to preserve the building and attended multiple meetings, convinced the Boston Landmarks Commission to vote for a 90-day demolition delay in efforts to cancel or delay this project, while simultaneously convincing some on the Commission that the facade could be preserved... Ultimately, the petition was rejected by the Commission, but to no fault of the efforts of the few who truly cared. This was in no way a minimal effort, as you claim:

Hi Everyone,

We have what I understand to be a final public hearing with the BPDA this Monday, October 22, at 6 pm. The meeting will be held at 565 Commonwealth Avenue.

I need to strongly encourage any of you who can attend to please do, because both Alison Pultinas and I have conflicts Monday night and can’t attend. This is frustrating, but I don’t think I can move my other commitments.

To update you, we have been working on pressuring Related Beal and those involved with their project’s approval to push for the preservation and adaptive reuse of 541 Commonwealth Avenue. There are creative approaches the development team could undertake to integrate the beautiful facade of 541 Commonwealth in a way that would augment their proposed development; Boston Preservation Alliance and members of the Boston Landmarks Commission have amplified our call to Related Beal for integration of the existing 541 Commonwealth facade.


So far we’ve generally received a “silently listening” response, which means they are just waiting it out. Boston Landmarks did not accept our petition (over 30 people signed, mostly Kenmore residents) because the building, in their view, did not meet state standards for regional or national significance. Never mind that “The Westgate”, as the building is called, is the western gateway to both Kenmore Square and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, bookended on its other end by the Boston Common.

This is going to take more pressure than we’ve been able to exercise so far with our limited resources (including time). It’s necessary for your to act, if you are able. Katherine Greeenough has been rallying the Audubon Circle Neighborhood Association, but we need your help.

I would strongly encourage all of you to attend and speak at the meeting, if you can. Furthermore, if you can make time, please consider doing any (or all) of the following:
  • Reach out to your city councilors
  • Write the Globe
  • Contact the BPDA; Tim Czerwienski is the contact, tim.czerwienski@boston.gov
  • Contact Boston Preservation Alliance, Alison Frazee (afrazee@bostonpreservation.org)
  • Contact other local media to bring attention to this story
  • Contact Related Beal
Make noise!

I’ve attached below my grouping of key talking points about this building. Let me know if I can answer any questions or take your suggestions. Thank you so much for your efforts, they shape the city we share.

Appreciatively,

Derek Rubinoff, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB
inquiries@derekrubinoff.com


Important notes re: 541 Commonwealth, “The Westgate”


• Many of the letters of support to the BPDA shown in the Request for Supplemental Information Document are form letters signed by people in communities far away from the square.
• Architect Arthur Vinal
o Was the Boston City Architect from 1884 thru 1887
o Designed this and the Belvoir at 636 Beacon are the two oldest buildings in Kenmore Square
 The 6-storey scale of the Westgate is echoed in the Buckminster Hotel diagonally across.
o Chestnut Hill Pumping station (Boston) and Fisher Hill Gatehouse (Brookline) are both protected by preservation easement and the pumping station is a Boston Landmark
 Fisher Hill won a preservation award in 2017 from the Massachusetts Historical Preservation Commission
o Dennis De Witt wrote a book about the Pumping Station and Vinal’s work
o Back Bay Fire and former Police Station on Boylston St., (formerly ICA, now BAC Annex)
o Dorchester Temple Baptist Church
o Globe Theater, 690 Washington St.
o Ashmont Hill mansions
o Back Bay Houses
o Also designed several significant buildings elsewhere in New England
 Methodist Church; Farmington, ME
 Bangor Opera House; Bangor, ME
 Mt Kineo House Hotel; Moosehead Lake, ME
 Calais Free Library; Calais, ME
 Franklin Buildings; Portsmouth, NH
• Significance of 541 Commonwealth
o The Westgate acts as both a bookend and a gateway to the square, and is identifiably Bostonian, which the proposed replacement is not.
 The character of 541 Commonwealth is particularly significant given the loss of other Victorian buildings for the Hotel Commonwealth
 A bookend to Back Bay architecture, as well as the square and the terminus of the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, one of the most beautiful civic masterpieces in America
 Highly visible to both a local and tourist audience due to its proximity to Fenway Park transit
o An excellent example of Victorian Bostonian multifamily architecture
 Innovative use of copper bays integrated with stone and yellow brick
 Building is beautiful both the scale of the square and the pedestrian
o One of the first multifamily buildings in Boston with an elevator
o Originally residences for important doctors and attorneys
o BAA and Olympic runner Lloyd Hahn was living there as of 1927
• Concerned citizens
o Audubon Circle Neighborhood Association is concerned
 Kathy Greenough and others
o Several other individuals
• Issue of deterioration
o BU, which owned the block from 1987-2016, was required by the Massachusetts Historical Commission to create a preservation plan and to proactively protect significant historical properties
 The 2006 plan recommended NRIND status for 541 Commonwealth Ave.
 MHC recommended a National Register District including this building
 Boston Landmarks Commission historian Roysin Younkin, in a letter, concurred with the MHC and including the Kenmore NRDIS in that recommendation as well.
 The state’s MOA with BU required proper maintenance for the historic properties
• Instead, at 541 Commonwealth, BU left the interior upper floors abandoned. BU’s neglect is the reason for their deterioration.
• Proposal
o Related Beal should find an innovative way to preserve the façade and integrate it into their proposed building.



Derek Rubinoff, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB

It's not the preservationist's fault this wasn't saved. It's on BU, Related, and the City for letting/watching this process happen without legitimately listening to the community that legitimately cared about history, design, and urban life.
 

