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