The Boston Landmark Commission decided not to elevate the significance standing of the Huntington Avenue YMCA, while denying further study of a petition that would designate the Y as a Boston Landmark.
“This is the right fight on the wrong battlefield,” Commissioner Charles Vasilades said at the Tuesday night meeting.
The decision came on the heels of a demolition delay ruling that postponed breaking ground on the project until at least June 7. Granting the building Landmark status would have further delayed any renovations to the YMCA, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
On Tuesday, petition presenter Calvin Vineri argued that the YMCA’s significance goes far beyond the local level. Placards in the gymnasium and lobby of the Y proclaim its dedication to social services, physical fitness and education, he said. Of the thousands of national YMCAs similar to the one on Huntington Ave., only four remain.
“The Y’s education programs started Northeastern University,” Vineri added. “It was the birthplace of the University.”
Leslie Donovan, historical preservation consultant to Phoenix Properties, the contracting company hired to complete the proposed dormitory project, disagreed, arguing that the building’s significance is local in nature.
“The Huntington Ave. building was occupied in 1913,” Donovan said. “It was the fifth building the Boston YMCA chapter occupied. The building is not a unique work.”
The issue of preserving the Y has been a hot button topic for a few months, stirring community interest and emotions. Many community members were on hand Tuesday night to voice their support in naming the building a Boston Landmark.
“President Taft laid the cornerstone of this building, so it not only holds national significance, but international significance as well,” said David Diamond, a member of the Y. “The Boston Y was the catalyst to a worldwide movement.”
David Harrington, another community member in support of preserving the building, lamented the dwindling number of fine buildings in the city. He said he doubted the Landmark Commission would gather 100 years from now to evaluate the historical significance of a dorm.
Members of the Landmark Commission recognized the community’s deep dedication to the building and expressed dismay in having to make a decision. Thomas Herman, the longest sitting board member, said Tuesday night’s decision was one of the toughest the Commission has ever had to make.
The Massachusetts Historical Commission can still overturn the decision, and designate the building as a landmark, which would make demolition of the building more difficult.