Rover

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This isn't about Beton who as best as I can tell is doing this on his own time. Where are the well funded groups with lawyers on staff who have the resources we've already seen deployed against other projects?
 

Charlie_mta

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I’ve no affiliation with CLF. I do spend a fair amount of time interacting with the Boston Preservation Alliance. I spend a lot of my discretionary time on community preservation activities in my neighborhood, and advocating for architecturally significant buildings that deserve a second life. If any of this irritates you, perhaps a tube of Preparation H will help.


That’s a less than intellectually honest response. Boston Univesity owned the block, allowed the buildings that have been demolished to decay during their ownership, sold them to Related-Beal, and has agreed to be the anchor tenant in both new buildings.
Beton Brute, I'm happy you're posting more on AB. I've always appreciated your knowledge of architecture and city development issues, your activism, and your articulate posts.
 

nm88

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The buck needs to stop somewhere. We all know where. The city.
 

Beton Brut

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It may be a response that doesn’t fit well with your narrative.
The only "narrative" to be discussed are that facts that I stated above. If you're suggesting that any of the statements I've made are untrue, please correct me.

Recalling a conversation with the Related-Beal project managers who presented at one of the BPDA-sponsored meetings, they brought up Lovejoy Wharf as evidence of their firm's commitment to adaptive reuse and preservation; when I pressed them on why 541 Commonwealth Avenue couldn't receive a similar treatment as part of their broader plan, they admitted that the building's relatively small scale offered them insufficient profit. Well, they'll be making plenty from BU over the next couple of decades, if they decide to keep the chunk of shit they've constructed in their portfolio.

Who can honestly say the self appointed preservationist put more than a minimal effort into this one?
As I recall, several people, some ABers, spoke at each BPDA meeting that I attended. Drubinoff, when he was recognized by the BPDA moderator, presented original research on the building, its architect, and its history prior to BU's incompetent stewardship. Are you defining "minimal effort" based on the fact that none of us engaged an attorney?
Why are parking garages getting more love than stately old apartment buildings?
In this specific case, 541 Commonwealth Avenue fell outside of the Back Bay Historic District, a map that has clearly been gerrymandered by BU.

Beton Brut, I'm happy you're posting more on AB. I've always appreciated your knowledge of architecture and city development issues, your activism, and your articulate posts.
That's very kind of you to say, Charlie - thank you.

This particular project makes me really angry. Angry enough to set aside my disdain for the profit motivations of ArchBoston's owner, and call out the destructive force of profit motivation on historic elements of our built environment.

We often bemoan "someplace becoming anyplace." We've seen this happening again and again in Kenmore Square as long as I've been posting about Boston's built environment - close to 25 years. Related-Beal getting a thumbs-up for their cheap-and-easy profit solution shows very clearly that the City (under the Walsh Administration) didn't care, as long as there were union jobs and an increase in taxable square footage.

I'm neither an economist, nor an accountant, but I've spent the bulk of my career helping organizations with global reach intelligently spend their money. I've learned the differences between PRICE, COST, and VALUE. I believe that private profit and public good are not incompatible concepts. The only public good with this project is retaining the view corridor to an iconic neon sign. If that's a win, I'd like to see what a loss would look like...
 

bigpicture7

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I believe that private profit and public good are not incompatible concepts...
Then along these lines, despite this board owner's profit motive, if you someday become sufficiently convinced of an absence of maliciousness on their part, then I hope you might consider posting more substantively again, because I (along with Charlie and others) really appreciated your posting over the years. It was indeed a form of public good. The site, though going decently these days, is worse in its absence.

The only "narrative" to be discussed are that facts that I stated above.
It's possible that bdurden was also referring to others' comments about BU allowing Kenmore to be gutted like Harvard has with Harvard Square, or my comment upthread about universities wrongly valuing their real estate assets (i.e., not seeing the broader "square" as the real asset).

I maintain my stance, though it was not as "personal" with regard to BU as bdurden may have taken it (i.e., I would accuse most universities of this). Unless I am completely missing something here, BU divested Kenmore Square holdings (and/or century-term leased them or whatever) and cannot simply say "we had nothing to do with this." If BU truly cared about Kenmore as a "place," then they would not have cut deals in this exact manner. In their defense: they have a right to maintain an investment portfolio and extract gains when needed, but Kenmore, as a place, feels discarded lately. It begs the question of whether BU could have extracted gains without as negative of a consequence toward Kenmore: and this is a legitimate question, given the outcome, regardless of how innocent BU's intentions were with these transactions. Kenmore being more vibrant = better for BU. I've been around long enough to have seen a transition between Kenmore being a grand "front door" to BU (however rough around the edges) versus what it feels like recently/now. Yes, that "grand front door" value is less tangible, but it's no less real...imagine, for instance, BU building (and leasing for financial gains) a start-up incubator in the heart of Kenmore: that would be one example of the vibrancy translating directly to BU's benefit. But the issue is that most universities' investment handlings are too separate (and measured by too separate of metrics) from their goals as an academic institution or as a community citizen.
 
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Randomgear

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You know things are truly lost when the architect uses the Alucobond to look like precast concrete. Hard to believe that it looks even worse than that godawful perfectly uniform smooth brick just around the corner.
 

RandomWalk

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Two finely detailed facades bookending it. It doesn’t stand a chance.
 

Charlie_mta

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^ Would be appropriate for a Motel 6. It is an absolute atrocity that the original facade and building are being replaced with that rubbish. Looks like flattened corrugated metal sheets,
 

RandomWalk

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It’s LEGOs. The owner loves them and wanted to demonstrate their idea to the architect with them.
 

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