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Demolition brings Church of Scientology closer to building new Boston HQ

Posted by Cara Bayles  April 12, 2011 03:37 PM

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Demolition began last week on the old Ivory Bean House on Washington Street. After the building began shedding bricks in February, the city's Inspectional Services Department ordered the Bean's owner, the Church of Scientology, to demolish the structure.

As far as the church is concerned, it had gotten what it had wanted since it purchased the building in 2008.

"Nobody disagrees that the building is in terrible disrepair," said Marc LaCasse, the attorney for the Church of Scientology in Boston. "Its neglect dates back to 50 years before my client owned it."

The demolition was part of the church's plans for its new 45,000 square-foot New England headquarters, which will replace its 27,765 square-foot location on Beacon Street. The project also includes revamping the next-door 19th century Victorian Gothic hotel, formerly known as the Alexandra. The structures both fall under the purview of the city's Landmarks Commission, which had delayed the process by trying to salvage the Ivory Bean, a Greek Revival-style structure built in 1853.

"We were dealing with two conflicting city departments," LaCasse said. "Landmarks was saying 'You can't demolish it,' and Inspection Services was saying, 'You have to demolish it.' "

Demolition on the building began Thursday, a month after bricks began falling from the building onto Washington Street.

"This notion there was any delay in commencing the demolition is not fair, really," LaCasse said. "Even after Inspectional Services issued the order to demolish the building, we still needed to apply for a demolition permit, and there were further requirements beyond that. … Just because ISD says knock it down one day, doesn't mean that you can go in with a crane the next day."

The church has been struggling to get permission from the South End Landmarks Commission to demolish the Ivory Bean for the past year. Walter Maros, the commission's preservation planner, said the building was a connection to the neighborhood's history.

"Certainly, we're sorry to see the Ivory Bean House go," he said.

The church's first application to the Landmarks Commission, in April 2010, was only partially approved. The commission granted permission to demolish the rear of the building, but asked that the church maintain the front façade.

In October, the church reapplied, citing structural concerns about the façade that had arisen since that spring, and contending that maintaining it would be prohibitively expensive. The commission approved the project "in concept," on the condition that the church submitted new plans for the Ivory Bean, which included lowering the height of the building and salvaging bricks from the original structure and incorporating them into the new building in "a playful way."

LaCasse cited the provisional approval when asked why no demolition work had been done in the gap between the recent Landmarks letter in December, and bricks falling from the Ivory Bean in February.

"The Landmarks agreement was somewhat conditional. It said you can demolish it, but not until the redevelopment has been further reviewed by the commission," LaCasse said.

Maros said the commission had not received revised plans from the church since December, but that he knew the church was planning to incorporate bricks from the old structure in the new design.

The Landmarks Commission, in its decisions on the Ivory Bean, already indicated it was "favorably disposed" to the church's plans to rehabilitate the exterior of the Alexandra Hotel building.

"The Alexandra is considered and important anchor building for that corner and the neighborhood in the South End," said Maros. "I think everyone can agree that rehabilitating that is the right thing to do."

Even if that process goes smoothly, the plans will still face a lengthy Boston Redevelopment Authority approval process, LaCasse said.

E-mail Cara Bayles at carabayles@gmail.com.

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