SELDC Provides Feedback on Proposals for Ebenezer Baptist Church; Tent for Outdoor Seating at Atelier 505

The South End Landmark District Commission (SELDC) met virtually on July 6, where members discussed two projects under advisory review, which allows project proponents to get feedback from the Commission before formally submitting an application for a vote.

The first project was at 157 West Springfield St. to redevelop the former Ebenezer Baptist Church into residential housing, and the second was at 505 Tremont St. to build a non-permanent addition on the Berkeley St. side for four season dining.

157 West Srpingfield St.

Architect Mike DellaFave presented the proposal for the Ebenezer Church, saying that the architecture team had done a lot of research into the history of the building when working on the design for the new proposal.

He said that the church was built in 1860 for the Third Presbyterian Church, and eventually “taken over by the Ebenezer Baptist Church.” The building was designed by N.J. Bradlee, a “notable architect in the South End,” according to SELDC Chair John Amodeo.

The church had become a location for civil rights rallies, and is now a Black Heritage site. He said the team is “very conscious of that history,” and they “want to create a place that is respectful of that.”

The church is currently vacant, and features an asphalt roof, chain link fence, empty gardens, and stucco infill above the red front doors.

DellaFave said that the team wants to bring the door on Ward Way down to grade and use that as the residential entrance, which would also help their goal of having more foot traffic on Ward Way and “allows us to get handicapped accessibility into the building for future residences,” he added.

The current doors on the building are not original, but he said that at community meetings the team learned that the “community was very interested in drawing attention to the front of the building,” so “our idea is to be inspired by those original doors” but make the new ones more glassy to let in more light to the amenity space.

“We’ve chosen not to paint them red,” he added, saying that red signifies a “sacred space” which this building will no longer be. The existing stained glass windows will be moving with the Ebenezer Baptist Church as part of the purchase and sales agreement.

The team also proposed a window concept that is based off of the stained glass windows.

Additionally, DellaFave said that the team wants to create a new entry canopy on Ward Way as well as create a sidewalk on that side of the building.

He then talked about the roof addition, which will help bring some light into the residential units, as the existing brick church does not offer many windows. The mechanical equipment will be located in a “depressed area in the center of the roof,” and as of right now, will be “completely contained and not visible,” he said.

Potential materials for the roof include green slate tiles or copper, and then the sides of the addition would feature “rich wood” and glassy windows. The brick work on the existing building will be restored.

Commissioner John Freeman asked the team why they chose wood for the side of the addition.

“We were originally thinking of metal,” DellaFave said. “We actually had a much glassier facade at one point in our process,” but he said that other materials “…felt too institutional,” and when researching other churches, they “felt wood would be a good match here.”

He said that there are four units on the upper floor, so that’s why there are four dormers. He said that the team “felt the project should be kind of roof-like.”

The Commission and the team also discussed whether or not Ward Way was a public way, but the answer is not definitive at this time. The Commission requested that this information be found out before the team comes back, as it will determine what is and isn’t within the purview of the Commission on that side of the building.

Overall, Commissioners seemed pleased with this proposal, and offered some comments and suggestions for the team as they prepare to submit a formal application.

Commissioner John Freeman said he would like to see more information on the garden areas as they are a “very important part of the South End vocabulary.” He also had some concerns with the design of the canopy.

“In terms of the addition, I think it’s great,” Freeman said. He continued, “my focus is mainly on this south side and how it works,” including the “canopy at the lower level and how the addition interacts or not with the south wall of the existing building.” He also said that the windows replacing the stained glass “need more development.”

Commissioner John Amodeo said that he is typically “apprehensive” about additions on historic buildings, as “adding floors to a historic building is tricky business.”

However, he said he believes the addition proposed for this building is “clever,” and it “breaks down the massing. It doesn’t look like a huge box added to what was a pitched roof building.”

Commissioner David Shepperd also said that the “roof line is very interesting,” and wanted some more of the heavier details present in South End buildings, but “overall, I think very, very good,” he said of the proposal.

Amodeo did say that the design needs a little more development to make it have more South End character. He added that he likes the proposed doors, but cautioned the team to ensure that they have depth and detail.

