Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Architecture Wednesday Urban Renewal Wednesday: The Liberty Hotel

Okay, so it’s not a house ... and it’s not really about the architecture, although the architecture is fabulous.

It’s a hotel ... the luxurious 298-room Liberty Hotel in Boston ... so why is it so special? Well, it’s because the Liberty Hotel used to be the Charles Street Jail, until 2007 and a $150 million renovation. The jail, completed in 1851, was designed by Gridley James Fox Bryant, Boston’s most famous architect. He was so beloved in Boston that when 152 buildings he designed were destroyed by the Great Fire of 1872, he was given commissions to rebuild 110 of them.

The landmark jail was built between 1848 and 1851 in the form of a cross with four wings of Quincy granite extending from a central octagonal rotunda with a 90-foot-tall atrium; thirty arched windows, each 33 feet high, provided ventilation and natural light. The wings allowed segregation of prisoners by sex and category of offense in 220 granite cells, each 8 feet by ten feet.

Over its 140 year life, the jail housed such inmates as Sacco and Vanzetti, Mayor James Michael Curley, Malcolm X, women suffragettes and World War II prisoners from the German submarine Unterseeboot 234.

In 1973, the jail was declared unfit and in 1991, Massachusetts General Hospital acquired the old prison and sought proposals for its reuse, requiring that significant elements of the building be preserved.

In 2001, Carpenter & Company was designated the developer of the project, and entered into a lease agreement with MGH for the land and the jail itself. And thus began the transformation, the work of developer Richard Friedman and the Cambridge Seven Associates and Ann Beha Architects.

They collaborated with historians and conservationists from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the Boston Landmarks Commission, the National Park Service and the Boston Redevelopment Authority to ensure that the end result was a thoughtful balance between architectural preservation and a dynamic new use. The team used Bryant’s original architectural drawings to ensure adherence to his creative vision for the cruciform-shaped building.

After the renovations, the jail’s granite exterior and expansive, light-filled interiors remain largely unchanged. Soaring 90 feet, the jail’s central atrium was preserved to form the core of the new hotel and retains the building’s trademark windows and historic catwalks once used by prison guards.

The former exercise yard is now the hotel’s landscaped courtyard, one of the beloved “hidden gardens” of the Beacon Hill neighborhood. While most of the 298 guestrooms are in a new tower, 18 are in the original jail, connected by the catwalk-like terraces.

I love the fact that what once was a prison is now a luxury hotel, and that much of the original building’s designs have been retained and updated; I also love that one of the restaurants is called ‘Clink’ where diners can look through original bars from cell doors and windows as they order smoked lobster bisque or citrus poached prawns from waiters and waitresses wearing shirts with prison numbers. The hotel bar, Alibi, is built in the jail's former drunk tank. And the old sally port, where guards once brought prisoners from paddy wagons to their cells, is being converted into the entrance to a new restaurant, Scampo, which is Italian for "escape."

It’d be a swell place to escape to ...


VoenixRising said...

Sorry...reminds me way too much of AHS: Hotel. And I'm sure there's way too much bad juju in those granite blocks to allow anyone a good night's sleep.

anne marie in philly said...

as you like to say, bob: FABOOSH! what a renovation!

the dogs' mother said...

Amazing transformation. :-)

jsstrand said...

thought you might find this an interesting sidelight on today's architectural post - the old jail in La Grange, TX (yes, that's the same La Grange of "Chicken Ranch" and "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas Fame") was refurbished and re-purposed as the Visitors Center some years back and has recently been taken over as a museum - I was there and while it is a beautiful old building, inside it does have that feeling of "ghosts in the walls" that Voenix Rising mentioned -

here is a link - sorry there are no inside pictures

Anne Johnson said...

Philadelphia's empty old prison is used as a haunted house in October. Maybe it could be re-purposed.

Bob Slatten said...

That's kinda why i like it .... hoping Matt Bomer might be in one of the "rooms."

Thanks for the link; I love when old buildings are save and restored or repurposed. Even that tiny jail has some great architectural interest!

Mitchell is Moving said...

Oh my god! I had no idea this had been done. Incredible! We once lived off of Charles St. and I always wondered how the ritzy neighborhood of Beacon Hill allowed the city jail to remain at the end of that street.

mistress maddie said...

Now this is what the States needs to do more of. That is fabulous. I love the architecture of it. Philly has an old prison, but it's outside Philly, so I think there not quite sure what to do with it yet. Right now, it's used at Halloween for those haunted scary tours. I hear it's horrific.

Fearsome Beard said...

I'd stay there. I'm sure I'd find many a kindred spirit inside those walls.