Detrimental : Preservation Advocates Ask MGH to Reconfigure Expansion Plans to Spare Three West End Buildings

Preservation advocates are imploring Massachusetts General Hospital to reconfigure its expansion plans to avoid demolition of three historic West End buildings.

The hospital is proposing the construction of a $1 billion, 1,035,000-square-foot complex consisting of two connected, 12-story towers located entirely within the MGH campus, with its facade facing Cambridge Street, as well as a 1,100-space below-grade parking garage.

The West End House at 16-18 Blossom St. is one of the three buildings the preservation advocates are trying to save.
The Winchell School at 26 Blossom St.

In an Aug. 5 letter to Jonathan Greeley of the Boston Planning and Development Agency that was also signed by a number of other West End advocacy groups, Greg Galer, executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, a coalition representing 40 organizations citywide and 125 corporations that attests “to protect places, promote vibrancy and preserve the character that makes Boston,” expressed concern that the project as proposed would result in razing the Winchell School at 26 Blossom St., the tenement house at 25 North Anderson St. and the West End House at 16-18 Blossom St.

“The Winchell School, the West End House and the tenement building represent the character and fabric of the West End before it was decimated, and its community displaced, by Urban Renewal in the 1950s,” Galer wrote. “They are three of only a handful of buildings that survive and their demolition would be detrimental to the neighborhood.”

To this end, Galer has requested that the hospital conduct “a complete analysis of relocating the buildings to the Cambridge Street edge of the property.”

And it seems not to have fallen on deaf years either, since Galer told this reporter on Aug. 22 that the hospital has reached back out to him and expressed their willingness to undertake the analysis.

“We haven’t seen it, but believe they’re doing a really robust and serious analysis, and we’re looking forward to seeing it,” Galer said. “MGH to come up with a win-win that supports hospital’s needs and evolution, but also the needs, desires and history of the community.”          

While “moving” buildings might sound like a far-fetched approach, Galer pointed out that it was actually commonplace in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. “The buildings are on same site, so it should be relatively easy,” he said in regard to the MGH proposal.

David Hanitchak, the hospital’s vice president for real estate and facilities, said in an official statement: “ MGH is completing its alternatives analysis and impact of retaining the existing buildings and will follow the public process determined by the Boston Planning and Development Agency and the Boston Landmarks Commission. As a West End neighbor for more than 200 years, the hospital is committed to preserving the neighborhood’s rich history through thoughtful collaboration with area residents. While much of the planning is in the early stages, we look forward to sharing more information as the process continues.”

Likewise, BPDA spokesperson Molly McGlynn wrote in an email: “We appreciate the Boston Preservation Alliance’s feedback on this project as outlined in their letter. The proponent is in the process of conducting an analysis that looks at demolition alternatives. This analysis will inform the next steps of the Article 80 process.” (Article 80 is the BPDA’s review process for projects adding 50,000 square feet or more.)

But despite receiving this encouraging news, Galer still underscores the importance of saving these last vestiges of the West End’s rich immigrant history.

“Particularly in today’s climate with immigration and what it means to be an American, these buildings speak to what Boston is all about,” Galer said. “It would make really negative to erase that part of our past that speaks so much to our immigrant history.”

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