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Landmarks Commission considers landmark status for unique music room in Beacon Hill mansion; current owners oppose move

Interior of the mansion

Interior photos from commission report: But do they reflect current reality?

The wheels of history sometimes move slowly: The Boston Landmarks Commission is currently considering whether to designate the interior of the former Eben Jordan, Jr./Unification Church mansion at 46 Beacon St. as a landmark of local, state and even national importance based on a petition submitted in 1977.

In a report compiled with the help of Historic New England and posted earlier this month, commission staff say the interior is worth of landmark status because it contains a unique auditorium designed by Wallace Sabine, a Harvard professor who became the father of "acoustic architecture," such as at Symphony Hall, the interior of which he helped design. But also, the rooms of the mansion became home of the Women's Republican Club of Massachusetts, a pioneering, "explicitly interracial women's organization" founded after passage of the 19th Amendment.

The initial petition to designate the interior was submitted after the Unification Church bought the building at foreclosure in 1976 for $475,000. The church sold it to a pair of local developers last fall for $20.5 million. According to the commission, it never acted on the 1977 petition because the church never let commissioners or staff members in for an inspection of the building, which Eben Jordan Jr. created by combining the building his father - the man who co-founded both Jordan Marsh and the Globe - owned and the neighboring one.

At a politely contentious hearing last night, lawyers and a historical consultant for new building owners Geoff Caraboolad and Jim Keliher told the commission it had no business trying to tell their clients what to do with their indoor space, that the petition the commission was considering was a "stale legal nullity" because it was first submitted 47 years ago by people who are now mostly dead, that in any case the rooms are "infested" with mold and asbestos, that the Moonies ripped away much of the historically important fabric that once covered the room and that whatever it is Caraboolad and Keliher are planning for the building - they did not say - the spaces wouldn't be open to the public anyway.

"It's strange and indeed troubling that more than 40 years lapsed without any interest to pursue the designation," William Young, a historical consultant hired by the developers, said. He said that under Unification Church ownership, the rooms suffered "massive water infiltration" and resulting mold bursts.

One of the first people to speak after the lawyers, however, was Michael Bojanowski, who signed the original 1977 petition and who, at least on the Zoom session through which the hearing was held, sounded very much alive.

Bojanowski said he continues to believe the space should be designated a landmark. He said the Jordan family was always a strong supporter of music in Boston and that there is "a dearth of beautiful performance space in Boston," a lack that could be exacerbated not only by the possible remodeling of the Jordan rooms but by the elimination of an auditorium at the Franklin Institute building in the South End, once the institute moves to its new home in Roxbury.

One key issue for the commission is the state of the rooms it would seek to save. While the developers say the church let the spaces fall apart, Mother Catherine, the last pastor at the church facility before it was sold, denied that. She said the photos submitted by commission staff accurately reflect what they looked like under church ownership and that while the church did have to rip away one wall due to water getting in, the church left the space in good shape for the new owners.

"I never saw black mold," she said, acknowledging there was asbestos in the basement, but church members rarely went down there.

Proponents said the commission has designated interior spaces as landmarks, including at 314 Commonwealth and 395 Commonwealth - as well as at the Jacob Wirth restaurant.

But Young said those designations were done with the cooperation of the building owners, and only for parts of the building open to the public, neither of which is the case on Beacon Street.

Commission architect Chelsea Blanchard responded that "public access is not a requirement" for designation. Alison Frazeee, executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance said landmark designation does not mean the developers can't do anything with the space, but that designation would help preserve the historic and architectural features should future owners decide to open the space to the public.

"If we lose the space now we lose all future possibilities," she said.

Landmark designation would mean any changes to the space would have to be approved by the Landmarks Commission. Because of its location on Beacon Hill, the building's exterior is already covered by similar oversight by the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission.

Commissioners and developers differed on why nobody from the city has taken a look at the spaces since it was sold last fall.

Lawrence DiCara, part of the developers' legal team, said he offered then Landmarks Executive Director Rosanne Foley a chance in October to have commissioners tour the building so they could see the conditions for themselves, but that Foley refused to let commissioners go over concerns about the Open Meeting Law - even after, DiCara said, he found commissioners could visit the building without worrying about violating the law.

Foley did not have a chance to answer at last night's meeting because Mayor Wu fired her earlier this month over criticisms of the city's approach to historic preservation.

Commissioners agreed to work with the developers to set up an inspection.

