By Beth Treffeisen
In a series of modifications, the hostel at 40 Berkeley St. in the South End is in the midst of some serious renovations, but a playful idea to add a walk up window in a brick wall – which is unseen in the South End – is what got the South End Landmarks Commission (SELC) attention.
After initial shock, the SELC granted the hostel permission to put in a walk in window near the entrance doorway as part of the famed curved brick wall that surrounds a hidden courtyard.
The trick is that when closed, the opening will be camouflaged in by a brick façade, but when it is open for business, a menu will appear on the backside of the window, welcoming customers.
“We would love to have a small café here,” said David Snell, the architect behind the project. “The walk-up window is a way to activate the space and engage the community.”
He added, “But we wanted to ask your permission first, because we knew cutting a brick wall probably wouldn’t be ok…we wanted to do something respectful to the building but at the same time have fun.”
Commissioner John Freeman said that this building is definitely a contributing building even if it wasn’t built in the Victoria era.
“The walk up window is definitely something we wouldn’t allow in a Victorian building,” said Freeman. “I think it’s kind of fun.”
Commissioner Catherine Hunt added, “I think it’s really fun.”
Hunt said that the entry is so far back away from the street that the walk-up window will bring everything out to the public. She said, “I think it is a good idea.”
The building itself is located in the historic district but is not landmarked because it was built at a later time.
Other modifications that the architects from Mount Vernon Company asked permission for included adding a new louver in existing opening on Grey Street, putting in a new window above an egress door on Grey Street, installing new refurbished doors and adding exterior lighting in various locations.
In an effort to make the building appear in a more grey tone, the architects asked for permission to paint the underside of the exterior “fins” that are underneath the windows a dark blue, but the commission preferred it remained the pink, peach color it is today.
“I don’t know if we ever determined if this is a contributing building or not, but I think its an important building,” said Commissioner Peter Sanborn. “The color [peach], which is not what everyone prefers, makes it distinctive and warm.”
Hunt agreed saying that the dark color proposed seemed “foreboding.”
The application was approved with provisions that the architects submit more detail about walk up window and Hunt joked, “They let us know when the walk-up window opens.”