The Boston Landmarks Commission voted during a virtual meeting held Aug. 10 to waive a 90-day demolition delay for three historic West End buildings that will be razed as part of Mass General Hospital’s planned expansion.
MGH intends to demolish the building at 16-18 Blossom St., the former Winchell Elementary School building (a.k.a. Ruth Sleeper Hall) at 24 Blossom St., and the former Tenement House building at 23-25 North Anderson St. – three of about a dozen buildings from the old West End that survived urban renewal – to make way for a pair of connected 12-story towers located within the campus to provide the hospital with much-needed new hospital beds, along with new clinical and lab and clinical space, as well as 971 below-grade parking spaces.
Tom Sieniewicz, a partner with the architectural firm, NBBJ Design, said the project team had considered 25 different alternatives, including preserving the existing buildings; relocating them; preserving their facades in place; and relocating the existing facades, before determining that they would result in the loss of proposed health and clinical services or would disrupt the construction sequencing, among other potential adverse consequences. If the buildings were relocated, they also would have likely suffered structural damage in the process, he added.
City Councilor Kenzie Bok, who, together with Rep. Jay Livingstone, worked diligently with the project team to find alternatives to demolishing the three buildings, said none of them proved feasible.
“These are valuable buildings, and this is a tough thing to lose them,” said Councilor Bok, “but a bunch of us who really care about buildings and the history of the neighborhood have been digging deep in the weeds for a long time …and think everything has been done on the MGH side to preserve these buildings.”
Councilor Bok also praised MGH for the proposed mitigation for the project, which includes preserving the façade of the Winchell School and integrating it into the new development; and issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a maintenance garage the hospital owns at 12 Garden St. for potential reuse as affordable housing, as well as providing financial and other support to the Old West Church, the Museum of African American History, and the West End Museum, among other area organizations.
In particular, Councilor Bok lauded the hospital’s commitment to transform a property it owns at 75 Blossom Court, now home to a small grocery store, J. Pace & Son, into a much-needed community and senior center for the West End.
Echoing Councilor Bok, Rep. Livingstone said the decision to demolish the three budlings didn’t come lightly.
“Councilor Bok and I tried to be as creative as possible to preserve the buildings and get the results of the great medical services that will be provided if these buildings are built,” said Rep. Livingstone.
“We tried to be incredibly creative and tried to be incredibly thoughtful, but it just wasn’t to be.”
In contrast, Commissioner David Berarducci, who voted in for of the demolition delay, was in the minority who wanted to see the buildings saved and lamented losing even more of what little history remains from the old West End.
“It feels like a freight train that can’t be stopped it feels like at this point,” said Berarducci.