Tag Archive for 'Kenmore Sq'

The Hotel Commonwealth


Ken­more Square, Boston, has always had a rep­u­ta­tion for being a lit­tle bit seedy—much the way Times Square used to be. It boasts a major Sub­way inter­change, the best Ball­park in the Amer­i­can League, if not all of base­ball, and it used to be home to a diverse group of small busi­ness­es and restau­rants.

When I first moved to Ken­more Square, in 1996, there was a Methadone clin­ic, a punk-rock venue called the Rathskeller, a late-night restau­rant called Deli-haus, a grit­ty cof­fee house called Fuel, and a bunch of oth­er busi­ness­es housed in the clus­ter of Brow­stones on the oppo­site side of the Square. In 2003, chalk these land­marks into a new chap­ter of Lost Boston.

When Boston Uni­ver­si­ty pro­posed bull­doz­ing much of the south side of the square, and replac­ing the cen­tu­ry-old brown­stones with a “Euro­pean-style” hotel, city and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers large­ly sup­port­ed the idea… large­ly, I sus­pect, because BU was will­ing to pay gen­er­ous­ly to relo­cate affect­ed busi­ness­es with neigh­bor­hood asso­ci­a­tion ties, such as Cornwall’s Pub. Also, the uni­ver­si­ty is giv­ing mil­lions to upgrade the Sub­way sta­tion and traf­fic con­fig­u­ra­tion in the Square.

Whether or not you iden­ti­fy with my bemoan­ing the loss of a funky piece of an oth­er­wise bor­ing city, what is not in ques­tion is the pub­lic reac­tion when the work­ers final­ly unveiled the facade. For a hotel look­ing to project Con­ti­nen­tal lux­u­ry and flair, it looks like a repro­duc­tion on the back lot at Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios, or, per­haps, Main Street USA, Dis­ney­land. Tacky, cheap, and an insult to a city with tru­ly excep­tion­al archi­tec­ture.

I am not, I think, an elit­ist when it comes to archi­tec­ture… I think clas­si­cist ideals of style and mate­ri­als are prefer­able to 90% of all avant-garde rub­bish of the past 50 years. But, BU and the devel­op­ers cheat­ed by try­ing to copy the style of the French Sec­ond Empire, while using mate­ri­als com­mon on a Wal-Mart job site. Instead of lime­stone, let’s use fiber­glass. Brick too expen­sive? Sub­sti­tute fiber­glass for the real thing. And, the dorm­ers can just be cut-outs—I mean, who looks that close­ly, right?

The fact is, this hotel would look pret­ty good from your car on the Inter­state at 75 MPH, if it were locat­ed out in the sprawl belt of I-495 and 128. It’s car­toon col­or and fea­tures would blur from the high­way strip. But, this hotel is in the heart of the city, with thou­sands of pedes­tri­ans walk­ing by each day. And it looks Mick­ey Mouse, com­pared with the sur­round­ing build­ings.

The pho­tos I took, unfor­tu­nate­ly, fail to show how bad the facade real­ly is. Trust me, it looks as if they were try­ing to save a few bucks… which is pre­cise­ly not the image you’re going for in a 4-star hotel that wants to charge hun­dreds of dol­lars a night. Appar­ent­ly, BU and the devel­op­ers are going to spend $2 mil­lion to “fix” the facade. Good luck.