(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)
Historic Boston Inc. bought Chinatown’s Hayden Building in 1993, when the burned-out shell of this historic building faced demolition.
Now, the historic-preservation organization plans to reopen the building with four new apartments and an improved first-floor retail space in time for the 20th anniversary of the purchase.
“A project that has been a labor of love, the restoration and re-activation of the Hayden Building represents a project that’s come full circle, finally, and it also represents the best of collaboration and historic preservation in Boston,” said Kathy Kottaridis, the organization’s executive director, at a recent ceremony celebrating the beginning of renovations.
“It’s taken us 20 years to reach this, so we really should be celebrating.”
The building at 681-683 Washington St. was built in 1875, designed by the famed architect Henry Hobson Richardson, who also designed Trinity Church and Harvard University’s Sever Hall and Austin Hall. Over its 137-year history, the building has been used for many purposes, including a tailor shop, dental office, jewelers, Army/Navy store, record shop, and an adult theater.
By next spring it is scheduled to house four apartments, each with a gas fireplace, modern kitchen, original exposed brick, and ample wood paneling.
Architect Chris Johns, a partner at CUBE design + research, said he and the other architects working on the project did extensive research into Richardson’s work, other architecture of the period, and the past uses of the building.
“In preserving a building with historic significance like this, I don’t think we’re just preserving a physical artifact,” Johns said. “So we took a stance early on that we’re preserving the ideas behind the building. We’re preserving the notion of who lived here before, what this building was like, what’s the DNA of the building over its course in time.”
At the June 4 celebration, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, the city’s longest-serving mayor — currently just shy of 19 years in office — quipped that someday he would be declared a historic site.
Menino praised Historic Boston for helping to preserve Boston’s historic character and revitalizing neighborhoods around the city. He said when he first toured the building in the 1990s, he was dubious that it could be salvaged, but the preservation group had proved it could.
“Historic preservation is central to our city’s identity,” Menino said. “Like no other American cities, Boston is almost 400 years old. Our efforts are important because they help keep Boston unique, so I’m glad that Historic Boston is working to rehab this rare building.”
Menino said he was proud to support the effort with a $250,000 loan from the Department of Neighborhood Development and to co-chair Historic Boston’s Trilogy Fund, a $1 million capital fund created to support the preservation of the Hayden Building, the Alvah Kittredge House in Roxbury, and the Vertullo Building in Hyde Park.
The total renovation cost for the Hayden building is estimated at $5.8 million. It will be paid for in part with $2.9 million for the adjacent building containing the Penang restaurant, sold by Historic Boston last year to the Kensington Investment Company.
Matthew J. Kiefer, president of Historic Boston’s board of directors, reminisced at the ceremony about his experience working for the Boston Landmarks Commission just after graduating college, with his first assignment being a study report on the Hayden Building.
“That requires you to inspect the building pretty carefully. The uses in this building were colorful. Not all obvious when you first walked into the building,” Kiefer said. At the time, lower Washington Street was the center of the city’s notorious red-light district, the Combat Zone, and the building was used as an adult theater and bathhouse.
Ronald M. Druker, president of the Druker Company, a major supporter of Historic Boston, and co-chair of the Trilogy Fund, also reflected on the neighborhood’s sordid past.
“Who would have ever thought, standing on the first floor of this building, that we’d be saying, ‘Location, location, location’?” Druker said, crediting Menino and other city officials with cleaning up the area and making it a desirable for developers.
For a photographic tour of the Hayden Building click here.
(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)