South End Landmarks Commission Strikes Down Frog Decoration Again

After acquiring the vacant drug store at 610 Tremont St. in the South End, the Bradley Housing Partnership, an affordable housing development, hopes to transform the empty storefront into a bakery and cafe called Mallorca. In order to pay homage to their immigrant past, the owners wanted to acknowledge their Puerto Rican heritage through a mosaic tile panel and place the date of when Hurricane Maria struck the island on the outside of their store.

But despite public support from neighborhood residents and the Mayor’s Office, the South End Landmarks District Commission (SELDC) said no to the external decorations.

“The frogs are back!” said Commissioner Catherine Hunt.

Plans to introduce the coqui frog, which is endemic to Puerto Rico, came up as a decorative addition in a form of a pilaster or a ornamental rectangular column projecting from a wall. The frog motif would be carved into the top rectangle section of the column.

The Bradley Housing Partnership, (Bradley Properties), is a 71-unit housing development in Boston’s South End, that strives to provide equitable and fair housing for all of the city’s residents.

This isn’t the first time the architect Joshua Rose-wood on behalf of the Bradley Housing Partnership came in front of the Commission to ask for a special decoration that represents the Puerto Rican community.

In September 2016, he asked the Commission to install a decorative frog motif with a rotating pattern on a fence at 612 – 626 Tremont St. The commission approved the fence but not the scroll work, because of worries they would be setting a precedent in allowing individual discretion.

“We have to be consistent,” said Hunt. “The elements on the outside with the frog and date all have to be denied.”

Chair John Amodeo agreed, saying if allowed, they would be going down a slippery slope.

The 610 Tremont St. application includes renovating the facade of the storefront including new windows, entry door, new signage, new accessible side entry at existing opening and new exterior finishes.

The building was built in 1898, but the storefront addition was added sometime in the 1950s and is not original.

The Commission asked that the “M” sitting taller than other signage be lowered, stating it would block architecture.

“A lot of restaurants want something big there, and we’ve had to say no,” said Amodeo. “There’s no Citgo sign in the South End.”

Rose-wood said original plans included having a mosaic tile mural outside the cafe, but after initial talks with Commission staff, he took it down to one decorative panel and etching of the date of Hurricane Maria on the side of the building.

The Commission said usually dates on buildings are reserved for when they are constructed and not to remember a particular moment in history. They suggested taking the mural and date and placing it on the inside of the store, that way if the storefront were to change hands it wouldn’t be permanent to the outside.

“Over time, the use of the building could change, and it may not wish to have these components,” said Amodeo. “If you put it on the inside, you can go back to what your originally planned with the mosaics.”

Rose-wood argued that part of history is how things are embedded over time with the different occupations. But Amodeo said, “We have to stick with the guidelines with every application that comes before us.”

The Commission voted to approve the application with the provisos that the decorative items are not added, and the “M” on the corner signage be moved down. In addition, the applicant will have to return once signage is decided on for final approval.

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