Progressive Architecture Magazine


Original Jordan Marsh building 

Original Jordan Marsh building 

Unity in Boston to stop Jordan Marsh


“They think we’re going to fold our tents and go away,” said a preservationist, his voice as full of surprise as fatigue, commenting on the reaction of “they”—Jordan Marsh, New Engand’s largest store—to the battle to save the store’s 19th century façade. Quite the contrary:  for the first time Boston architects, urbanists, and preservationists have banded together on behalf of this elegant, eclectic structure that runs along the old downtown main street. 

Six months ago the Boston Redevelopment Authority bundled the plan for Jordan’s new store together with an I.M. Pei-designed project called Lafayette Place into a red-white-and-blue bicentennial package. The L-shaped clutch of buildings altogether bore a price of $220 million and would cover eight acres of Boston’s limp retail district with stores, offices, and hotels—a tantalizing array for a depressed economy and a mayor for re-election.

Design proposed by Stephen Roberts Holt 

Design proposed by Stephen Roberts Holt 

View showing new retail space inside the existing facade. Except for new lateral bracing, new construction and facade restoration could proceed independently. 

View showing new retail space inside the existing facade. Except for new lateral bracing, new construction and facade restoration could proceed independently. 

Looking into the package last spring, self-dubbed street watchers decided that the $30 million in city funds and more in tax benefits to Jordan’s was “a giveaway.”  A City Conservation League headed by Leslie Larson has emerged in response. With Jordan’s 19th century store due for demolition in February, the League has picketed, written protest letters, and protested a counter scheme designed by Stephen Roberts Holt and Richard Bosch of Holt Associates with structural engineer Herberts Ule. Salvage, they maintain, would cost no more money and take no more time and still would place new facilities inside the old façade. The press coverage was positive.

So far, Jordan’s, which is fond of flourishing its civic history and beneficence, will talk to the League but won’t rework the plan, nor will its parent, Allied Stores, in New York.  In like spirit, they refused to comment.

By all accounts, the Pei office could barely get a dialogue going on the linked buildings. “No comment,” said Jacques Teze, president of Sefrius Corp., the French firm developing Lafayette Place, about the forbidding, wall-like design.

Stymied for now, the preservationists are moving towards an environmental lawsuit at this writing, but are not to sanguine about the future. They admit that they came in late and won’t be too surprised to see a parking lot instead of Jordan’s old structure come February. “At least Jordan’s has united a bunch of people so it won’t happen again,” said Bosch.