By Beth Treffeisen
Known as an affordable hostel with hotel amenities in the heart of downtown Boston, 40 Berkeley is in the midst of some major renovations that will add a restaurant and open up the currently underutilized hidden courtyard.
At last week’s South End Landmarks Commission (SELC) meeting, the architects behind the renovations proposed replacing all the windows and storefront systems along with one section of a storefront with new entry doors.
The proposal also called for a new opening in the famous curved brick wall, which currently encloses the courtyard. The proposed gateway will lead to a new entry to the building that will host a new restaurant.
“Right now the courtyard is currently very underutilized by the people housed in the building,” said Erika DeRoche one of the architects behind the renovations. “We would like to open it up to the neighborhood and the community.”
A new entranceway that they are proposing will lead patrons through the courtyard in order to get to the new restaurant. It is still up in the air on who the tenants will be.
“We want to open up the space but at the same time be respectful to the neighbors,” said DeRoche.
The building was built in 1884 as one of the country’s first YWCA and residence providing safe and respectable housing for young women coming to Boston to work and study. Changes to the building have been minimal since then.
This proposal was originally brought in front of SELC Commission this past September.
There, David Snell one of the architects behind the renovations got approval for new rooftop mechanicals for extensive HVAC upgrades in order to install air conditioning and to re-build the courtyard wall that was in severe conditions.
At the September hearing, the Commission asked for them to return with mock-ups of the wall as to what the new gate will look like.
At this past week’s meeting Commissioner Peter Sanborn expressed concern about the wall being punched into but not with the proposed gate.
“Ideally I wouldn’t want to see it punched at all but that’s a strong line between the entrance of the restaurant and the wall opening,” said Sanborn. “Is it possible to have access to the restaurant through the hotel lobby so to not interrupt the wall at all?”
Commissioner Catherine Hunt disagreed.
“But isn’t it nice to have a separate entrance instead of having to go through the building,” said Hunt. “It brings life and energy to the street as opposed to a foreboding wall.”
In addition there was concern over the vestibule that will be housed over the new entranceway. The Commission asked that they return with more detail and make it have as minimum a presence as possible.
Commissioner John Freeman also brought up how a future tenant will also like signage on the wall and asked that they return with some designs.
The window replacements, which are typically unfeasible for this neighborhood, the Commission decided that they will allow it due to the out of era architecture of the building.
In the end the Commission voted with a 2-1 decision with Sanborn abstaining to accept the portion of the application to replace the windows and to approve the opening of the gate. They asked that they return with more details of the vestibule.