Hotel Buckminster and the Future of Kenmore Square
Kenmore Square is a Boston landmark, located at the convergence of the Back Bay, Fenway, and Boston University. From the Citgo sign to the assorted restaurants and stores, the square is a bustling amalgamation of various pieces of Boston. Anyone who has been in Kenmore Square recently has noticed the raucous construction that spills into the already crowded streets. Perhaps most eerie amidst this construction is an ornate yet boarded-up building emblazoned with ‘Hotel Buckminster” across the front facade. What is going on with the abandonment and emptiness of this eye-catching building?
The Hotel Buckminster closed in March of 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Built in 1897, the hotel had a long storied history before it shut down. For decades after its construction, it was considered one of the grandest buildings in the area. In 1919, it was the site of the infamous fixing of the World Series. The hotel has also been host to a radio station, a famous jazz club, and even a detention center for prisoners of war at various points in its history. Since closing its doors, the building has remained empty, but that is all about to change.
Photo Courtesy: Angela Rowlings/Boston Herald
The building was acquired on November 3 by IQHQ, a life-sciences facilities developer. The company stated that the Hotel Buckminster will be a key component in a master plan to develop a corridor of life sciences from Fenway to the Longwood Medical Area. However, no specific plans for the building have been revealed, and the purchase price is also undisclosed. Regardless, it is still another lease of life on an already storied building, and another big change in Kenmore Square. Many Bostonians hope the new developers will pay homage to the building’s history and to the location, which is a center point for nearby areas.
Hotel Buckminster’s redevelopment represents a long-standing trend in Kenmore Square towards increased market value over historical merit, one that has been ongoing for decades. After some period as a commercial hub with fine hotels and retail, the Square shifted downmarket. Orienting more towards the influx of college students in the area, numerous clubs and music venues opened, such as the once iconic Rathskeller. Though fun for students and young people, Boston University saw the area as undesirable and made a master plan to overhaul it. Boston University began to purchase real estate in the square and developed Hotel Commonwealth in 2003, a luxury hotel, in an attempt to revitalize the square and its reputation.
The plan worked. Today, Kenmore Square is the site of almost 300k square feet of building space under construction, with some streetscape improvements. Again, Boston University has had a hand in this development, owning much of the land which the new buildings sit upon while selling the aboveground portions.
Additionally, in 2019, a 300 foot-tall skyscraper was proposed next to Hotel Buckminster, where the Citizens Bank is currently situated. The owner of the bank, Robert Korff, envisioned a 300 foot-tall tower, featuring a luxury hotel that would improve the streetscape of the square. The project was approved by the city, though nothing further has been put forth after that. Regardless, the proposal is an exciting new addition to Kenmore Square and Commonwealth Avenue, especially as it could potentially add a large public plaza, and fix traffic patterns.
These proposals and developments reflect Kenmore Square’s desirability today and represent another era of change. The Hotel Buckminster will also move into a new phase of use, paralleling the changes in the area as a whole. For Boston University students and baseball fans alike, these new additions will create a more welcoming and diverse new set of activities to see and experience. Similar to Boston as a whole, Kenmore Square epitomizes a blend of historical character and modern developments. Though there are no more high-end hotels (for now) or thumping clubs, Kenmore Square is still Kenmore Square and will continue to be a destination for the next generation.