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Huntington YMCA Denied Landmark Status a Second Time

The Boston Landmarks Commission denied petitioners' second attempt to make the Huntington Avenue YMCA into a Boston Landmark.

Tuesday night marked another disappointment for supporters of making the Huntington Avenue YMCA an official Boston Landmark.

The Boston Landmarks Commission denied a to consider upgrading the building's status to a Boston Landmark with state/regional significance. When the petition was first denied at the Commission’s May meeting, petitioners were told they could present new research and information to the Commission at a later date.

“There’s been a lot of study and passionate research,” Commissioner Ellen Lipsey said on Tuesday. “Every effort has been made by petitioners on two occasions to document the significance of the building, but we find at a staff level neither upgrade [nor] acceptance of the petition is warranted.”

The decision seemed to hinge on the fact that to be a Boston Landmark, a building must have local and state, regional or national significance. The Commission believed that though the Y has much local significance, the building has no greater impact.

South End resident David Harrington attempted to convince the Commission otherwise during his presentation on Tuesday, which focused on the architectural importance as well as the historical and social significance of the building.

The Huntington Avenue building is the only YMCA designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, a prestigious firm known for designing South Station and the Chicago Public Library, he said. The use of Tapestry Brick design in the gymnasium is one of the finest in the city, he added, citing a letter of support from History of Architecture Professor James O’Gorman.

Countering Harrington’s claims of new evidence was a lawyer representing the YMCA of Greater Boston President and CEO Kevin Washington. Leslie Donovan, a historic preservation consultant for Tremont Preservation Services, also spoke. 

“A lot of things that have been addressed in the new petition are really about why the Y itself is significant,” Donovan said.

She went on to state that the Huntington Avenue YMCA, built in 1913, is not unique in its age, considering the YMCA in Hyde Park was built in 1902.

She added that as far as being the founding building for Northeastern and its cooperative education program, a point Harrington made in his presentation, the Huntington Avenue Y has not been the only Y to create a school. Springfield College, she said, came directly from a YMCA in Springfield.

The final commission vote was 7-2 in favor of denying the petition, with two members recusing themselves from the vote. Commissioners Yeager and Colton voted in favor of the petition.

Approximately 25 people attended the Tuesday night meeting, and a majority were in support of the petition.

Supporters included general concerned citizens, as well as members of Save the Boston Y, whose mission is to block Northeastern University from demolishing the YMCA gymnasium to build a 720-bed residential dormitory.

Save the Boston Y is holding a neighborhood meeting tonight, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Susan Bailis Assisted Living Center, 332 Massachusetts Ave.

RICHARD ORAREO August 24, 2011 at 07:45 PM
THE ISSUE IS THE NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY PLAN TO LEASE THE PROPOSED SEVENTEEN STORY DORMATORY THAT WILL BE BUILT BY A PRIVATE DEVELOPER FOLLOWING THE DEMOLITION OF THE YMCA GYMNASIUM. THIS IS FURTHER UNIVERSITY EXPANSION IN THE EAST FENWAY. THE ISSUE IS OF POLITICAL RATHER THAN HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE. THE MAYOR AND THE CITY COUNCIL WANT THE GYM DEMOLISHED IN FAVOR OF NORTHEASTERN. MORE THAN 1100 YMCA MEMBERS SIGNED A PETITION AGAINST DEMOLITION. REMEMBER VOTERS, THERE IS AN ELECTION THIS NOVEMBER. RICHARD O.
metasyntactic August 24, 2011 at 08:34 PM
The proposed plan calls for Northeastern and its developer to pay the YMCA $21.5 million, which will go towards renovations that are needed for the building that will benefit existing members. Are each of the 2700 members willing to pay about $8000 each in order to match that kind of investment in the building? Likely not. Additionally, the community has demanded that Northeastern take its students out of the rental market and now Northeastern is trying to comply. You can't have it both ways.
Victor August 25, 2011 at 12:39 AM
^ I agree. Residents complain that Northeastern students are moving off campus, raising the cost rent and causing problems. As a result, Northeastern decides to build a new dorm to house more students on campus. Then residents also complain about that. You can't have it both ways.
Kyle Robidoux August 25, 2011 at 09:39 PM
I live in Lower Roxbury and I've seen a tremendous increase in students (many NU students) over the past 3-5 years. This increase has coincided with the new NU dorm on Tremont (by Ruggles). So I'm not at all convinced that another new dorm will decrease the number of students in my n'hood. I would be interested in finding out how much, if any, NU's enrollment has increased over the past decade? I have a new-found understanding of what folks in the Fenway & Mission Hill have been living with for years (loud parties, increase in rents, displacement of families, etc.).
John Keith August 26, 2011 at 04:05 AM
Enrollment at Northeastern has dropped by ~33% during the past 20 years. There were 32,809 students (undergrad and grad) in 1989 according to the NE Board of Higher Education and 21,070 students in 2009 according to the City of Boston. NEU purposely reduced enrollment during this time while increasing the "quality" (read: SAT scores) of its students. During that time, however, the number of students who live on campus and in Boston has probably increased, as the school moved from being a commuter school to a university with an actual campus. What you're seeing is probably the result of the changes - more college-age students in the neighborhood who used to head home to the suburbs in the evening. Or, you're just getting old and cranky.
David E. Mynott II February 12, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Read between the lines: The Boston Landmarks Commission is controlled by the mayor, & he wants this dorm project done. Their decision was made long before that 8/23/11 hearing. Any other Fenway neighborhood business would be laughed out of the city's Zoning Board Office (or does one even exist in Boston?) for requesting such an expansion of its footprint. As for Leslie Donovan's testimony; look who hired her. This 'culture of corruption' extends well beyond City Hall. Kevin Washington was purposely brought in from out-of-town to seal this deal (he's overseen similar projects in other cities), having no true ties or loyalty to the community or the Y gym membership. He doesn't work out at the Y he's paid 300K+ annually to run. The Y's own Board of Directors, who brought in 'Wrecking ball' Washington, contains a suspiciously high number of developers (many on the BOD are wealthy, don't work out there, & don't live in the community). 'Save-the-Boston-Y' members encourage NU to build needed dorms—on it's OWN land parcels (of which it has many); we've been students ourselves & have lived among students for decades; & all YMCA gym members recognize the need for renovation. This project lacks vision: witness NU's mediocre-neighborhood-relations (except those whom it has cynically co-opted, coerced, hoodwinked, or hired): it cares little for communities it exploits. We, who aren't beholden to institutional, corporate, or gov't forces must protect the true 'common-wealth'.

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