After succumbing to a flood in early 2022, the West End Museum is now undergoing renovations, with its main gallery expected to reopen next March 15.
On Jan. 15 of last year, a sprinkler check-valve ruptured on the fourth floor of West End Place at 150 Staniford St., leading to flooding in nearly 30 units on the building’s bottom four floors, as well as in the adjacent West End Museum and office space.
It initially appeared as though most of the exhibit items would emerge unscathed, according to Sebastian Belfanti, the West End Museum’s executive director. But the museum kept the temperature at around 90 degrees, he said, and due to the humidity, some of the photos from “The Last Tenement” exhibit were either ripped off their base material, or in some cases, the bolts holding them in place were ripped right out of the wall.
Most of the approximately two-dozen large images featured in the exhibit were damaged to “varying degrees,” said Belfanti, and “those make up about 50 percent of the exbibit.”
In all, only around 50 items were lost in the flood – about 40 of which the museum had duplicates of – while some other documents had been scanned. Just two or three photos were lost completely, said Belfanti.
Since June, the museum renovation has been “properly under construction,” said Belfanti, with “new walls framed out” now, as well as new flooring going in.
New York-based Chan Ascher Architecture, which is offering its services pro bono, has finalized its drawings for the project, said Belfanti.
The museum is now wrapping up conversations on design review with the Boston Planning & Design Agency, added Belfanti, while moving towards obtaining an alteration permit for the building from the city for the project.
“Hopefully by October, the walls should start to exist as solid, and we’re designing whole new exhibits,” said Belfanti.
“The Last Tenement” – the museum’s main exhibit – will be completely reimagined to tell the West End’s story from when the neighborhood first comprised fields, farms, factories, and a few mansions around Bowdoin Square, though the immigrant era and the demolition that came with urban renewal, up until the present day.
“The early period and today will be covered more completely and in a more modern and engaging way,” said Belfanti. “Many people felt, and we agree, that it was time for an update to the ‘Last Tenement’ exhibit that had been up for quite a long time. We’re really excited to bring fresh things in.”
The museum is also working with Trivium Interactive of the North End to build out interactive elements, including touchscreen and video.
Down the road, Trivium Interactive will also be designing a map table and an immersive multi-wall backdrop for screening videos and films for the museum.
Belfanti said he looks forward to the West End Museum becoming one of the most technically advanced small museums in Greater Boston upon its reopening in March.
Meanwhile, the museum has raised just shy of $1 million so far towards the target amount of $1.4 million for its renovation efforts, including receiving contributions from the Mass Cultural Council, the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism, HYM Investment Group, Boston Properties, and Delaware North, among many other donors.
To support the West End Museum’s rebuilding efforts, visit www.thewestendmuseum.org/donate and select “Capital” or “go to www.thewestendmuseum.org and click “Help Us Rebuild” on the homepage.