Level of Quality: BHAC Approves Renovation of Athenaeum’s Façade and Terrace

The Beacon Hill Architectural Commission approved an application for an extensive renovation of the Boston Athenaeum’s north façade and terrace on Thursday, April 16, at its monthly hearing, which was held virtually in the face of COVID-19.

The applicant, Matthew Bronski, a principal with the Waltham engineering firm Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, said the intended restoration would include a patchwork replacement of brownstone on the façade of 10½ Beacon St.  “using a range of natural stone custom to the stone we’re replacing.”

The proposed terrace work would include the reconstruction of a leaning terrace retaining wall, as well as the replacement of a non-code-compliant bronze railing that sits atop the basement stairwell at the staff entrance, Bronski said.

“It’s very exciting that you’re going to restore the building to that level of quality,” said Miguel Rosales, commission chair.

Approval of this application came with the provisos that staff approve a mock-up of the custom stone replacement, and that the size of the new railing match an existing one located in the back of the building facing the historic Granary Burying Ground cemetery.

The commission also approved as proposed another application for the Athenaeum to make small alterations to the front bronze doors and interior leather doors.

“This is part of a larger project to renovate the interior lobby and expand into 14 Beacon St.,” said the applicant, Stewart Marshall, a senior associate with Boston-based Schwartz/Silver Architects.

The commission voted to deny without prejudice an application to install a small vent for a new boiler at the front façade of 16 Beacon St., which is home to the Boston Bar Association, and encouraged the applicant to explore other options instead.

In another matter, the commission approved an application for 35 Beacon St. for the removal and replacement of six storm windows on the fourth floor of the front façade, and to fabricate and install wood sills to replace deteriorating sills in kind, with the proviso that the applicant submit drawings to staff showing the windows to scale.

The commission also approved an application for 10 Charles River Square to replace five wood six-over-six windows in the front façade in kind and additional aluminum-clad six-over-six windows in the back-alley facade, as well as to paint the front door red.

This came with provisos that the applicant use true divided-light windows in the main facade; and that the shade of paint for the door match the red color found on other existing doors at 7 and 15 Charles River Square and be subject to staff approval for historic integrity.

In regard to an application for 52 Beacon St. that was continued from Feb. 20, the commission approved the installation of a slanted, sliding glass access hatch at the roof-deck below the existing railing to minimize its visibility from the Boston Common.

The commission approved an application for 73 Mt. Vernon St. to add a seasonal planter, a stone garden bench, granite pavers and a pea-stone path at the front yard, with minor provisos regarding the style of the bench and the installation of bronze recessed well lighting at that location.

Also, the commission approved an application for the replacement of a roof-deck at 99 Pinckney St., with the proviso that two existing 2-foot bump-outs on either side of the deck be removed to make it flush. and that a fascia also be added along its perimeter.

Regarding an application for 104 Mount Vernon St. to rebuild a front brick wall and install a new handrail, as well as to recast the stone sills at the side façade, the commission’s approval came with provisos that spindles for the handrail be reduced in number to minimize penetrations of the historic granite steps, and that the drawings of the handrail and side façade with modified granite corner detailing be submitted to staff for approval.

The commission also approved an application to install a light fixture above the front door of 17A Branch St., with proviso that staff approve the style of the fixture with smaller dimensions to avoid encroaching into the sidewalk, and that the applicant submit drawings to scale of it to staff.

On a violation at 5 West Cedar St., the commission voted unanimously to ratify unapproved “no trespassing” signage, which would eliminate public access to Acorn Street, with the provisos that brickwork be repaired, and that another sign located beneath the signage in question be removed.

In response to the commission’s determination, Eve Waterfall, chair of the Beacon Hill Civic Association board of directors, wrote: “The Beacon Hill Civic Association empathizes with the residents of Acorn Street, and we have suggested several ideas to limit intrusive tourist visits to Acorn Street, but unfortunately certain Acorn Street residents have chosen to post ‘No Trespassing’ signs instead, even though we believe the public has a long-standing right to walk along this street.  Despite assurances that the ‘No Trespassing’ signs are intended for tourists and not local residents, we are worried that this step may lead to future closure of this street by gates or other barriers. 

“The Beacon Hill Civic Association is very disappointed that the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission did not follow its own regulatory guidelines and has improperly decided to allow the closure of Acorn Street to the general public, an historic and iconic street on Beacon Hill that has been open to the public for over 150 years,” Waterfall added.

The commission also voted to ratify a violation for 54 Pinckney St. for unapproved work at the front façade, which included repairing cracks in a lintel, sills and a step; replacing the doorbell and exterior lantern; and painting the front door and trim to match existing.

In contrast, the commission voted to deny the ratification of a violation for 4 Pinckney St. regarding unapproved work at the rear of the property and the installation of an unapproved granite slab and shoe scraper near the front door.

The commission also heard an advisory review for 2 Beaver Place, with proposed work including the addition of a window in a currently “bricked-up” window area, along with the installation of an access door on the side façade.

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