HBI Advisors Gather to Re-Envision the Old Corner Bookstore

HBI Advisors Gather to Re-Envision the Old Corner Bookstore

HBI’s Council of Advisors spring meeting took place in the tallest building in Downtown Boston yet focused on one of the neighborhoods smallest buildings – the Old Corner Bookstore.

HBI welcomed the group of 45 Advisors and special guests to the 58th floor of the Millennium Tower for a reception and discussion on the future of the 1718 Old Corner Bookstore, the building the organization was founded to save in 1960 and a structure that turns 300 next year.

Council of Advisor co-chairs, Matthew Kiefer and Carolyn Osteen highlighted the Advisors’ critical part in helping HBI reach its fundraising goal for the Fowler Clark Epstein Farm last year and underscored the Advisors’ role in helping the organization plan projects and priority investments.  While the Advisors were updated on current and future HBI projects, including progress on construction at the Fowler Clark Epstein Farm, the major focus was an exciting panel discussion with architect and HBI Board Member David Hacin, architect and HBI Advisor Alex Kreiger, and marketing and community outreach consultant distinguished guest Candelaria Silva-Collins which aimed to elicit ideas from the broader group on how HBI should celebrate the Old Corner Bookstore’s 300th anniversary next year and how that celebration might inform the future of Downtown Boston’s oldest surviving commercial building.

The panel grappled with two key themes:

  1. The Old Corner Bookstore no longer hosts a bookshop as it once did; younger Bostonians know it better as Chipotle and the building’s lack of interpretive information leaves Freedom Trail walkers struggling to understand its age and deep associations with Boston’s literary pre-eminence in the 19th How might the Old Corner’s 300th year be used to call attention to the site’s historical and architectural importance?

  2. Four different buildings, built at different times between 1718 and 1820, constitute what we know as the Old Corner Bookstore today. However, the buildings have no elevator and the differing floor heights and building connections have made the building, albeit quaint, difficult to navigate for competitive leasing purposes.

Several advisors and panelists suggested that the upper floors should be redirected to a literary uses, perhaps creating live-work spaces for a community of burgeoning writers.  The tone of any uses or interpretation should center on the generation of ideas in order to reflect the tradition of the Ticknor and Fields 19th century publishing house and the great authors it fostered at the Old Corner.

The Advisors felt that creating an interpretation program should be a near term action that could be achieved with signage and more creatively with phone apps for dynamic content.  The evolution of downtown Boston and the Old Corner within that continuum was seen as an important part of the building’s story.

There was strong feeling that a 2018 celebration should include a sound and light show – on the building or above it on surrounding buildings.  The group also noted that temporary or changing thematic wall murals on adjacent buildings might also help bring attention to the site and its history.

The potential for future development at adjacent or nearby structures was seen as both an opportunity and a concern.  Several Advisors spoke eloquently of taller and denser nearby development’s potential to redefine the Old Corner site and others saw opportunities to resolve some of the building’s interior amenities and accessibility (such as an elevator) through solutions in new adjacent development, outside the current footprint of the buildings.

The success of Historic Boston’s efforts to save and restore the Old Corner Bookstore in 1960’s emerged as an important feature of its recent history and one that should be part of any new interpretive program. That the historic buildings’ market leases subsidize HBI’s preservation mission in Boston’s neighborhoods is a little-known point that would call attention to the value of historic building rehabilitation.

This panel discussion was the beginning of plans to celebrate the Old Corner Bookstore in 2018 and begin an assessment of its capital needs for continued success.  HBI is grateful for the thoughtful input of its Council of Advisors in launching that effort.