BCDC and South End Landmark Commission Hear Latest Hotel Alexandra Proposal

The Boston Civic Design Commission (BCDC) and the South End Landmark District Commission met on a snowy Tuesday evening for another presentation regarding the Alexandra Hotel. Due to the inclement weather, none of the South End Landmarks commissioners were able to make it, so staff preservationist Nick Armata provided some of their feedback.

The proponents of this project have not officially filed anything with the South End Landmark District Commission yet, as they are waiting on approval from the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA).

At the hearing in January, both commissions were especially concerned about the depth of the setback on the Washington Street facade of the proposed tower, as they generally felt it was too shallow. The originally proposed setback was 6 feet 8 inches, and now it is around 10 feet.

The hotel is now 13 floors instead of 12 to accommodate this increase in setback, according to architect David Nagahiro. The mechanical equipment will sit on the roof of the tower.

Nagahiro also discussed the possibility of a mural on the west facade of the proposed tower. Nagahiro said that he recognizes that murals are not allowed as per the Landmarks Commission, but “the client would like to try,” as they are very interested in something that would incorporate art into the building—even if it is something like a temporary scrim.

Nagahiro also talked about extending the sidewalk out on Washington Street, which BCDC Commissioner Linda Easley said was “great.”

“I love the idea of the outdoor seating,” she added. Nagahiro said that the fencing around the patio area would be seasonal and could consist of planters or something of the like.

Right now, the western side of the building is covered in brick that was meant for a party wall with a neighboring building, so there have been talks of what material that corner should be wrapped in. The Ivory Bean Building directly abutted the Hotel Alexandra until it fell a few years ago, exposing the party wall brick on the western facade of the building.

Armata and the South End Landmarks Commission said that the historic look should be preserved and “give it the impression that while it’s the same building,” it should look slightly different.

Eastley said that “whatever you do is not going to be original because you have to weatherproof it. If you’re going to be replacing it, the original brick was not meant to be viewed this way,” she said.

Armata said that the South End Landmarks Commission is “flexible on this element,” but its “intentions are to leave it the way it was historically.”

BCDC Commissioner David Manfredi agreed that the material should be brick for this area.

Armata said that the South End Landmark Commission is “feeling better about [this new proposal]” but there is still hesitation for “allowing a tower in the historic district.” He said the Commission is concerned more about the massing and not necessarily about adding the extra tower.

“The more we can make this building (the new tower) look like a separate building, the better that will be perceived upon by the Commission,” Armata said. He wants the portion of the tower that sits right next to the historical building to have a different tone or a change in the metal. “I don’t think it has to be a completely different facade,” he said, but he wants to “see something for options.”

“I feel much better about what you’re showing tonight versus last time,” Manfredi told the design team.

Armata said that the South End Landmark District Commission could “provide as many advisory reviews as necessary.” He said they still need to receive an application and then go through the design review process with the Commission for approval, but they have to be approved by the BPDA first, he said.

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