BBAC Approves Signage Plan for Newbury Hotel, Denies PNC Bank Facade on Boylston St.

The Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC) held their monthly meeting on November 13, where they discussed a signage plan for the hotel at 1 Newbury St. (formerly 15 Arlington St.), among other things.

The hotel at 1 Newbury St., formerly known as the Taj Hotel, is being rebranded as The Newbury. Alfred Wojciechowski of CBT Architects went through the signage plan, saying that they plan on adding a series of monographs along the planter walls, as well as cast bronze plaques that have the letter “N” on them for the new hotel branding that would be recessed in each of the planters at the entry points, Wojciechowski said.

The address plaque will be an 8.5 by 13 inch gold plaque with the hotel name etched into it. The Arlington St. side of the hotel will have a “Leading Hotels of the World” plaque as part of the business connection for the hotel. While the Newbury will be an independent hotel, it is part of the Leading Hotels of the World brand. BBAC Commissioner John Christiansen said he doesn’t think this is the right spot for this plaque, as it may be misleading.

Wojciechowski also said there would be “simple silkscreening” on the windows, all of which are transparent glass.

In addition to the branding signage, the existing signage in the alley that describes rules and regulations for deliveries will be replaced, Wojciechowski said. The proposal is to replace the sign with a newly branded five by five and a half foot sign. The sign includes specific items and information that was selected to be publicly displayed in the alley, as there have been several concerns regarding the alley behind the hotel and issues with delivery in the past. The sign will be black metal with applied letters, Wojciechowski added.

“The alley is contentious with the neighbors,” said Commissioner Robert Weintraub. “They did come to an agreement and the rules are displayed on that sign.” It was suggested that the sign’s position be lowered so it is in line with the adjacent door. There will also be a “No Smoking Within 20 Feet” sign in the alley as well.

Mike Scanlon of Emmanuel Church, a nearby neighbor, said he is “100 percent behind this. I think it’s a great improvement for our block.”

The BBAC voted to approve the signage plan as presented with the proviso that the sign be dropped to line up with the doorway.

103-105 Newbury St.

At 103-105 Newbury St., home of Simon Pearce glassware, Derek Rubinoff of Rubinoff Architects presented proposal for the installation of a patio and dining area in front of the property to “make some better use of the existing concrete plaza,” he said.

The issue with this property is the fairly steep slope that currently exists on the concrete, which does not make it conducive to putting tables and chairs out for eating and drinking.

Rubinoff proposed a curb that is close to the color of the existing concrete with a black iron fence, and to build a raised area to put 18 seats. The propose was to have the curb be six inches above the concrete pad and the patio to be 1 foot 6 inches up from the present street in order to level it out enough to put tables and chairs.

BBAC member Jerome CooperKing said that Parish Cafe on Boylston Street has a similar patio design, which he described as “awkward.” He suggested that the edge be softened with some planters.

The Commission as a whole seemed concerned that the patio is elevated off the street and other patios on the street are at grade.

Sue Prindle of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay said she was “very pleased” with the Commission’s concern about the height of the patio.

There was also discussion about proposed window signage for the cafe area. Several designs were shown, and the Commission preferred the one where the letters were smaller and the name of the cafe—Revival Cafe + Kitchen—sat higher up in the window. Rubinoff said the sign would be placed inside the location and would be finished on both sides.

The BBAC decided to approve the patio with the provisos that details will go to staff about adjusting the grade for the patio (slope it as much as possible down towards the sidewalk), the curb be kept as detailed in the design, and planters will be placed around the patio with all finishes and details also worked out with staff. Additionally, they approved the sign in concept but details will be worked out with staff to create a sign that is more fitting for the space.

731 Boylston St.

The former Pizzeria Uno at 731 Boylston St. will become home to the Boston flagship location of PNC Bank.

As one of the first branches in the Boston area, PNC Bank is “very excited” about this location, according to a representative for the bank who presented the proposal. He proposed a “full facade rehabilitation at the street level,” removing the stained wood from Pizzeria Uno, but retaining the main entrance to the building. He proposed recladding the building in a fiber cement product in charcoal gray and white. The existing precise of the building will remain in the center, he added.

Additionally, the representative proposed new awnings that are raised up from current awnings for more light and visibility into the branch. The existing patio is expected to remain, he said, but be refinished. He said that PNC hopes to use the space to conduct more informal business with clients, but the BBAC didn’t seem to think this was a good idea. CooperKking said that without the seating, the bank would be “a little more approachable” from the outside.

“As a new brand opportunity in the city, this is an opportunity to set yourself apart,” said BBAC Chair Kathleen Connor. “It lacks a sophistication,” she added. “You can do so much more.”

While Jerome CooperKing and many other commissioners agreed that the proposed design was “better than what’s there now,” they agreed that more time spent on a design that fits better with the fabric of the area would be beneficial. “I think we’d like you to come back,” CooperKing said. “Take a look at what’s on the block,” he told the representative. 

Several commissioners were also concerned about the stark white fiber cement against the existing precast—they were worried it might make the precast look dirty because it would be nearly impossible to match the colors exactly. The representative said that the dark over white colors are a part of the brand identity.

“It’s such an important brand and piece of the block,” Connor said. “We would appreciate you coming back with an elevated presentation that still represents the brand.”

“It would look better if you had the dark gray going all the way down,” Christiansen said. The current proposal calls for a charcoal gray strip across the top with  the logo on top of it, and then white underneath it going down to the sidewalk level. “You should design a whole new storefront,” he added.

The BBAC agreed to deny this proposal without prejudice, meaning the applicant can return with a different proposal. They want the applicant to come back with a “more integral design that makes it feel like the bank has more presence on the street.”

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