BHAC Votes to Continue Application on New Lighting for Vilna Shul

The Beacon Hill Architectural Commission voted to continue making its determination on The Vilna Shul’s application to install new lighting for a walkway during its April 15 online meeting.

Susan Hurst, the architect for the project, said the Jewish Culture Center located at 18 Phillips St., has installed three lighting fixtures mounted to the wall about 10 feet off the ground in the east alleyway; they are each activated by individual motion detectors, said Hurst, and shut off automatically after about eight to 10 minutes.

John Hecker, another member of the applicant’s team, said the light fixtures “were attached where others were, or are, located,” and that he, along with Hurst, had been on a walk-through of the site the previous night.

“It’s quite an improvement,” Hecker said. “After seeing it in operation last night, I can say it was successful.”

The Architectural Commission had previously heard – and continued – The Vilna’s application on Jan. 16, 2020, at which time Nick Armata, senior preservation planner for the city, told the applicant they could temporarily install the new lighting fixtures, but would have to remove and replace them with the original floodlights if any resultant problems arose.

Rob Whitney, a direct abutter who has lived across Phillips Street from The Vilna Shul for the past 30 years and described himself as a strong supporter of the organization, said the original design had the lights “on a low level on the ground to light up the pathway, but for some reason they raised them high on the wall.”

And as a result, the effect for some neighbors, Whitney said, is “like you’re flashing a flashlight through their windows.”

While Whitney, who spoke on behalf of several neighbors, as well as himself, agreed that the path needed to be illuminated, he said, “There’s no reason it has to be 10 feet off the ground.”

Additionally, Whitney said he preferred the lighting that was there before because “they could be pointed at the ground rather than at neighbors.”

Hecker offered what he deemed as a simple solution to the problem: crafting a shroud, like streetlights have, that could be installed over the fixtures to direct more light downwards.

“It’s a fairly straightforward process to do,” said Hecker, who added that The Vilna Shul would need to contract a metal shop to make the pieces that would be painted black with three pitched or sloped sides to “slip over” the lighting fixtures.

Commissioner Miguel Rosales said the metal pieces would need to be “appropriate” with the historic district and recommended perhaps having them crafted in half-moon shapes out of copper or bronze.

The commission continued the application to allow The Vilna Shul time to make a mockup for the new lighting accessory, which it would return with at a future hearing.

In another matter, the commission approved as submitted an application from the Somerset Club to replace all the windows on the front façade of 42 Beacon St.

Frank McGuire, the architect for the project, said restoring the windows, which include some from the 1940s and ‘50s mixed in with the originals from 1870, would “further loosen them in the frames.”

Instead, the replacement windows, made by Historic Window & Door, would use “bent glass,” added McGuire, to fasten the “template directly to the stone.”

The sashes, which date back to between 1870 and 1890 and are “significantly deteriorated,” would be replaced, McGuire said, while the frames, which are in “good shape,” would be preserved.

The Somerset Club intends to use only high-quality materials for the project, including mahogany for the sashes, McGuire added.

Also, the commission approved as submitted an application for 102 Chestnut St. to replace the deteriorating historic, curved windows on the third floor of the front façade with new curved double-hung windows, as well as to install new door hardware, a new light, a new keypad and new shutters, and to rebuild the set of stairs in front, which serves both that address and the adjacent building.

Frank McGuire, the architect for this project as well, said that the steps are “misaligned” and that he “doesn’t think there’s much we can do with it,” although that job would have to be undertaken after the homeowner finishes their intended work to repair the corroded wood-pilings that the buildings sits upon.

The door hardware, mail slot and keypad for an intercom system would all be made of bronzed materials and have a “uniform finish,” said McGuire, while the keypad would be smaller than was previously proposed, since the building is now intended as a single-family home as opposed to a multi-unit dwelling. (As a proviso of the application’s approval, the commission requested that drawings be submitted to staff showing the new, smaller keypad.)

The new “bespoke” windows would be tailor made to fit the building’s existing openings, said McGuire, which have shifted over time due to the deteriorating state of the pilings.

Sean Cryts of Historic Window & Door said the windows had sustained significant wood damage, but that as much of the old glass as possible would be salvaged from them.

The applicant had also proposed replacing two top sections of the all-wood front door with two glass panes, which also passed as part of the overall application. 

The applicant is also planning to build a new roofdeck at the location, but that item was taken off the meeting agenda and not approved.

On an application to install a new roofdeck at 112 Pinckney St., the commission approved that the proposed work, with the proviso that a 42-inch railing be set back enough so it’s not visible from Pinckney Street or any other adjacent public way.

The commission approved as submitted an application to install a blade sign at 123 Charles St. for Paws on Charles, a new pet care and supplies shop tentatively scheduled to open at that location in June.

