Historic Boston Incorporated 1999 Preservation Revolving Fund Casebook : Property Entries Online
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Christian Herter Center

Allston-Brighton

• Rare Boston example of Modernist architecture, employing steel exoskeleton construction

• Fine landscape design by Shurcliff and Merrill on the grounds of the Charles River Reservation

• Part of a planned public-private arts center, the first of its kind in the United States

• Charles River Basin Master Plan calls for preservation for public use but MDC has committed no major funds for this purpose

christianherter.jpg (89165 bytes)

Name: Christian Herter Center Bldg SqFt: 2,520 Lot SqFt: 75 acres (Charles River Reservation)
Address: 1175 Soldiers Field Road Ward: 22 Parcel: 577
Neighborhood: Allston-Brighton Zoning: Open Space (OS)
Year Built: 1959 Use: Leased to New England Sports Museum for archival storage
Style: International Condition: Good
Architect(s): Saltonstall and Morton Owner: Metropolitan District Commission
Historic Certification: National Register eligible
FY99 Building Assessment: N/A
FY02 Building Assessment: N/A
FY99 Tax: N/A
FY02 Tax: N/A
FY99 Land Assessment: N/A
FY02 Land Assessment: N/A
Tax Status: Exempt

Preservation Strategy:

Preserving this mid-20th century structure should capture the imagination of some yet to be identified group. Because of its relatively small scale, it is unlikely it will capture the interest of big financial or political players. A feasibility study and/or think-tank charrette might launch momentum for its re-use and secure its place as a contributor to Boston's heritage.

Significance:

The Christian Herter Center on the grounds of the Charles River Reservation originally housed gallery space for the Institute of Contemporary Art. The building is a fine example of Modernist architecture, employing steel exoskeleton construction with a glass curtain wall overlooking the Charles River. The landscape design employs a tree-shaded system of circuitous paths between the building and the river, provides a circular granite seating area on the front lawn, and sets the building over a man-made moat. Founded in 1936, the ICA joined forces with the visionary Metropolitan Boston Arts Center in the 1950s to plan the first public-private theater, visual arts, and music complex in the United States. The ICA built its gallery using primarily private donations, augmented by state funds and located on Metropolitan District Commission property. Although the art gallery was the only permanent building completed as part of the Arts Center, the idea served as a model for the Lincoln Center in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. The ICA relocated to a larger facility in a renovated historic police station on Boylston Street in the Back Bay in 1975.

Preservation Challenges:

MDC has leased the Herter Center to the New England Sports Museum since the 1980s, first as the museum’s exhibit hall but now relegated to archival storage space. Currently a draft master plan for the Reservation questions the appropriateness of using the building for private purposes and calls for its conversion to public use, such as a nature center, park ranger station, or MDC police substation. Although the draft plan recognizes the building as a historic property, funds are needed for the preservation and on-going maintenance of the building and its grounds and for exploring feasibility of public uses. There reportedly has been some support from the public to demolish the building to reclaim the site for natural recreational use. The current lease arrangements make no financial provision for cyclic major repairs.

Neighborhood Context:

The Herter Center is on the grounds of the Charles River Reservation, separated by a moat from the adjacent Public Theatre, a seasonal outdoor amphitheater. The building is easily accessible from Soldiers Field Road and is within walking distance of hundreds of on-site parking spaces.

Other Sources of Information:

MDC Draft Charles River Basin Master Plan, 1/99; Original plans #37691x-37699x at Plans Library, MDC; MHC inventory form

Entry Completed: 06/25/1999

Summer 2002 Update:

The New England Sports Museum continues to use the Herter Center as an archival facility and has no plans or desire to relocate its archives to a location closer to its Fleet Center museum. The MDC's Master Plan for the Charles River Basin identifies the Center as a key resource of Herter Park and recommends a new public use that is self-supporting and can contribute to the building's restoration and maintenance. Suggested uses include an environmental education program, a MDC Park Ranger Station, or a café. The MDC, however, is not actively planning the reuse of the Herter Center at this time.

Update Entry Completed: 08/12/2002

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