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Planning Musings

BPDA Should Approve the Project to Reimagine the Hotel Alexandra

The Hotel Alexandra on October 30, 1899. Photo in the public domain.

This is the text of a letter I sent on December 12, 2018 to Michael Sinatra, the BPDA project manager for 1767-1769 Washington Street, a proposal to restore the façade of the former Hotel Alexandra and construct a new hotel on the site.

The BPDA should approve this project. The proposal balances preserving the ornate façade of the historic hotel building, with providing a new landmark at this broad intersection.

While beautiful, the existing building does not contribute to a sense of enclosure given the 90-ft. width of Massachusetts Avenue and the over 120-ft. width of Washington Street. Erecting a 144-ft. building will not alone correct this issue, but it will hopefully set a precedent that encourages similar efforts.

Although some commenters may oppose this project over light and air concerns, we should dispense with the miasma theory of disease and embrace the science and urgency of responding to climate change. Transportation is the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts. To reduce these emissions, Boston must get taller. Extra wide Washington Street is a key transit corridor that can accommodate growth without generating as many vehicle miles traveled as areas that are less well served by sustainable transportation.

Aside from the Silver Line, the building is about a half-mile walk to the Orange Line, has frequent #1 bus service and bike lanes on Mass Ave, and a nearby BLUEbikes station at Washington and Lenox streets.  Walk Score gives the immediate neighborhood a 94—walker’s paradise. In line with these conditions and the vision of Go Boston 2030, the proposal rightfully does not include any on-site parking.

Although I would prefer a residential building, the new 150-room hotel would help to relieve Airbnb/short-term rental pressures on existing housing stock. The two restaurants will be destinations for residents and guests alike, and the proposed sidewalk seating will enliven that street corner.

If a setback on the Washington Street side must exist, then it should start after reaching the height of the adjacent 1783 Washington Street. Setting back the building after only one story creates an odd gap and emphasizes the blank wall of the neighboring building. The new construction should instead be flush with the historic façade. Far from degrading the older architecture, the juxtaposition would heighten the contrast and visual interest.

I have family living in the neighborhood and I do not own a car, so I regular ride the Silver and Orange Lines and walk its streets. During my many visits, I have witnessed the slow decay of this building. With this project, I look forward to seeing the decline halt, the façade restored, and this asset to the neighborhood reborn.



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