BHAC Approves Revised Application for Reconstruction of Vilna Shul Front Plaza

The Beacon Hill Architectural Commission unanimously approved a revised application for the proposed reconstruction of The Vilna Shul’s existing front plaza along Phillips Street during the commission’s monthly public hearing held virtually on Aug. 17.

The proposed work now comprises a “monolithic concrete pour across the plaza,” along with installing a removable handrail system, as well as new electrical outlets on the back of one of the plaza’s piers (rather than in the window wells, as was previously proposed), said Doug Manley, a preservation architect for the project.

The commission had previously heard an advisory review on this project at its virtual public-hearing on April 20. The applicant subsequently modified and refined their plans in response to feedback received from commissioners before filing an application at the commission’s May 18 virtual public-hearing,. The matter was then remanded to a subcommittee comprising Commission Chair Mark Kiefer and Commissioners Maurice Finegold and Ralph Jackson.

The Vilna Shul had originally planned to use a “pile system with pedestals” for the surface of the plaza, said Manley, but that plan was ultimately scrapped due to budget constraints. The plaza’s surface currently comprises poured concrete so the proposed change would essentially be in kind, added Manley.

The removable handrail system, which had previously been discussed among the subcommittee, would be installed at the top of the stairs “to keep people from falling in the stairwells,” said Manley, and would only be used during special events. (“Sleeves” would be installed in the plaza’s concrete surface to mount the railing system in place, said Manley.)

Moreover, the latest application includes plans for the installation of three drains in the plaza’s surface, each measuring 8 3/8 inches in diameter, said Manley, as well as for the in-kind replacement of the existing cast-stone stairs at the gate.

In another matter, the commission voted 6-1 to approve an application for new signage for Vico Style, a vintage women’s clothing boutique located on the lower level of 125 Charles St. in the former home of Bostan.

The commission had unanimously denied without prejudice Vico Style’s previous application for a blade sign at this location at the May 18 virtual public hearing, instructing the applicant to return with a revised design.

The applicant considered modifying the design to a circular sign, said Adam Knauer of Somerville-based SRP Sign Corporation, before settling on a square sign, measuring 40 inches in diameter. The proposed sign will have white lettering on an orange background, added Knauer.

Commissioner Maurice Finegold, who cast the only vote opposing this application, objected to the large size of the proposed sign, adding that he would prefer a sign measuring 3 feet in diameter instead.

While the applicant had proposed manufacturing the sign using HDU (High-Density Urethane) in an effort to stave off deterioration, the commission’s determination on the revised application came with provisos that the sign be made of wood, and that it be flush-mounted four brick courses above the granite on the building’s façade.

On an application for 1928 Beacon Hill, a restaurant located at 97 Mt. Vernon St., the commission voted 6-1 to approve a new double-sided, hanging 2-by-3-foot sign to replace the existing sign there now while denying without prejudice the proposed lighting. The sign approval came with a proviso that its S-bracket be installed in the wall’s mortar joints, rather than through the brick, while the applicant was also instructed to return to the commission with a new lighting design, with the lighting above the sign to be minimally obtrusive to neighbors.

Kristin Jenkins, the applicant and restaurant’s primary owner, said the new wood sign would be manufactured by Yankee Woodcarvers of Plymouth, and that it would replace an existing sign, which shares the same dimensions as the proposed sign but is made of a “compressed non-wood material.”

The new sign would have carved, metallic gold-lettering on a black background, said Jenkins, who added that the existing sign, which is enclosed inside a canopy fixture, was only meant to be temporary upon the business opening in the fall of 2021. (The canopy would be removed as part of the proposed new design, said Jenkins.)

Commissioner Alice Richmond, who cast the only dissenting vote on this application, indicated she didn’t believe that the commission was adequately prepared to make a determination on it at the time of the hearing based on the information they had.

Meanwhile, the commission voted unanimously to approve as submitted an application for 68 Beacon St. for the in-kind replacement of the front door, which comprises two parts – a fixed door and an active door.

The new door would be crafted from African mahogany and painted black, as it is now, said John Carlton of Brighton-based Historic Door, who added that the original door, which dates back to 1917, had deteriorated beyond repair.

The new door design also includes eight panes of clear, tempered glass (four each on both the fixed and active doors), said Carlton.

Commissioner Ralph Jackson requested that the street numbers now affixed to the front door be instead centered on the lintel above the door; Carlton said he would speak with the applicant regarding this request.

In another matter, the commission unanimously approved as submitted an application to restore the community basketball court at the Peter Faneuil House at 60 Joy St.; the proposed work entails the repair and restoration of the brick retaining wall, brick piers, and iron fence along the South Russell Street sidewalk, as well as the in-kind replacement of existing signage, the refurbishing of existing benches, and the installation of a new basketball pole, backboard, and rim.

Kenneth Crisafulli of Roslindale-based Rogerson Communities, which developed and manages Faneuil House, said only the center portion of the basketball would need to be rebuilt, and that the applicant intends to reuse as much salvaged brick as possible.

This determination came with a proviso that the applicant submit shop drawings to staff (Nicholas Armata).

On an application for 30 Lime St., the commission voted 6-0 (with Commissioner Annette Given recusing herself) to approve the proposed work, which entails installing a hand railing on the right hand-side wall leading up to the door.

The new railing would be painted black and exactly replicate the symmetry of the existing handrail next door at 26 Lime St., said Jim Fay, property manager, although it would be located on the opposite wall, making it a mirror image of the existing railing.

This determination came with a proviso that the applicant submit staff drawings to staff. (Armata said he was awaiting shop drawings from the city for the hand railing at 26 Lime St.)

The commission voted 6-1 (with Vice Chair Arian Allen casting the only dissenting vote) to approve as submitted an application for 7 Louisburg Square, with proposed work entailing the replacement of two historic six-over-six windows on the fourth floor with two new six-over-six, wood, true divided-light, double-hung windows.

Alexander Sassaroli of New York-based Steven Harris Architects said the commission had previously approved the replacement of nine of 11 windows on the building’s front and back facades but wanted the applicant to preserve the other two windows. But since he estimates that the remaining two windows had deteriorated a minimum of 50 percent, Sassaroli said they could no longer be salvaged. He added he would contract the manufacturer of the nine replacement windows to exactly replicate them for the two, new replacement windows.

The commission voted unanimously to approve as submitted an application for 17 Louisburg Square, with proposed work including the installation of an 2N IP Verso intercom system with a camera inside a brass box, as well as the removal and replacement of the doorknob, locking cylinder, and rosette. This determination came with a proviso that the applicant attempt to make the brass box for the intercom system as narrow as possible.

A violation for 147-149 Charles St. for the installation of unapproved windows with reflective film,  an improper pane configuration, and simulated divided lights, along with the removal of its roof, chimney and party wall without the commission’s approval, was removed by staff from the agenda.

An application to replace the shutters at 14 Louisburg Square was removed from the agenda by the applicant.

Moreover, an application to paint the front door and surround at 83 Mount Vernon St. black and red wasn’t heard due to the applicant’s failure to appear at the hearing, as was also the case with an application to replace the current, non-operational callbox with a new intercom and brass box at 1 Chestnut St.

On hand for the hearing were Chair Kiefer and Vice Chair Allen, along with Commissioners Finegold, Given, Jackson, Richmond, and Ed Fleck.

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