Historic Gateway Stalls the Last Piece of the Christian Science Plaza Renovation

By Beth Treffeisen

A historic 1934 gateway that served as the original entranceway into the Publishing House of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, has stalled the last piece of the plaza restoration and repair project.

At a Boston Landmarks Commission meeting held on Tuesday, May 23, the Commission denied without prejudice the application to wall in the Massachusetts Avenue Garden and remove the gateway.

The gateway once served as the only entranceway into the garden that sat behind a 14-foot-high wall, to create a secluded area for those who worked in the publishing house.

During a “wall-breaking” ceremony in February 2001, as part of the Mary Baker Eddy Library renovation, significant portions of the wall were removed to make the Library accessible and welcoming to the public.

But now, the entrance for the library sits to the right of the gateway, causing a dissonance between the two entry points.

Scott Preller from Christian Science remembered that there was once a beautiful sunken garden behind the wall where he often ate lunch. But he said that went away when the wall was taken down.

“We were really trying to make it welcoming and engaging place but this is an area that doesn’t provide a working place,” said Preller. “It is a quiet and thoughtful place but it also serves as an entrance to the library – it’s at most just a bus stop.”

Robin Hoagland of Christian Science said that the library wants to have a wall in order to have an enclosed space for children activities and to block the sound of the busy street. The wall will be glass to keep the visibility and make it welcoming for anyone to use.

In order to make the space they envision it includes taking down the gateway that left alone sticks out almost as a relic.

“When you were here last our biggest request was to see moving the gateway in the corner and this plan doesn’t have any design,” said Commissioner David Beraducci. “You are violating guidelines by taking away that arch.”

Commissioner Richard Yeager was upset to hear that there is no thought of salvaging the arch by moving it over or relocating it.

Commissioner Brad Walker understands why the designer would like to remove it.

“To me it is already removed from the context of an entrance way and it makes me feel a bit squeamish – it looks like a relic,” said Walker. “But you are stripping away any reminisce of that previous history.”

Preller said that the archway doesn’t align with the entrance to the library and caused issues when they looked at the re-design and had concerns of filling in the archway with a glass wall.

“It doesn’t feel like you had a design by filling it in because it wasn’t working,” said Preller.

Hoagland added that it is not the real entrance to the plaza itself and is a much more quiet entrance to the area.

“By having the arch there that would disproportionately emphasis it,” said Hoagland.

The Commissioners made it clear that they liked every other aspect of the proposed design but couldn’t budge on removing the archway.

Preller said that if the archway cannot be removed they might not spend the money at all to do any of the renovations if the space is going to continue to not to work.

“This is a big request that you are asking us to go along with,” said Beraducci.

Yeager said, “You are saying that leaving the arch there is going to prohibit this space but I don’t think so. It shows the history, past and relevance.”

Beraducci said that he cannot say yes to the removal of the arch until he is sure there is no other situation that incorporates it.

“It is really unfortunate you didn’t have designs of other situations,” said Beraducci. “If we decide to go along with it would feel like there is no other alternative.”

The Commission denied without prejudice to allow Christian Science to come back with a new design that incorporates the archway.

Another site visit will be scheduled between the Commissioners and the designers in the upcoming future.

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