Huntington YMCA Resubmitted for Landmark Status

Second petition includes testimony from three architectural historians.

Advocates for the preservation of the Huntington Avenue YMCA have submitted a second petition to the city’s Landmarks Commission in a last-ditch effort to raise the building’s status and discourage to build a residential tower on the site.

The petition, which includes letters of support from three architectural historians, requests that the YMCA’s gymnasium, lobby and chapel be studied further for possible designation as Boston Landmarks with state/regional significance. Granting the building Landmark status would further delay any renovations to the YMCA, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The Commission turned down a previous request for an upgrade at a meeting in early May. At the time, Commissioner Thomas Herman said the decision was one of the toughest the Commission has ever had to make.

According to Worcester Street resident David Harrington, the latest petition offers new information on the historical significance of the 1913 building, which is one of only five YMCA’s across the country still used for its original purpose. In a letter of support attatched to the petition, Dr. Paula Lupkin describes the gymnasium as a fundamental part of the YMCA’s early mission.

“The importance of the gymnasium and chapel to the integrity of this building cannot be overstated,” she writes. “The gym was the central feature of the YMCA, the main attraction to the thousands of members, and most joined simply to have access to this athletic facility.”

In another letter of support, History of Architecture Professor James O’Gorman describes the building as one of the city’s finest examples of Tapestry Brick design due to its high profile use and height (10 stories). 

“Rarely was the Tapestry Brick design style employed by prominent architectural firms like Shepley Rutan and Coolidge in designs for monumental, high profile buildings that would attract a sitting President of the United States to the dedication ceremonies,” he writes.

The gymnasium, located off the rear of the main building, is currently slated for demolition as part of Northeastern University’s plan to build a residential tower with space for 720 student beds. Construction was initially scheduled to begin in June, but has been held up by efforts from neighbors and Y members who vehemently oppose the project.

The latest petition will be considered by the Landmarks Commission during its business meeting Tuesday night at 6 p.m. in Room 805 of City Hall. Y advocates have also organized a neighborhood meeting on Wednesday, August 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Susan Bailis Assisted Living facility at 352 Massachusetts Avenue. For more information visit Save the Boston Y.

John Keith August 22, 2011 at 06:55 PM
Well, let's state the obvious. The goal of the obstructionists is to keep the gym open. Unfortunately, their tactics, even if successful, wouldn't work. Designating the property as "historic" would most-likely protect the exterior but do nothing to limit what the interior could be used for. So, the YMCA and the developer could simply include the exterior as part of any tower development. People, focus on something important. You can go to the gym anywhere. I live in the city, too. Your needs do not outweigh mine and those who support this expansion of Northeastern.
David E. Mynott II August 24, 2011 at 03:32 AM
Thank you for a well-written article. The YMCA isn't merely a gym, it's a community, a second home, a haven to children, at-risk youth, the disabled, the elderly; a unique space where mentorship of the young takes place. The gym itself is incidental to what this means to the larger community. A cursory review reveals this is about institutional expansion that negatively effect the surrounding neighborhoods. 1). Stopping institutions (in this case, NU) from running roughshod over our communities with impunity in the form of expansion projects—such as demolishing the Y gym to build a 17-story dorm (Grandmarc at St. Botolph, part 2). 2.) Concerned engaged citizens, demanding justice, & an effective voice in this process; taking back our power, & making certain we have a hand in determining the quality & fate of our homes as well as our shared community spaces. Rather than succumb to complacency, or becoming the sycophants of said institutions—or of City Hall—we've recognized the threat this poses to our communities & exercised our constitutional rights by taking action. Nothing happens by itself. The citizenry must implement it's will; demanding that institutions & our elected officials act as servants of the people, & true stewards of the city. Let's show NU, City Hall, our elected representatives, & the media that we all expect preservation & justice to be a part of public policy. That action, & this article is a start.
RICHARD ORAREO August 24, 2011 at 07:55 PM
There are plenty of alternative sites on the campus of Northeastern that would allow expansion without the demolition of the YMCA gymnasium. Northeastern is simply landbanking at the expense of the Fenway neighborhood. Are you aware that several high schools use this gym for their physical education programs? They have no other gym in the neighborhood to use. John Keith should think beyond himself and the univeristy.


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