Evolution of Urbanism: Hayden Building Merges Past and Future

Posted February 28, 2013 by Scott Kearnan in Urban Living
Boston's past and future meet at in the new luxury lofts at the Hayden Building. Image courtesy of CUBE design + research.

“Historic preservation does not inhibit economic development, it ignites it!”

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.

Mayor Menino delivered those words on Thursday, speaking at the dedication ceremony for new luxury loft residences in The Hayden Building, marking the next step forward in the evolution of urbanism in downtown Boston. The Hayden is an architectural landmark by Downtown Crossing. Outside, the building boasts brownstone carved in the classic style of famed 19th-century architect Henry Hobson Richardson. Inside, four new residences gleam with uber-modern design and contemporary fixings: gas fireplaces, sleek home entertainment setups, and state-of-the-art kitchens. They’re dream pads for young professionals and house-hunting couples, and they embody the evolution of urbanism: revitalization efforts that embrace the future of Boston while respecting the city’s storied past.

That’s just the way we like it round these parts. “I don’t want Boston to be like any other city in America,” said Menino. “We are a city with special history, and our buildings are very precious.”

An inside peek at one of the glamorous lofts in the new Hayden Building. Image courtesy of CUBE design + research.

Still, even the best buildings need a little sprucing up now and then. And that’s exactly what the Hayden received thanks to Historic Boston Incorporated (HBI), a nonprofit preservation organization that invests in and rehabs buildings in ways that excite neighborhoods and incite more development. The Hayden Building was built in 1875 but was gutted by a fire in 1985. Without a surefire plan in place, the HBI bought the vacant building – and really, saved it – in a 1993 sale. Most of us restrict our impulse buys to supermarket tabloids, but hey – it’s not every day that a landmark like this, the last remaining Richardson-designed building of its kind in Boston, is on the market.

It’s probably a surprise to a lot of people that, back in the early ’90s, the area by Downtown Crossing and Chinatown looked – well, pretty different. I can remember my (ahem, much older!) brother talking about the “Combat Zone” back then, a district that was home to peep shows and sleazy movie theaters. (Hear that? It was the blood-curdling scream of our Puritan ancestors.) In fact, the Hayden Building itself was once an adult film house – and in a nice tip of the hat to its racy past, celluloid from the old movie reels will be woven into a lobby art piece.

Hard to believe that same area is now home to a Ritz-Carlton, Millennium Place, and The W: far cry from the Combat Zone of yore! But that’s largely thanks to groups like the HBI and Millennium Partners, who have both poured passion into revitalizing downtown Boston. Plenty of dollars, too – the Hayden Building’s recent redevelopment came with a $4.5 million price tag. But you get what you pay for, and while poking around during Thursday’s open house, I found that those residences sparkle with every cent. (Shout out to the architects at CUBE design + research, who did a bang-up build.) My favorite part: movable walls that let you partition the main bedroom into two separate units of any size. Need a home office? Have a dramatic fight with the boyfriend? Ta-da!

The dedication ceremony was packed with city officials, HBI reps, investors, curious passerby and a few prospective tenants too. There was even a dragon dance and drumming by Chinatown performers, and Mei Mei Street Kitchen, a Chinese-American food truck, doled out free lunches. It was pretty obvious how psyched the community was for the opening, and for good reason; any opportunity to attract more residents downtown, while combining the best of old and new Boston, is a step forward in the evolution of urbanism. Now you just need a moving van.



Be the first to comment!

You must be logged in to post a comment.