The quirky brick building at 39 Stanhope Street was originally constructed as a stable, but its evolution in use illustrates the changing dynamic of its vibrant neighborhood. Stanhope Street is a narrow street between Berkeley and Clarendon streets in the Back Bay that was laid out in the 1860s when the marshy area was filled for development. As more residences were built in the Back Bay, stables were necessary to house the common means of transportation- horse and carriage. The keystone over the entrance bears a “P” in reference to Jacob Pfaff, the first owner of that stable. By the 1920s and early 1930s, as transportation technologies advanced, the stables were converted to auto repair shops or warehouses. In 1938 a restaurant opened in the space, which has been a series of different restaurants since then.
Though this series of low-rise, brick buildings are not the type of high-style buildings typically considered historic, they are important vestiges of daily life over generations in this part of the Back Bay. With development threatening nearly every corner of the city, Boston is losing the vernacular and quirky little hidden spots that are essential to the city’s charm and unique character. We feel that a balance of new and old, big and small creates the most vibrant and pedestrian-friendly parts of the city where people want to be and we have therefore urged the owner of 39 Stanhope Street to include preservation of the facade in development plans for the site. We fear the loss of this section of the block would set a precedent for demolition of the rest of the streetscape which would be a meaningful loss of character and sense of place for this neighborhood. In this instance we do not feel the proposed height, which is within zoning, is of concern given the many tall buildings that surround it. We hope to collaborate with the community, the City, and the owner towards that end.
Find project documents at the BPDA website.
Highlights from our activity log:
- May 5, 2022
Alliance Executive Director, Alison Frazee, attends the virtual Public Meeting hosted by the BPDA. The proponent presents the evolution of the project and the proposal. Most of the comments from the public are very supportive. There is some question about the historic integrity of the existing stable facade. The Alliance’s ED comments to reiterate our support for the project saying that not all preservation is about bricks and mortar- it’s also about place-making and story-telling; the preservation of the stable facade provides an opportunity to visualize the history of the neighborhood as technology, transportation, and lifestyles evolved. Hotel guests will enter through a historic facade inspiring curiosity and inquisition into the history of the site.
It is important to recognize that preservation isn’t just about preserving high-style, well-maintained architecture. Vernacular buildings tell their own stories about the people who created them, lived and worked in them, and altered them for different uses. Most buildings that are preserved require some degree of maintenance, restoration, or reconstruction. The Alliance works with property owners to make important decisions about how to best preserve historic fabric for the benefit of the community. We support this project and look forward to further collaboration with the project team, BPDA, and members of the surrounding neighborhood.
- May 3, 2022
Alliance Executive Director, Alison Frazee, attends the virtual IAG (Impact Advisory Group) meeting. The proponent presents the evolution of the project and their proposal. There is a question about a previous version of the proposal that demolished the existing stable building entirely and constructed a hotel entrance with a modern design. The proponent explains, reinforced by the BPDA’s project manager, that the Boston Landmarks Commission has made clear that a non-preservation option is not an option; the proposal for consideration under this filing is for a restored facade of the stable building and new hotel construction behind and above the facade. The Alliance’s ED comments, expressing support for this approach and appreciation for being brought to the table early in the process by the project team.
The Alliance believes that the stable building is historically significant and is a key contributor to the vibrancy of the streetscape. Preserving the facade provides opportunities for place-making and a more dynamic entrance to the hotel, encouraging guests to inquire about the history of the site and the neighborhood. Boston’s most beloved spaces are where new and old come together to illustrate the evolution of the city.
- April 6, 2022
A Project Notification Form is filed with the BPDA. The proposed project reflects the direction that the Alliance discussed with the proponent- preservation and restoration of the facade of this stable structure that will serve as the entrance to a new hotel. The Alliance is supportive of this approach. The first Article 80 public meeting is scheduled for May 5, 2022 and comments are accepted by the BPDA through May 23. More information about the filing here.
- September 28, 2021
The study report for Landmarking the stable building, attached below, is presented at the Boston Landmarks Commission hearing for discussion. The owner of the site shares that after discussions with the Boston Preservation Alliance she and her team were convinced that the stable building is meaningful to the neighborhood and revised a project that demolished the building to one that saves the facade with a hotel tower above/behind, recognizing the value of historic character. Greg Galer, Executive Director of the Alliance, provides comments in support of Landmarking but encourages Accelerated Design Review since the site’s owner is willing to work collaboratively with BLC, neighbors, and the Alliance to design a redevelopment that preserves character-defining features while allowing creation of a new life for the building with new development behind- effectively a compromise. Others who comment support the call for design review before the Landmark petition moves forward. The Commission agrees to pursue that review process. The Commission also agrees that the draft study report needs some significant adjustment and takes under advisement comments including the fact that the report needs to cover the full history of the building including the development proposal which was first filed in 2019. The Alliance will participate in the continued dialogue with the owner and her team, the community, BLC, the BPDA, and others.
