BHAC Approves City’s Application for Sidewalk Work Around State House

The Beacon Hill Architectural Commission voted unanimously to approve the city’s application to make sidewalk and crosswalk modifications around the State House during its May 20 public hearing, which took place virtually.

Zach Wassmouth, a project manger for the city’s Public Works Department who brought the proposal to the commission during an advisory review on April 15, again detailed the city’s plan to install wider, wire-cut-brick sidewalks around the State House, as well as for a new “caution plate with bumper ramp” at the west corner of Park and Beacon streets and raised crosswalk at Park and Bowdoin streets.

The number of existing travel lanes on Beacon Street wouldn’t change due to the project, he added, which has already received approval from the Boston Landmarks Commission, as well as from the city’s Public Improvement Commission.

The “impetus” for the project, said Wassmouth, was to improve pedestrian accessibility on this section of the Freedom Trail and around the Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial on the Boston Common, among other popular nearby attractions.

Some modifications from what Wassmouth brought to the Architectural Commission in April, he said, include wider sidewalks in front of the Shaw Memorial and “bumping out” the sidewalk on the east side of Park Street.

All brick sidewalks in front of the State House would be replaced and reconstructed using the same type of modular-sized wire-cut brick previously approved for use on the sidewalk around the Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital, said Wassmouth.

Also, approval has been granted for a cast-iron detectable panel surrounded by concrete on the Freedom Trail to maximize the amount of brick in that area, added Wassmouth.

Some existing parking spaces in front of the State House would also be shifted to the west side of the building, said Wassmouth.

The crescent-shaped area in front of the State House, known as “The Well,” falls under the purview of the state, however, said Wassmouth, and the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance is now preparing to install 27 bollards there. But Wassmouth is now negotiating with DCAMM to get them to use the same type of wire-cut bricks for their project, he said, and the state had expressed its willingness to go along with the request, budget permitting.

Eversource has also agreed to the city’s request to modify utility covers around the proposed brickwork to further complement the project, said Wassmouth,

Rob Whitney, chair of the Beacon Hill Civic Association board of directors, expressed the group’s gratitude to both Wassmouth and the city for “making it a better project” by working with the community to find this solution.

Martha MacNamara, a returning commissioner who was recently sworn in as the Beacon Hill Civic Association’s appointed representative to the commission, said she’s concerned that they’ll have “no control over what DCAMM does…and we’ll end up with two kinds of brick, and that will look terrible.”

The commission approved the city’s application as submitted, with the proviso that in the event that DCAMM doesn’t agree to use the selected type of wire-cut brick, Wassmouth would meet with Architectural Commission staff to resolve the issue.

In another matter, the commission approved an application from the owner of the new restaurant taking over the former Lala Rokh space at 97 Mt. Vernon St. to repurpose an existing sign and awning outside the building to reflect the new name and concept, as well as to repaint the interior vestibule and surrounds in Benjamin Moore classic black paint, which Kristin Jenkins, the proprietor and applicant, said is used throughout the neighborhood.

           Jenkins told the commission she intended to modify the existing wood sign outside the establishment, which still bears the name “Lala Rokh,” in the same encasement to reflect the name of the new restaurant, “1928 Beacon Hill,” which pays tribute to her grandfather’s year of birth.

As for the awning, Jenkins has proposed making it black with white trim, emblazoned with the number “1928.”

The commission unanimously approved this application, with the proviso that a lighter palette is used for the paint than was proposed, and that the color match the building’s window trim.

Meanwhile, the commission also reviewed an application for 46 West Cedar St. to demolish the ell and existing roof deck to reconstruct the roof deck at the rear of the property, and to replace a vinyl window in the front dormer.

Nick Armata, senior preservation planner for the city, said if both the replacement of windows (which, the applicant said, are mostly replacements from the ‘90s) and the installation of a shoe scraper at the rear entry are compliant with BHAC guidelines, they should be remanded to staff for final approval.

The commission also unanimously voted to approve the application as submitted, with some minor provisos, including that a mockup of the new roofdeck be erected to ensure the structure wouldn’t be visible from a public way.

Likewise, the commission unanimously approved as submitted an application for 119 Tremont St. to replace metal downspout brackets and supports with painted copper supports.

On an application for 42 Irving St., the commission voted to deny the applicant’s request to rebuild an existing dormer within 12 inches of its existing width to provide it with additional structural integrity, while referring the applicant’s request to install a 16-inch lighting fixture (which is the same length as the existing fixture) in the entry to staff for approval.

The commission voted to continue an application for 58 Temple St. to replace non-historic glazed glass with historically appropriate etched glass to allow the applicant ample time to research the history of the building and its details before submitting a new application.

On an application for 34 Irving St. to remove the roofdeck to replace the rubber roof, and to replace the roofdeck in exactly the same location, the commission approved the work as submitted, with provisos suggested by Commissioner MacNamara to move the deck back 6 inches from Irving Street from its current location, as well as to use a wrought-iron` railing painted black for the deck.

(The commission had previously approved the roofdeck in 1997, even though it’s visible from a public way, so the 6-inch adjustment, said McNamara, would allow the commission “to minimize its [earlier] mistake.)

While Commissioner Alice Richmond said by going back on its determination from 1997, the commission is setting the “worst kind of precedent,” P.T. Vineburgh, chair of the commission, countered that it instead leaves them an “out” in rare instances where it’s later discovered that an approved structure doesn’t comply to their guidelines.

The commission approved an application for 68 Chestnut St. to replace two garden-level casement windows, with provisos that the windows be restored rather than replaced, and that laminated clear glass is used per the applicant’s suggestion. Further details of the project will be remanded to staff for approval.

On an application for 28 Pinckney St. to install a small fixed panel to house the mechanism to open and close the garage door, the commissioners (except for Richmond, who abstained) denied the proposed work and encouraged the applicant to return with a new design, or to instead find one that conforms to the conditions of the commission’s previous approval in 2019.

During an advisory review, the commission also heard from representatives of the homeowner of 17 Louisburg Square who is exploring the possibility of changing the building’s façade to match those of 11 and 13 Louisburg Square, respectively.

The three buildings were once identical in appearance, according to representatives for the homeowner, since in 1907, they were all joined together into one structure that then served as a convent. The buildings underwent another transformation in the early ‘90s when they were converted back into their original iteration as three single-family homes.

Commissioner MacNamara discouraged the homeowner from altering the home, since, she said, “it’s important not to erase any changes made over time.” But Commissioner Richmond countered that since the project would transform the home back to its original iteration as a single-family home, the commission should support the project as proposed as it would encourage other applicants to restore their properties to the original conditions as well.

Commission Chair Vineburgh said that the two opposing viewpoints illustrate the arguments for and against permitting the proposed work, especially because “it’s hard to delineate when you don’t have something that’s clearly historic significant.”

An application for 23 Brimmer St. to replace the rear door and transom light at the rear of the fourth level appeared on the agenda, but ultimately wasn’t reviewed by the commission since the applicant failed to attend the meeting.

Commissioners Vineburg and Danielle Santos are stepping down from the commission following the hearing while Wen Wen will remain on the commission for a few months until she relocates overseas, said Armata.

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