Commission Chairman Bradford Walker set a Friday deadline for additional comments to be e-mailed to the commission.



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Mayor Wu will get blamed for this.

Voting closed 27

As she should be, she's proven she owns this.

Voting closed 18

Permits and petitions have to expire at some point. Resurrecting a petion from 47 years ago that was never acted on should not be allowed.

Voting closed 39

Telling someone what they can or can't do within their own home should really scare all of us regardless of political stripe.

Voting closed 39

Get over it.

Voting closed 25

If I owned it I'd be itching to to l rip it all out and put up some sweet recessed lighting and I'd paint all the woodwork white and the walls gray. /s

Who wouldn't want to preserve anything unique about their property? Especially with deep pockets? I'll never understand. Smh

Voting closed 33

Often they don't plan to actually change what's there but still don't want to be bound by a legal restriction that adds limits or mandates the city can inspect the property.

I bet the room is in pretty good shape and they don't want to allow the city to visit as it would reinforce the application to give it landmark status.

Voting closed 31

Yes that makes sense. I guess I assumed that the mold and asbestos "infestation" they claimed implied demolition.

Voting closed 19

sometimes I just need to chill out, shoot some pool, and listen to tunes. The acoustics are amazing with the old carpet on the walls, and I play Chaka Khan at least once a month.

Voting closed 26

In honor of the 1977 petition, can the new owner renovate the room in the height of 1977 design?
I'm thinking rec-room fake dark-stained knotty wood paneling on two walls, textured wallpaper on the other two, drop ceiling, fluorescent tube lighting, and an avocado fridge.

Voting closed 21

Voting closed 18

...we wouldn't have a legislature.

Voting closed 18

Architecture that nobody cares to put time, skill, craftsmanship, intricate detail in, and make unique will never be made again in Boston. Who is left that possesses such work ethic and skill? Brick, Stone, Heavy wooden beams, iron stakes and nails, handcrafted stained glass windows? Meanwhile, Victorians in Boston's neighborhoods become neglected or burnt.

Voting closed 22

In wealthy homes there is still a high level of craftsman, just as before. If you could visit the custom homes of the richest area residents, you wouldn't think details are being overlooked. The house in question was not constructed for or by an average person.

Today the middle class would rather spend money on fancy things inside the home (electronics, etc) as opposed to the room itself. It's the same level of attention to details, only the focus of those details has changed.

Voting closed 18

Because I’ve been in many homes of the wealthy and they are ghastly. Even older ones where some details have been preserved but the kitchen and baths updated. Horror shows!

Voting closed 16

I don't always agree with the choices people make but the projects I've been involved with have excellent craftsmanship and some cool, interesting details. These are new homes. (Very cool stuff in renovations too.)

A majority of custom built homes I've been to (which is a lot) are well constructed with many creative details. Not all are owned by the wealthy but when the owner isn't rich, generally they've done the work themselves.

Speaking of varying tastes, some people thought this room in the Back Bay house was gaudy and waste of money when it was built. People are always more critical of new construction.

Voting closed 15

But the craftsmanship is impressive and it has historical value.

I was almost nauseated when I saw Versailles.

Voting closed 16

90% of everything, including mansions of the gilded age, is crap.

Just as people are complaining about butt-ugly, cheaply-built 5+1s today, the 19th century saw plenty of ramshackle tenements and gaudy upper-class abodes thrown up and torn down within a generation or two.

The old buildings that have survived to the present day--like the songs from decades past that still get played all the time--are the exceptional ones.

Now, it is true that the kind of extremely detailed craftsmanship seen in architecture of this era really is mostly a thing of the past. You can thank the income tax and labor laws for that. Long gone is the day that your average wildly rich SOB could afford a small army of skilled European masons, plasterers, and carpenters to spend a year or three building his castle. Now they just buy giant slabs of Carrara marble that two guys can cement into place.

Voting closed 23

When the the focus is on endless photos of themselves everywhere, I am baffled. Not everyone caught up in the trend is a self absorbed narcissist. But this sure gives off that vibe.

Voting closed 14

In the past the goal was to have a fancy house to create an impression on visitors at dinner parties. People have always been primarily interested in trying to impress others.

People being "self absorbed narcissists" is basically the history of humanity.

Voting closed 17

But they can at least make a effort to pretend they’re not, for appearances sake.
To virtue signal.

Voting closed 16