Behind the scaffolding: Improvements coming to the Old Corner Bookstore

Behind the scaffolding: Improvements coming to the Old Corner Bookstore

For the next two months, scaffolding will cover the building at 277 Washington Street as roofing contractor WS Aiken LLC works to replace the 30+ year-old-roof at 277 Washington Street, part of the historic Old Corner Bookstore buildings. When it’s complete, Historic Boston will have a new roof over its offices, and the entire building will be more energy efficient.

In addition to being leaky, the existing flat roof (behind the pitched slate roof visible from the street) is uninsulated, so the new roof includes code-compliant R-30 insulation.  Three new courses of slate roof will be installed at the peak of the street-facing roof to conceal additional height from the insulation.  New skylights will replace the existing, ensuring the top floor office space will remain bright.

Folan Waterproofing will repoint sections of the chimney that rise above the roof and install protective chimney caps.  The roof replacement is the first step in a planned comprehensive refreshment of the Old Corner Bookstore complex that HBI will be undertaking in the months to come.

The building at 277 Washington Street  (75 Cornhill Street in the 17th and 18th centuries) was built as a residence for glazier, Andrew Cunningham, and his family in 1727, seven years after the adjacent Old Corner Bookstore was built.  It remained a residence for the Cunningham family until 1795, when John West, a publisher and bookseller, became a tenant and converted the first floor to a shop and used the upper floors as his residence.  Through much of the building’s first 100 years, it housed booksellers and publishers, and later a variety of other retail shops on the ground floor that are documented in dozens of historic 19th and 20th century photographs– ticket broker, hat shop, jewelry store, stationer – and other businesses on the upper floors – a pen company, an insecticide company, and several tailors.  As the uses evolved, so too did the appearance of the building.  In the late 19th century, the building was covered with painted advertisements.

When Historic Boston acquired the Old Corner Bookstore and Cunningham house in 1960, 277 Washington Street was entirely occupied by Samuel Narcus Stationers, who rented the building for over 25 years.  In 1976, in celebration of the Bicentennial of the Revolutionary War and American Independence, Samuel Narcus restored the façade to its current appearance.  Although the facade’s re-creation was not entirely accurate to the historic photos, it was a close match.  Today the building is one of four buildings, built at different times, that make up the Old Corner complex.

HBI will be working to ensure the Old Corner Bookstore Buildings, including the Cunningham House, will continue to evolve with changes in Downtown Boston and in the marketplace, while also presenting the rare survival of 18th century buildings that witnessed the growth of the colonial town of Boston into a modern metropolis.

This roof project is expected to take two months.  Stay tuned for updates here.