South End Landmarks Denies Removal of Window Traceries on Immaculate Conception Church

After years of complications and setbacks, the owners of 771 Harrison Ave., the former Immaculate Conception Church in the South End, asked to remove the historical wood traceries from the arched windows in a last-ditch effort to allow more light into the converted residential units to no avail.

At the South End Landmarks Commission District hearing on Tuesday, March 6, the Commission denied without prejudice the request to remove traceries – delicate branching patterns of ornamental nature – from the side windows of the Church.

“When this first came to us, we had to fight off a lot of community members who did not want to see this project go ahead,” said Chair John Amodeo. “We did that with the promise that you would be keeping a lot of the historical elements. We already had a discussion on the tracery and how it is an important part of the building, and I wouldn’t advise it to be removed.”

The developers are at a point were they are beginning to look at programming the interior space and noticed how the tracery impacted the light in the condos. A study showed that the tracery reduced the light in the unit by 33 percent. Due to the unique layout of the units, the tracery window is the only window in the apartment providing light.

“We know we spend a lot of time on the traceries and talked about the historical process,” said Marc LaCasse, the developer’s attorney. “But the major issue is the light and the lack of it and the issue of being able to market it.”

The owner Ronald Simons said, “I wake up at night in a deep sweat thinking it’s going to be an unsuccessful building. If these units don’t sell, I will go broke. It’s really, very little light.”

Commissioner John Freeman said this is a very unique project in the South End, and he believes the tracery will probably add even more value to the units.

“I think in a couple of years from now we will see pictures of the tracery in the window in a design magazine,” said Freeman. “People will buy these units because of the uniqueness of it.”

The last time 771 Harrison Ave. came before the Commission was in October 2017, when they discussed landscaping plans and replacing the energy generator.

Since the last meeting the owners found a spot on the roof of the Link Building next door, which will not be visible from the street and blocked by a sound barrier.

In addition, the developers have filed a notice of project change with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) to convert the 63 rental units to 63 condominiums that will be sold for ownership.

After listening to community feedback, the owner thought it would be better to have condos upon learning that there is a need for condominiums and not more rentals in the area.

For about a year, construction has been going on in the basement to prepare the steel columns to support the floor plans for the condos. Most of the demolition and construction has been happening on the inside, because they will be preserving the majority of the outside.

The Church has been decommissioned of religious artifacts on the outside.

“We’ve seen developments come and go during our time here,” said Amodeo. “We’ve seen these units be swept up; these will go too.”

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