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There's A Proposal To Preserve Hotel Alexandra Facade, If Not The Whole Building

A rendering of developers' proposal for a multi-story hotel preserving the Hotel Alexandra facade, as seen from Massachusetts Avenue (Courtesy)
A rendering of developers' proposal for a multi-story hotel preserving the Hotel Alexandra facade, as seen from Massachusetts Avenue (Courtesy)

A team of developers is seeking comment on a plan to build a 12-story hotel in Boston’s South End. The development, on the site of the long boarded-up Hotel Alexandra, would include 150 guest rooms, a restaurant and a rooftop bar, according to plans submitted to the city last September.

The developers are working with historical consultants in the hope of preserving the Alexandra’s Victorian facade, which features iron detailing and gothic flourishes. Thomas Calus, a principal at TCR Development, one of the companies involved in the project, says he doesn't have a cost estimate, but he expects the restoration to take up a big chunk of the project’s budget.

“We never, ever even considered proposing to demo the building,” Calus says. “We love the building and we think it needs to be restored.”

The proposal calls for relocating a Silver Line MBTA stop, which is currently in front of the building, to the other end of the block. This would allow for pickup and dropoff outside the hotel, Calus says.

The Hotel Alexandra in 1899, during the construction of the elevated Orange Line tracks. (Courtesy Historic New England)
The Hotel Alexandra in 1899, during the construction of the elevated Orange Line tracks. (Courtesy Historic New England)

The building, on the corner of Washington Street and Mass. Ave, is currently owned by the Church of Scientology. It has remained boarded up for more than two decades, and the only tenant is a beauty supply store on the ground floor.

Called for comment on the proposed development, an employee at the shop was unaware of any plans to relocate the store.

John Neale, historian for the South End Historical Society, says despite the name, the Hotel Alexandra was never a hotel by today’s definition. Completed in 1875, it was built as an apartment building, offering upscale, single-floor living and an elevator. Each unit boasted generous proportions, with only two apartments per floor.

Neale, who is a realtor and longtime South End resident, has made chronicling the history of the Alexandra his personal project. He says he looks forward to an effort to revitalize the property, although he regrets the plan would demolish much of the building’s original interior.

“I would have loved to see the building just restored as is, with no additions on it, but at this point I think we’re all really worried about losing it,” Neale says. “And frankly, a hotel is maybe the life-saving scheme for it.”

Neale says he doesn’t know exactly when or why the Alexandra was abandoned, but he suspects the construction of the elevated Orange Line train right outside its doors around 1900 made it a less desirable place to live.

That train no longer exists, but Neale has other theories as to why it’s taken so long to redevelop the Alexandra.

"It has no parking, it’s a landlocked building, and it has a T stop in front of it, which apparently they’re gonna move," says Neale. "None of those things encourage an easy development. And Mass. Ave. is a very attractive street, but it’s also a very busy street.”

City inspection documents show the Hotel Alexandra has taken a beating over the years. The building suffered at least one fire, in 1986, and an inspection the following year called it “unsafe and dangerous.” The inspector noted that the building appeared vacant and showed signs of vandalism.

“Windows and doors are broken or missing. Leaving building open to elements and trespass. Building is a hazard and a danger to surrounding buildings,” the inspector wrote, recommending that the problems be fixed, or the building razed entirely.

In more recent years, plans to rehab the property have fallen through. The Church of Scientology let the building sit undeveloped for 10 years, after a proposal to turn it into a new regional headquarters never materialized. The organization’s efforts to sell the building also failed. That is, until now.

Calus, of TCR Development, says the companies involved in the restoration and construction proposal are in the process of taking over ownership of the building, and working with the city and with neighborhood groups to revise their plans. If the proposal wins approval from the city, Calus says the developers hope to start construction at the end of the summer.

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