Guest Op-Ed: Enough is Enough

 By Alison Barnet

I once talked with a man whose family lived on the top floor of the Hotel Alexandra from 1951 to 1979.

Although the name was written out front, he never called it the Alexandra; to him it was simply “home.” Then I met another man whose family had lived in a large apartment on the first floor in the early 1980s.

Skippy White’s Records was in one of the ground floor storefronts, Star Wigs (and, before that, South End Community Health Center dental) in the other. Uncle Ned’s Money To Loan, where I once pawned a typewriter, was in the Ivory Bean building next door.

There were many such residence hotels in the South End years ago; they were not hotels as we know them today. Back then, people wanted low-rent apartments and weren’t concerned whether they were in the South End or Roxbury.

​Once a beautiful building, the historic (1875 Peabody and Stearns) Hotel Alexandra, now covered with dirt and graffiti, trees growing in front of its boarded-up windows, has been bounced around from owner to owner for decades. The City of Boston let several Alexandra owners off the hook by not requiring them to adhere to building standards or take other responsible action. How about cleaning up the graffiti? They were allowed to get away with doing next to nothing. It’s what you might call a slippery slope.

​Interesting that back in 1984—almost 40 years ago—owner Peter Bakis came to a neighborhood meeting and said,= although he had not yet decided what to do, he estimated the project would cost $2 million. Today, cleaning up the pigeon excrement would probably cost that much. The Alexandra became a cause celebre as it deteriorated further, and developers couldn’t afford to take it on.

​In 2008, the Church of Scientology bought the property. Its intention, after selling its Beacon Street building, was to open new headquarters at the Alexandra, but that never happened. In 2011, the Ivory Bean building was found structurally unsound and demolished. In 2014, Scientology decided the building didn’t fit its needs and put it on the market.

​Random headlines:

Alexandra Hotel to be saved by Church of Scientology

Alexandra delayed

Stalled restoration

Potential developer for Alexandra Hotel ready to make building proud again

Old Alexandra Hotel slated to become condos, instead of previously approved [boutique] hotel

Makeover in 8 Weeks

Alexandra Hotel hit with graffiti

Alexandra Hotel Developers to Put Project Up for Sale as Financing Unravels

New Life for Old Plans to Revive the Long-Empty Alexandra

​And the latest (Boston Sun, June 8):

Hotel Alexandra back on the market for unspecified price

Fourteen years ago, a neighbor who wrote an article called “Just Say No to Hotel Alexandra,” urged the City to condemn the property and seize it by eminent domain at a “fair price.” That made a lot more sense than glass towers on the roof, luxury condos, a boutique hotel, and more years of further decay. Forget unrealistic profits in the many millions.

​That makes more and more sense today. The City could step in, acquire the property using historic preservation grants and other non-profit funds and re-open the building for affordable housing. It could lease a storefront to, for example, the South End Branch Library, which will be closed at its present site for many years, and how about welcoming the activities and meeting space that used to be in the Harriet Tubman House before it was torn down. This would be genuine community benefits.

​But I’m afraid here we go again. FOR SALE and sales falling through. What a mess!

Alison Barnet is a longtime South End resident and  author of five books on the neighborhood’s history.

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