By Beth Treffeisen
The controversial 45 Temple Street proposal, which includes the Archer building and Donahue Building formally owned by Suffolk University, was brought in front of the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission (BHAC) this past Thursday, November 17, to transform the former institutional buildings into residential units.
The proposal includes modifying the north, east, and west façades, creating a passageway between Temple Street and Ridgeway Lane, and constructing a rooftop addition with a roof deck.
The Commission did not pass the design plans but voted for it to be continuous so that the Proponent can come back next month with altered plans based on suggestions from both the Commission and residents.
This decision was made when the Commissioners decided there where too many outstanding issues that they needed to address before fully passing.
“It’s the elephant in the room,” said Commissioner Joel Pierce. “We can’t just let it go and I think it does deserve to have our attention.”
There where two advisory reviews before this design was brought up for a vote by the Commission. They first appeared before the Commission in July 2016.
The residential units will hold 75 condos and also have 60 parking spaces in an underground garage according to the Boston Planning and Development Agency.
The existing Archer and Donahue buildings that make up the proposed project where both exempt from the BHAC review when they were constructed in the 1960’s, according to Lissa Schwab the preservation planner for BHAC. But since they’ve changed ownership they now have to go through the historic preservation process.
Major concerns from the public included the addition of the head house that would add to an already big building and cast shadows in the neighborhood that aren’t there now.
Currently the height limit in Beacon Hill is set at 65 feet, whereas the Archer and Donahue buildings are currently at 81.75 feet or 16.75 feet higher than the height limit. The penthouse will not go higher than the mechanical equipment already on the roof.
Rob Whitney, a member of the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s original Institutional Advisory Group (IAG) for this project and a Beacon Hill resident, spoke on behalf of the IAG members and residents of Temple Street in opposition to the current project design.
Whitney argued that the two new additional penthouse floors proposed for the historic Archer and Donahue Buildings would violate the Beacon Hill Architectural Guidelines prohibition of adding new floors to buildings within the historic district.
“The building – the birthplace of Suffolk University – has been recognized by the National Park Service and the Massachusetts Historic Commission as a significant and important contributor to the National Landmark District,” said Whitney.
He continued, “The addition of the proposed two new large penthouse floors would cause irreparable harm to that historic building, and would also significantly increase the overall mass of the two buildings to the detriment of the residents of Temple Street.”
Another concern included how the streetscape has changed over the years to a more pedestrian friendly atmosphere that residents would like to maintain.
“The character of the street has changed radically, that’s to say it used to be choked with parked cars,” said Mark Kiefer the Chairman of the Board of the Beacon Hill Civic Association. “So the impact, the visual contextual mass of this building has only gotten worse over time relative to that even more now pedestrian scale street.”
Martha J. McNamara the director of New England Arts and Architecture Program at Wellesley College and 30 year resident of Beacon Hill pointed out that the introductory guidelines the BHAC says that all changes of the building should be appropriate to the original style.
She stated that the guidelines are an important step with both development and preservation and understands that sometimes variances do need to be made.
“But, to take such a dramatic exemption such as this one, which essentially strips the side of the building seems to me way beyond what you are mandated to do,” said McNamara.
McNamara continued by saying that the mid-century architecture that makes up the Archer and Donahue buildings for the most part is not well loved today. But, she pointed that that this type of architectural style is important to this country and is relatively rare in New England.
“We have to preserve it because if we obliterate it, we obliterate that piece of our history,” said McNamara.
Gary Wolf who was representing the watchdog group Docomomo of New England that works to document and conserve modern buildings agrees saying that these two buildings can now be considered an historic style.
“We are still very concerned…that buildings like these are not thoughtfully considered when they come up for potential renovation, demolition and expansion because eventually we will have none — erasing a piece of our history,” said Wolf.
With too many concerns about preserving the streetscape and making sure that enough light reaches the street and the adjacent park the Commissioners who initially wanted to pass with provisions overall decided to have the proponents return with additional changes.
Commissioner Chair Kenneth Taylor said, “This is a very unusual building on Beacon Hill. In that context even though it takes time I think it deserves the attention. I think the project can made to be able to fit into Beacon Hill and I think we need to give it some more time to do that.”
Screen Shot 1: A view of the existing mechanical equipment that will be hidden underneath a new penthouse at 45 Temple Street in Beacon Hill, courtesy of the City of Boston.
Screen Shot 2: A new rendering of the proposed plans for the former Suffolk University buildings on Beacon Hill, courtesy of the City of Boston.