He also liked the concept of restoring the gardens, and thinks that using Ward Way as the accessible entrance is a good idea, so there doesn’t have to be vast changes to the front of the building.

“Have as much context as possible when you come back,” Amodeo advised. The team thanked the Commissioners for their comments.

505 Tremont Street

At 505 Tremont St, home to the Atelier 505 condominium building, architect Tim Love proposed a non-permanent addition to the building on the Berkeley St. side for seating for the Life Alive Cafe.

“It’s a four season tent,” he said of what was being proposed, and would not be permanently attached to the building.

Although the proposed tent would be permanent for as long as Life Alive rents the space at the building, “it is not imagined to be a permanent part of the building,” Love said.

He added that the proposed tent does not “penetrate the plaza,” but rather would utilize “cast concrete shoes with planters” as well as a flashing strip that will keep water out and be attached to the mortar of the building.

The roof would be made of canvas, and the sides would be made of clear vinyl that could be rolled out of the way three out of the four seasons.

“The tent itself will be a different darker blue than the existing lighter blue on the rest of Atelier 505,” Love said.

He proposed “branding and lettering” for the side of the tent as well.

The tent will provide more seating for the cafe year-round, as heaters will be installed for use during the winter. He said that Down Under Yoga is also partnering with Life Alive Cafe, and this tent will provide access to one of the yoga studios as well as the cafe.

“This is going to be open air as much as it can,” Love said. “Only with inclement weather or extremely cold weather would the enclosures come out.”

Commissioner John Freeman had some concerns about the material for the windows, as he said he has seen this type of window get foggy before.

Keith Pascal, one of the owners of Life Alive Cafe, said that they are made of vinyl, and while they are “not quite as translucent as glass,” they are “completely clear” and “non-frosted.”

Love added that the panels on the side are proposed to be made of wood.

“Why didn’t you consider a more permanent architectural addition?” Freeman asked.

“This is a tenant funded addition,” Love said, and is “not part of the base of the building. It also complicates then issues of heating and code and things like that too.”

Commissioner David Shepperd said, “I think, overall, I don’t have a problem with any of it. I would just maybe caution about the exterior being wood.” He added that “it’s tricky because it’s impermanent yet permanent…Overall, I think having an enclosed space and exterior seating” is “probably something we need more of in the neighborhood.”

Love agreed that wood might not be the best material if this structure is to remain for several years.

Commissioners John Freeman and John Amodeo had a slightly different opinion of the proposal.

“I’m struggling with this,” Freeman said. He said it was “worrying” to him how many years the structure could possibly remain up for.

“I think from the viewpoint of the Commission, we kind of have to think about this as a permanent structure,” he said, adding that “I can’t get past the feeling of that wedding tent vinyl” and reiterating his concerns for the appearance of it as it is rolled and unrolled repeatedly.

“Canvas would not be the appropriate structure for the roof,” he added. “What I like about it is the energy that it would bring to the corner,” he said of the proposal.

“Like Commissioner Freeman, I’m struggling with this,” Amodeo said. He said he would “struggle with it less” if the structure being proposed was permanent with more permanent materials.

“This feels to me that it’s neither one or the other,” he said, adding that it does not feel “permanent” or “temporary. It puts it in a gray area for us.”

Love said that he and the design team have also struggled with this notion. “This is also caught up in the question of post-COVID outdoor dining and how permanent some of those installations are going to be moving forward.”

He said that it’s a “requirement from the landlord” that anything installed be able to be removed easily. “Maybe this is conceptually impossible,” he said.

“It might be,” Amodeo said, “but that would be for you to determine. You’ve laid out some constraints that may present a Catch-22 to to you or your client.”

Commissioner David Shepperd added that it “would be more approvable if this was just awnings,” but Amodeo said that awnings would not provide the “four season protection” that the applicant desires.

There was some more discussion over what would or wouldn’t be approved by the Commission based on how temporary the structure is, but Amodeo said that “…the best advice we can give you right now” is “not to submit an application next, but to come back with another advisory. There are just too many variables here that are unresolved.”

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