BLC Votes Against Imposing Demo Delay on Historic Huntington Avenue Building

July 27, 2018
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At a hearing on Tuesday night, The Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) voted not to impose a 90-day demolition delay for the buildings at 252-254 and 256-258 on Fenway’s Huntington Avenue – buildings that are next to the Huntington Theatre.

That came only after they had seriously considered instituting the delay, but were swayed to waive that decision later in the meeting.

As per the Article 85 Demolition Delay process, a community meeting was held on July 9 at the YMCA on Huntington Avenue and the proper documentation was submitted to fulfill that portion of the process, according to Todd Satter of the BLC.

The demolition delay application was filed in December 2017. Community member Alison Pultinas said that she submitted comments back in the first week of January, but she was not notified about this recent community meeting.

“I just feel like that seven month gap is unfortunate,” she said. “It wasn’t productive for anyone.”

She also said that “because this was a major Article 80 project, there was an Impact Advisory Group appointed and those members were not notified of the meeting.”

She said she would like to see more of a schedule and more notification going forward with the process.

Satter said that they have a timeline where a hearing has to be offered within 30 or 40 days, but it can be deferred for a length of time.

The building at 252-254 Huntington Ave. is a three-story building with a stone facade that has been used as rehearsal space for the Huntington Theatre Company. Prior to acquisition by Boston University in the 1980s, the space was originally intended for use as retail space with storage above, but was later used as a nightclub, a public ballroom, and a cinema.

The building at 256-258 Huntington Ave. was designed by architect Richard Thomas Short around 1915. It has a limestone facade, and was used as a postal annex from the late 1910s through the 1920s, and after as part of the Child’s restaurant chain.

John Matteson, applicant and owner of these buildings, said that this project went through a “full-blown public community process,” and the developers met with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the YMCA, Northeastern, and the New England Conservatory. He said that these meetings were well attended by the community.

Satter said that the staff has determined that the buildings proposed for demolition are significant and finding that the “building is one whose loss would have a significant negative impact on the historical or architectural integrity or urban design character of the neighborhood.”

Pultinas said that R. Thomas Short was a famous New York City architect, and she did a lot of research on him, including speaking with his granddaughter.

She also had a few mitigation suggestions should the building be demolished.

Pultinas said that because the inventory form that is filed with BLC does not list the architect for 256-258 Huntington Ave.,  “I feel like it’s incumbent for the developers to at least commission a new inventory form before the building’s torn down with the accurate information.”

She said that information about R. Thomas Short should go in that form.

“I think it’s very important to think about this corner of the city, Mass. Ave. and Huntington Avenue, as a dynamic cultural center for entertainment because of what’s there now but also what we have lost,” she said.

She also said that historic photographs of the original buildings should go somewhere in the lobby of the new building to acknowledge the rich history of the arts and entertainment in that area.

After hearing the historical significance, the Commission voted to impose the 90-day demolition delay. They then heard the proposal from the developers, after which they could choose to waive the decision to delay if they so chose.

B.K. Boley from Stantec Architecture went over the proposal for the new building, which had been previously presented to the community. Boley said that the overall idea for the new building is to reposition the Huntington Theatre with a new, modern, transparent entrance. The theatre itself would take up almost the entire second floor of the building—about 14,000 square-feet worth of space.

The facade of the new building is pushed back to allow for deeper sidewalks, and the parking garage would have a smaller footprint. The building would have around 400 units of housing.

“The inspiration for the overall project design came from Greek drama masks, so we wanted very sculptural forms because, as was mentioned, this is the beginning of the Avenue of the Arts and it is the performance section of the Avenue of the Arts.” Boley said.

“I don’t think it works to incorporate the facade,” said Commissioner John Freeman. “It’s a nice facade and it’s preferably preserved, but I think it doesn’t work in this context and to me it’s clearly not feasible.”

Smiledge said that the commission should consider waiving the delay in exchange for mitigation and an updated inventory form, which would include Pultinas’ images and research about the architect and an interpretation in the lobby or some other publicly visible area that would explore the historical importance and uses of the buildings and others in the area that are significant and have already been torn down.

The developer agreed that this was a reasonable request.

In the end, the Commission voted to waive the demolition delay that they had agreed upon earlier in the hearing, as the original facades of these buildings would not work well with the newly proposed building.

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