A Tale of Three Sisters
[This is a guest post by iconoclastic developer and marketer, Merrill H. Diamond. Merrill can be reached at [email protected]. Read his bio below.]
The Clarendon, The W, and 45 Province
It’s no secret that 45 Province*, like The Clarendon and The W, its two sister-projects (by way of demographics, pricing and, of course as evidenced here, association by anyone writing about any of the three), has struggled. It’s also no secret that all three buildings came on the market at the exact wrong time, right around the time the financial world and the residential real estate market collapsed in 2008. That said, the similarities end there for me. Most people find The Clarendon to be the best located of the three and, in my opinion, it’s a reasonable piece of background architecture whose only flaw is the unresolved top of the building which looks like it’s missing…its top. The W is both an uninspired piece of architecture and is situated in an area that best can be described as neither here nor there, but relatively close to areas that are both here and there. I wish both buildings well as the economy begins to recover.
The book on 45 Province is that its Downtown Crossing location provides its biggest challenge just as the architecture of the building provides one of its strongest and most unique selling propositions. I tend to disagree with the book in this particular instance. The unfortunately named and tepidly branded Downtown Crossing, especially in and around the blocks surrounding 45 Province, is the closest that Boston comes to a real Manhattan neighborhood. It’s an offbeat mix of stores, restaurants, offices, historic buildings that one sees on almost any block in Midtown Manhattan, In my opinion, Sam LaGrassa’s, right across from 45 Province, is the only deli in Boston that can hold a candle to a real NY deli. And next to 45 Province is The Marliave restaurant, a Boston institution…and another Boston institution, Old City Hall, is right up the street. On the other hand, right next to them, are coin and card shops, small offices and gritty businesses that add to the texture of a neighborhood that’s hard to create and even harder to find in Boston. Indeed, I would have preferred that Downtown Crossing be re-named Midtown to, among other things such as removing the taint of the current name, reinforce the New York City-ness of this unique part of Boston.
And that brings me to the building itself. 45 Province is not only one of the best-designed new residential buildings in Boston, it is one of the few buildings in the Hub that feels like it belongs on a Midtown Manhattan street. Can you name another building in Boston that even remotely resembles this largely un-heralded (it did win a regional AIA award for Design Excellence, but it deserves far better and far more) piece of residential architecture? If you were in Manhattan, however, there are many such buildings although I still think that 45 Province is far superior to most of them and would still stand out. The Epstein Brothers have their detractors like most developers, but every project that they developed over a long and successful career has their unmistakable brand of quality attached to it. Like the recently sold Landmark Center in the Fenway and the old school building in Back Bay that was converted to condominiums and retail (Just to cite two of many other successful Abbey Group projects), 45 Province speaks to developers with a vision of doing something a bit different and a lot better…and an architect like Bruner Cott sufficiently talented to give that vision form and function. In my opinion, it is a work of art and warrants a trip just to see it…either before or after a hot pastrami on dark rye with cole slaw and Russian dressing (both on the sandwich, not next to it) from the aforementioned deli across the street.
The biggest mystery to me is that the biggest knock on 45 Province is also one of its primary assets. That area of Boston is definitely on the Mayor’s radar and, one fine day, sooner than later, the stalled Filene’s project will begin and will spawn other much-needed functional and esthetic improvements to the area. And that means appreciation. Of all three sister buildings discussed here, I think that 45 Province has the best chance to see price appreciation in the shortest amount of time. The neighborhood in and around The Clarendon would have been in the same situation had the Columbus Square project not gotten derailed…and The W? Again, I just don’t understand the location other than to say what I said earlier in this piece; it’s relatively easy to walk to better locations. I think that anyone buying now at 45 Province will be extremely happy in a few years, not only because they bought in a beautiful quality building, but also because their purchase will prove to be a great investment as well as a great place to live as the Downtown Crossing area begins to see its long-awaited revival.
Hey, I don’t get anything from being a shill for 45 Province. I’m just a former architect who knows something beautiful when he sees it…and a developer and marketer who knows what a pioneering building in a newly revitalized area can become almost overnight. This is one building, knowing Bob and David Epstein, that is there for the long haul and not likely to see an auctioneer’s gavel. To any of you deciding among the three, I’m recommending 45 Province and you should move fast before the trickle of sales at each of the three buildings becomes a river of closings at 45 Province Street.
Actually, if we can just convince the Mayor to re-name the area Midtown, the transformation of the area -- and the ultimate success of 45 Province -- will begin before a shovel is even put in the ground for the new Filenes project.
* OK, in the interest of full disclosure, Bob and David Epstein of The Abbey Group were my first clients when I started out as an architect before recognizing the limits of my talent and morphing into a developer…so I definitely have a soft spot for them. That said, this article contains my unsolicited and honest thoughts about their new condominium building, 45 Province, what I consider to be the best contemporary building constructed in Boston since Northeastern’s Marino Athletic Center became a centerpiece of a campus known for uninspired collegiate architecture.
Merrill H. Diamond is a trained architect and founding partner of Diamond/Sinacori, a Boston-based real estate development company founded in 1978. He is currently working on the creation of a new multi-family marketing firm, to be launched soon.
Mr. Diamond has been the recipient of numerous local and national awards for both development and marketing. He has served as both a gubernatorial appointee to the Massachusetts Historical Commission and to the Senate Special Commission on Historic Preservation. In addition, Mr. Diamond has been named “Entrepreneur of the Year” by Arthur Young / “Venture Magazine;” “Merchant Builder of the Year” by the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB), and one of “America’s Most Valuable People” by “USA Today".
Mr. Diamond recently completed The Waterworks at Chestnut Hill, a 112 unit luxury condominium development, co-developed with the late EA Fish. He is currently developing The Shops at OCEAN'S GATE, a 40,000 sf retail center in Marshfield and Charing Cross, a 57 unit condominium builiding in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston.