BBAC Hears Advisory Review for Addition and Roof Terrace at 37 Newbury Street

The Back Bay Architectural Commission heard an advisory review on April 13 for an addition and a terrace on the existing building at 37 Newbury St., which is currently home to LensCrafters on the ground floor.

The architect who presented said that the existing building was built around 1980, and is “not a typical configuration or iteration” for a Newbury St. building. She said the building was “pur-pose-built” for Knoll, an office furniture store, which occupied the basement, first, second, and third floors for its showroom. The three floors on top were “single or multi-tenant.”

She said that today, the top three floors are home to single floor tenants, while LensCrafters occupies the first and second floors and parts of the basement.

She explained that the retail tenant feels it is difficult to people to know about the retail space when walking up Newbury St. towards the Public Garden. She also said that the architects were tasked with looking at the retail entrance, because currently, the only way to get into LensCrafters is to enter through the vestibule for the building. They also want a more easily discernible address on the building and an “option to do some sort of roof terrace.”

The ground floor of the building has a distinct curved shape, which she said the team “wanted to respect,” as it is “very characteristic” of the building’s original architects.

“Our proposal at this point in time is to actually take this volume and add another story to it,” she said.

The proposal also includes a door right into the first floor retail space from the sidewalk, but the vestibule entrance will remain as well. A larger sign by the door to the vestibule would read “37 Newbury.”

She then spoke about the proposed roof terrace and the head height of the elevator. She said that they are “lucky with the current parapet,” which is “almost tall enough to meet code.” A rail that would add about two to two and a half inches would be installed on the inside of the existing parapet to meet code.

“It’s not too often we get to comment on a building that’s relatively new,” said Commissioner Robert Weintraub, who said he likes the proposed signage, but added that the “second story addition might be problematic with the Commission, especially with the roof terrace.”

He said that the direct door into the LensCrafters space was a great idea .

Commissioner Genia Demetriades agreed that the signage was good, but agreed that the second level would be problematic and would block the view of the adjacent historic building.

Commissioner Zsuzsanna Gaspar said she likes the addition, but wondered “whether pulling back the glass on the ground floor” to create an overhang on the door might be useful.

“I can’t endorse a two-story solution,” Commissioner John Christiansen said, but did also think the new entry door was good.

He suggested even taking the curve of the building away to put a glass bay on two or three floors.

Tom High from backbayhouses.org said that this solution would create “more visibility of the neighboring buildings,” and would “probably serve quite well the 1980 building as well.”

The architect said that the architectural team will take all of this feedback into consideration and come back with another plan at a future hearing.

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