By Adam Swift
The developers of a mixed-used brownstone on Columbus Avenue formerly known as the Electric Carriage site still have some work to do to get their design plans approved by the South End Landmark District Commission.
Some work on the exterior of 321-323 Columbus Ave. had already begun on the exterior of the building last year before the work came to a halt in December.
At its meeting on March 1, the Landmark District Commission voted to deny without prejudice several of the changes that have already taken place at the site, including the installation of aluminum windows. The commission also wants the applicant to work with it in order to come back with a suitable plan that fits the historic nature of the neighborhood.
The commission voted to form a subcommittee to work with the applicant on the proposed design of the project.
Commission members asked the applicant, project architect Hezekiah Pratt, to either design a project that fits with original nature of the building as it was built in 1919 concerning the bays, windows, and other architectural features, or come up with documentation showing that the work that is currently underway reflects the nature of the building as it was when originally built.
According to Pratt, updates to the building are needed due to deterioration and damage caused by a fire in 2019. He also noted that the building was renovated in 1985, and that the plans that were underway were closer to the original structure of the building than the 1985 renovation.
Pratt said the plan is to rebuild the bays of the building.
“Right now, what is there is just the floor of the bays, the structured floor, nothing has been done to the bays at all,” said Pratt. “The plan is to install fixed casement windows … and fixed windows down below,”
There would also be aluminum panels to match the color of the gray aluminum of the single windows.
“The only thing that is really here that is existing that resembles the original building is all of the brickwork, the medallions, and the cornice,” said Pratt.
In addition, the original mahogany doors have been removed, restored, and put back in place, although there was a location change for one of the doors.
Landmark Commission Chair John Amodeo said the commission was reviewing the project because there was no previous design approval before work began on the exterior.
Amodeo said there is some clarification needed about how the design of the Columbus Avenue building should relate to the original 1919 construction and the 1985 renovations.
Pratt noted that there were issues with the structural soundness of the building that led to the latest round of work.
Landmark Commission member John Freeman noted that even if something within the building rotted, the applicant still needed to go through the approval process for the planned work.
Freeman also suggested that the commission and applicant should be using the configuration and photos of the building from 2018, before the fire, as a baseline for new work to the building.
Freeman and Amodeo both noted that the more recent configuration of the building is likely more in line with the historic look and nature of the neighborhood.
“If something is rotted and unrecoverable, we do allow it to be taken away, but we want the reconstruction to be the historical reconfiguration,” said Freeman.
Amodeo said the goal of the landmark commission is to bring every alteration to every building closer to the vernacular of the South End, not further away.
“Even if we were to use the storefront from the 1985 renovation and not the original, it is of the vernacular of the South End, and we would need some justification to go away from that,” said Amodeo.
In other business last week, the South End Landmark Commission approved a reconfiguration to the ground floor entry at 1750 Washington St. so that it can conform to ADA standards.
The address is the former site of the Bar Lyon restaurant, which closed at the end of 2021.
Project architect Derek Rubinoff said the work is being done so the owners of the building can bring in a new tenant.
Landmark Commission member Catherine Hunt asked Rubinoff if the owner had a tenant in play for the location, but Rubinoff said he wasn’t at liberty to say.
“That tells me that something is brewing there, that’s good,” said Hunt.
She said any prospective tenant would have to come back to the Landmark District Commission with a signage plan.