The Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC) on May 11 approved a slate of work proposed for the Ayer Mansion at 395 Commonwealth Ave, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Joe Cornish, Director of Design Review for the Boston Landmarks Commission, reported that the building is a “five story stone rowhouse” that was sold to its current owner along with 397 Commonwealth Ave. In March and April of this year, the “Commission approved a rear addition and rooftop addition as well as new landscaping at the front and rear yards.”
Architect Rob Clocker presented the proposal, saying that the “building is in very good shape,” and that there will be “no visual change to the front facade” as part of this proposal.
He said that the rear facade, which faces Marlborough St., is “not especially noteworthy,” and features a “regular brick wall with a regular pattern of windows.” There are two windows on the first floor that are “unusual in size and configuration,” Clocker said, but they are not original to the building.
The proposal also includes an eight foot wide garage door on the rear facade for entry to the basement parking. The buildings at 395 and 397 Commonwealth Ave. are also being separated, he said.
“This building is being handled independently,” he said. “We are looking at returning to its use as a single family home,” which is what it had been designed as. A roof deck is also proposed, for which a mockup has been created. Clocker said that the deck is not visible from Marlborough St., nor is the existing safety rail that will be kept.
On the front facade, the non-original fence will be replaced, and a plaque on the door for Bayridge Residence will be removed and repaired. The fire department beacon will be removed, as it is “no longer necessary” for the building’s return to a single family home.
All windows on the front facade are non-original, and will be replaced with custom wood windows on levels two, three, and four, except for a window int eh center of the balcony that is original and will be retained.
The door will also be refurbished and a transom will be installed. On the rear facade, all non-original windows will be replaced with wood windows.
There are two openings in the rear that “seem to be original to the facade,” Clocker said, and the proposed to either leave them as is or “put a bay into each of these to make them match.”
Clocker also talked about the proposed landscape plan, which includes the replacement of the iron fence. He said that there will be “low planting” like hedges, and the existing magnolia tree is in “good health” and will remain and an Eastern Redbud tree is proposed for the rear.
“It’s such an important building,” said Commissioner Robert Weintraub. “You did an amazing job; this is a very impressive presentation. I’m not against anything you presented.”
Commissioner Zsuzsanna Gaspar said that “I think it’s a lovely building, and you did a lovely job on it. And I especially enjoy those two windows that you are healing this building with, so it’s going to do a lot of good for the neighborhood.”
During public comment, Sue Prindle from the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB)’s Architecture Committee, said that “we were very impressed with this. I’m even more impressed with it tonight.” She did have some questions about the two windows in the rear, saying that the larger one “is slightly bowed,” while the other is “flat.” She said that “our sense was that they should both probably be the same.”
Jeanne Pelletier, who said she has worked on this building for 23 years, said that “I do think that there was a great sense of adherence to the details of the building and I do appreciate that.”
She mentioned that the architect had said that the transoms on the first floor will be retained, but “those are currently plastic inserts where stained glass windows were. That center stained glass window is in existence and is in the house and should be restored and replaced.” She said the existing plastic inserts were approved as a “temporary measure.”
The team said that they know about the stained glass window that has been kept, and said that the Massachusetts Historical Commission will also provide feedback on the building. They also said that the building is “currently being marketed,” and the new owner will be responsible for that window.
Pelletier said that “that window was crated carefully” in 2006, and uncrated two years ago. She said it “was in phenomenal shape” and “needs fairly minor restoration work to be installed.”
Pelletier said that she does not believe the proposed fence is appropriate for the property.
“Quite frankly, I think it’s not in keeping with the caliber of the house,” she said, and having a more “plain” fence is “far more preferable.”
She also said that she likes the work proposed in the rear.
Laurie Thomas of the Garden Club of the Back Bay said that “we are delighted to see the Eastern Redbud going in the back. It’s a very good choice of tree.”
Tom High from backbayhouses.org said that the team has done an “excellent job” with this proposal, and agreed with Pelletier that “it is probably more appropriate to have a simpler fence, or possibly no fence at all.”
Pelletier confirmed that a photo from when the house was first constructed shows no fence at all, and no handrail.
The Commission also discussed Prindle’s point about the windows on the back, settling on an agreement that the two windows should be different from each other.
The motion was to approve the proposed work with the provisos that those two windows differ, details like the front fencing and the handrail be remanded to staff, the stained glass transom will be “restored as appropriate,” and the other two that do not exist anymore should be replicated. The Commission voted unanimously to support the motion.