By Beth Treffeisen
Major renovations including a winter ice rink, food hall, and improvements to the outdoor park space are coming soon to the Landmark Center (Sears Building) in the Fenway.
At the February meeting, Boston Landmarks Commission approved landscaping and public realm improvements including approved interior and exterior building modifications that include installation of new windows, steel surrounds and canopies.
This is a follow-up meeting from 2013 according to the applicant Samuels and Associates. This is Phase I of II that will focus on connecting the re-activation of the inside of the building to the outside.
“It has become the social heart of the Fenway when there’s not a Red Sox Game,” said architect David Manfredi. “It serves as the front door to the Muddy River and the Emerald Necklace and this is real-estate we can control now.”
There will be an increase to the open space by converting the now Best Buy surface parking lot to a 1.1-acre of open space along Park Drive. It will include improvements of streetscapes of generous sidewalks, new lighting and street trees.
The now surface parking lot and otherwise empty bottom floor of the building will be transformed to include a unique food hall on the first floor, a winter skating rink that turns into a park during the warmer months, event space for performances, and other active uses such as farmers markets.
In addition, Samuels & Associates will provide improved pedestrian connectivity between the MBTA station and the Fenway district by reconstructing pathways to the MBTA station and avoiding car-pedestrian conflicts within the property boundaries.
The unattractive parking equipment and cashier booths will be removed from the front of the building.
Improvements to the building itself include installing new aluminum storefronts within the existing masonry openings on the south and east elevations to create outdoor entrances to the food hall businesses. By having the doors that will swing open and closed from the outside, it will help create a bigger presence for the future vendors.
All attachments will not be made on the face of the brick or the concrete that will allow for later removal if needed.
“It mirrors the building that we want to be more porous and open,” said Mandredi.
The Landmark Center building was construct in 1928 as a distribution center and warehouse for Sears. It was later renovated into a retail and office complex in the late 1990’s by the Abbey Group.
In 2011, the Landmark Center Ventures LLC, an affiliate of Samuels & Associates acquired the Landmark Center from the Abbey Group.
The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Currently the building sits on a 383,079 square foot parcel that includes about 952,000 square feet of office and retail space, a parking garage and surface parking spaces with loading and service areas.
One proposal, to move the Landmarks Center stone down a few feet from its current location above the front entrance was not passed by the Commission.
“I like the original placement of the slab because it’s higher,” said Commissioner Brad Walker. “People can see it better. In the lower location the canopies of the trees sort of cover it up.”
Manfredi said that they wanted to move it in order to open up the entire second floor and allow more sunlight in. In addition, he said, it is not original to the building.
“By moving it down it would take away the grandeur of it,” said Walker. Without a real structural reason to move it Walker said from a Landmarks position he believes they should leave it alone.
The Commission asked that Samuels & Associates come back with more detailed plans of the pavilions that will accompany the outdoor seating area and winter ice rink.
Walker said, “Everything else is really exciting.”