While Megan Bradley of North Grafton-based Sunshine Sign had proposed crafting the sign, which includes images of both a dog bone and a pawmark, from high-density urethane, the commission’s approval of the application came with the proviso that it instead be a carved-wood sign installed with a wrought-iron bracket, instead of the proposed aluminum materials, and that it be located between the shop’s door and windows; these items were remanded to staff for final review.

Likewise, the commission approved as submitted an application for 83 Mt. Vernon St., which was previously heard on Feb. 18, to replace all the wood windows with windows with the correct pane configuration, as well as to install a new front door-light fixture and new intercom system, which was exempt for approval as it was moved to the interior of the lobby. 

The commission also approved an application as submitted for 92 Mt. Vernon St. to replace the galvanized metal dormer sidewalls with standing seam-copper panels, which would be painted freedom grey and zinc-coated, as well as to replace the glass only on upper-level picture window with insulated glass windows.

An application to replace the largely deteriorated shutters with red cedar replicas at 38 West Cedar St., which is home to Rouvalis Flowers, as well as the three apartment above it, was approved by the commission as submitted, with the proviso that the applicant submit updated drawings of the shutter configuration.

On an application for 24-26 Hancock St. to install new handrails at both entryways, the commission approved the proposed work, with, in a motion made by P.T. Vineburgh, commission chair, the proviso that the handrails be black in color and “toned down,” with as few posts or rods as possible to “still have a functioning rail.” The applicant was also asked to provide staff with shop drawings.

The commission also approved as submitted an application for 18 Grove St. to replace all the front windows with two-over-two wood, double-hung windows, with the proviso that the applicant confirm they are “historically compliant” before the commission issues a letter of approval.  Commissioner Miguel Rosales will review the window shop drawings prior to the issue of the certificate of appropriateness as designated per the commission.

Moreover, the commission approved an application as submitted for 147-149 Charles St. to replace all the front windows with six-over-six wood, double-hung windows at149 Charles) and eight-over-eight windows at 147 Charles, as well as to replace several doors. 

Commissioners would first have to approve the windowpane configuration facing Charles Street, however, said Armata, before the full shop drawings could then be remanded to staff.

As a proviso for approval, Commissioner Rosales will review the window shop drawings for the 147-149 Charles St. applications prior to the issue of the certificate of appropriateness, as the application was incomplete.

On an application for 57A Chestnut St., the commission approved proposed work, including replacing three east-facing, eight-over-eight, wood dormer windows with three eight-over–eight, wood widows with true divided lites, as well as replacing two fourth floor, east-facing, six-over-six, wood windows with two, wood windows with true divided lites.

But the commission denied the applicant’s plan to replace the galvanized-steel decorative soffit, installed in about 1914, with a fiberglass replica, which isn’t acceptable in the historic district.  This application passed, with the provisos that the dental work and trim be replaced with the same existing materials or similar materials, and if the applicant opts to replace the soffit, they would need to submit a sample of the intended material to staff for approval.

During an advisory review, Zach Wassmouth detailed the city’s plan to install wider sidewalks around the State House, as well as a new “caution plate with bumper ramp” at the west corner of Park and Beacon streets and a raised crosswalk at Park and Bowdoin streets.

The sidewalks would be made of wire-cut brick, said Wassmouth, and the city is also having a conservation with the state about them continuing the work on the area of the sidewalk it has jurisdiction over near the State House on Beacon Street.

The number of travel lanes on Beacon Street wouldn’t change due to the project, which, Wassmouth said, “has a very aggressive timeline.”

Commissioner Alice Richmond expressed concern over where the vans for local news stations would park after the project is completed, since it would displace them from the area at the corner of Park and Beacon streets they currently occupy during big news events.

Rob Whitney, this time speaking as chair of the Beacon Hill Civic Association board of directors, said a similar application had come before the commission in 2014, and that using poured concrete in either of the proposed sidewalks would be “inappropriate.”

Whitney added that the BHCA is now working with the PWD to “minimize or eliminate concrete in those two ramps, and we’re confident we can work with [them] to eliminate the issue.”

Commissioner Rosales said he was “generally in support of the city’s application and recommended that the same type of bricks be used to also replace the entry plaza to the State House, and that any underground vaults covers be clad with bricks for a consistent and uniform historically appropriate appearance.”

In another advisory review for 42 Irving St., the would-be applicant detailed his proposal to replace an existing “dog house” dormer with a slightly bigger, more structurally sound dormer, as well as to replace the shingles on the side of the dormer with slate or some other historically appropriate material.  Commissioner Rosales expressed concern with increasing the size of the dormer, since that type of visible change isn’t allowed in the historic district per the BHAC guidelines.

Meanwhile, the commission didn’t hear an application for 46 West Cedar St. because the application was withdrawn, while an application for 138 Charles St. – the location of the ill-fated Bluemoon Smoke Shop – was also withdrawn from the agenda.

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