Berklee Today

Lead Sheet - Buffing a Historic Gem

Director, Physical Plant

Over the past 40 years, probably the most familiar fixture of the Berklee campus has been our main building at 1140 Boylston Street. Since the 1960s, this building has housed both academic and administrative offices and facilities, and for a time, even Berklee students. Its uses have changed and evolved over the years, and that evolution is continuing today with the completion of several significant construction projects.

Recently completed is the renovation of the first floor. The familiar "chrome-and-pink Formica" look is gone, replaced with finishes that are both new and old. The floor plan has changed significantly, as has the use of the space. As Berklee grows, our facilities must change to keep pace.

Administrative services have been moved away from the first floor. The Auxiliary Services Offices and mailrooms have been relocated to the newly renovated space at 168 Massachusetts Avenue. And the old Licks Café has been eliminated and replaced with a food-service area attached directly to the student lounge. The student lounge itself has been transformed into a multifunction room that will meet a wide variety of uses from a lounge/coffee shop, to a formal reception space or to an overflow area to watch a recital hall concert on the new 61-inch video display.

Most significantly, almost all of the renovated area has been converted into new facilities for the Bass Department. The Bass Department left its old space on the third floor to occupy rooms that have been fitted with modern and efficient lighting and cooling. Additionally, the wall construction was designed to provide higher levels of acoustical separation than were previously available anywhere in the building. The Concert Office, which has always been on the first floor, has been moved to a new location on the side of a newly expanded central lobby.

Change is really nothing new to this building. Throughout its life, it has experienced numerous redesigns and changes in use and a fair number of name changes too. The 1140 Boylston Street building was originally designed by prominent Boston architect Arthur Bowditch in 1901. Bowditch designed a number of other important buildings in the area, including the Lenox and Essex hotels. In fact, this building also started out as a hotel. In 1903 it opened its doors as the Carlton Hotel, and was said to be a replica of the Carlton Hotel in London. Around 1910, the Fritz family, owners of the hotel, changed the name to the Fritz Carlton Hotel.

In the 1940s, the building was purchased by the United Seaman's Service and operated as a club and residential hotel for American merchant marines. At that time, it was known as the Bostonian Hotel. In the 1960s the building was purchased by Berklee.

Of course the building has been through innumerable changes during the Berklee years, especially on the first floor. On the front of the building, a glass vestibule was constructed then removed, and now, years later, reconstructed. The original lobby had been reduced in size and finished in 1970s-vintage chrome and Formica, but it now has been returned to its former size, and the original plaster ceiling designed by Bowditch has been restored.

As can be expected with the renovation of any 100-year-old building, this project presented its share of technical difficulties. There were numerous plumbing and electrical lines in places one wouldn't expect them. And the old structure of the building is of a style not used since about 1920. Fortunately, our talented contractors were able to overcome all of these problems.

We were especially lucky to be able to retain the services of a truly skilled, old-world-style plaster restoration company to refurbish the old plaster ceiling. The restoration is simply breathtaking. This old-fashioned style contrasts beautifully with the modern ceiling in the new multi-purpose room, and visitors can now see the blend of traditional and contemporary influences in the college.

And the changes to the building continue. With the relocation of the Bass Department to the first floor, its old space on the third floor became available for new occupants. That turned out to be the solution to our problem of trying to accommodate the rapidly growing Voice Department. Eleven offices were renovated and turned over to the Voice Department, allowing that area to better serve its growing student clientele.

There have been and will be other significant improvements to the building; some are readily apparent, some less so. In recent years, a ramp was added to the building to make it wheelchair-accessible. As well, wheelchair-accessible restrooms have been built.

Office areas have been remodeled to meet today's needs in such departments as Human Resources, Information Technology, the Performance Division, and the sixth-floor executive offices of the President, Institutional Advancement, and the Provost. There have also been improvements to the heating, ventilation, and cooling systems, and the telephone and data infrastructure has been completely replaced and modernized. This winter, we will begin the complete replacement of the building's main elevator.

Vice President of Administration and Finance David Hornfischer said, "These old buildings designed as hotels present many challenges for our twenty-first-century use. The recent changes at 1140 Boylston Street further make this 'historic gem' a more effective part of an ever-evolving Berklee."