- September 7, 2021
The Boston Landmarks Commission releases a draft study report, attached below. The report outlines the history and significance of the property and standards and guidelines for any proposed changes to the site. The study report will be presented to the Boston Landmarks Commission at a future meeting; the site is considered a Pending Landmark until a vote is taken by the Commission, the Mayor, and City Council.
- February 3, 2021
Alliance staff touches base with the project team. There has been no significant movement and much seems to await Boston Landmarks Commission decision on the Landmark petition.
- August 24, 2020
The Alliance submits a comment letter to the BPDA, attached below.
- August 18, 2020
The project team presents to the Alliance’s Advocacy Committee.
- August 6, 2020
The project team gives Alliance staff an update on the project, which has been redesigned to include the preservation and restoration of the facade of the stable building with a new hotel behind and above. This is the direction that the Alliance encouraged the team to take in previous meetings. Staff provides feedback on elements of the design.
- March 10, 2020
The Alliance submits a comment letter, attached below, that supports the petition to further study this property for Landmark designation.
The Boston Landmarks Commission holds a hearing to consider accepting a petition to further study the stables at 39 Stanhope Street for Landmark designation. The petitioners give a presentation about the historic significance of the building. The owner of the property is provided the opportunity to comment, and also presents information about the site, claiming the building is not significant enough to be a Landmark. Alliance staff speaks in support of accepting the petition. The Commission votes unanimously to accept for further study a petition to Landmark the property. This hearing is the first step in the process; the next step requires the preparation of a study report before a future hearing to officially designate the property a Landmark, pending the approval of the Mayor and City Council. Letters of support for Landmarking the structure can be emailed to BLC@Boston.gov.
- February 2020
THIS MEETING HAS BEEN POSTPONED. The new date will be added when announced.
A Preliminary Hearing will be held by the Boston Landmarks Commission to discuss and vote to accept for further study a petition to designate the Richards-Follettt-Pfaff Stables, located at 39 Stanhope Street, as a Boston Landmark. The meeting begins at 6:00 p.m. at Boston City Hall, room 900. Letters of support in advance of the meeting can be emailed to BLC@Boston.gov. If the petition is accepted at this meeting, BLC staff will conduct further research into the historic significance of the site and make a presentation to the Commission at a future meeting where the Commission will vote to Landmark the site. The February 25th meeting is the next step in the Landmarking process, but this is not a vote to Landmark the building.
- January 28, 2020
The Boston Landmarks Commission considers a survey rating upgrade to determine if the building is historically significant beyond the local level, a necessary requirement for Landmark eligibility. BLC staff presents information about the history of the site and Back Bay residents emphasize the building’s importance to the neighborhood. A motion is made and approved to elevate the survey rating.
- January 21, 2020
The Alliance meets again with the proponent to revisit ideas to incorporate the facade of the stable building into the hotel project. The proponent maintains that none of the options are feasible and plans to move ahead with demolition. The Alliance agrees to disagree, feeling that there are viable options for a successful hotel project that incorporates and celebrates the existing building and that the stable is a character-defining feature in this streetscape that should be preserved.
- November 21, 2019
The Alliance meets with the proponent to discuss the project and any alternatives to demolition that have been analyzed. The proponent presents three preservation schemes and their preferred option, which is complete demolition and new construction of a hotel. The preservation schemes include reconstruction of the facade- either just the front wall, the front wall and the mansard roof, or the front wall and roof with an open space behind that forms an arcade, or courtyard space, in front of the entrance to the hotel. The proponent described challenges with all three preservation schemes and questioned whether it would be worth saving the facade at all. The Alliance offered suggestions for other ways to make a preservation approach viable in order to preserve the historic streetscape. The proponent acknowledged that the loss of this structure would likely be a catalyst for demolition along the rest of Stanhope Street and agreed to look again at alternatives to complete demolition.
- October 4, 2019
Alliance staff meets with the owner of the property to discuss the proposal and potential alternatives to demolition, namely incorporation of the facade into the new project. We emphasize the benefits of the unique facade to the community and as an opportunity to define the proposed hotel. The proponent agrees to discuss with the architect and consider our request.
- September 24, 2019
The proposal is discussed at the Alliance’s board meeting.
- September 11, 2019
A Letter of Intent is filed with the Boston Planning and Development Agency. The letter is available below.
- July 2019
The Alliance hears from members of the community with concerns about the potential loss of a stable on Stanhope Street.