Christian Science Church Plaza awarded landmark designation by landmarks commission

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Today, Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced that the Christian Science Center, the world headquarters of a religion founded by Bostonian Mary Baker Eddy and featuring one of the city’s most beloved open spaces, has been honored with a designation as a Boston Landmark. The distinguished buildings and landscape of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, represent several distinguished architects whose works on the site span nearly a century. The nucleus of the site, the historic church building ensemble, provides a dynamic backdrop for the tranquility of the almost 700-foot-long Reflecting Pool.

“The Christian Science Church has been a committed steward of this heavily visited Boston site,” Mayor Menino said. “By granting local Landmark status, the City of Boston is recognizing the historic and architectural significance of this collection of buildings and landscape while helping to manage the future changes that will allow the Church to continue its mission.”

Development plans by the Church, accompanied with proposed alterations to the landscape, prompted a group of Boston architects and nearby residents to submit a petition for Landmark designation in 2007.  The First Church of Christ Scientist occupies the religious complex and the Publishing House, now an administrative building, and leases out the other buildings. Working with the Church, a Community Advisory Committee appointed by Mayor Menino and administered by the BRA, the petitioners, advocates for preservation, and members of the public, the Boston Landmarks Commission voted unanimously on January 25, 2011 to designate the property. Mayor Menino signed the designation on January 31 and the Boston City Council confirmed it on March 9, making the designation official.

 The church building ensemble consists of the Romanesque Revival style Original Mother Church erected in 1894 of New Hampshire granite, the limestone-clad Byzantine and Renaissance Revival-style Church Extension of 1906, and the 1975, monumental limestone Neoclassical church portico facing Massachusetts Avenue.  The classical, Art Deco-inspired 1934 Christian Science Publishing House, frames the church buildings on Clearway Street.  The Modernist plaza landscape and buildings of 1971-1972 express the vision of the Church and of architects I.M. Pei and Araldo Cossuta and Sasaki, Dawson, DeMay, landscape architects.  Pei and Casutta designed the Church Colonnade Building along the north side of the Reflecting Pool, the 26-story Administration Building on the Huntington Avenue side, and the wedge-shaped Sunday School Building near the corner of Huntington and Massachusetts avenues.

“It is notable that this is the first designation by the BLC that includes prominent work by living contemporary designers,” Susan Pranger, Chair of the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC), said. “The designation of Boston Landmark recognizes the long history of the Mother Church and protects the architectural history and significance of the Christian Science Center Complex, and, most importantly, it provides guidelines to appropriately manage inevitable changes as the church and the complex continue into the 21st century.”

While Landmark designation recognizes the Church’s plans and allows those plans to come before the BLC for design review, the designation itself neither accepts nor precludes the current proposal for the site. Furthermore, neither use nor interiors of buildings are within the BLC’s jurisdiction and Landmark designation in no way seeks to restrict freedom of religion.

“For over a century the Church has been a part of the history of Boston and contributed to this City’s beauty, inspiration, and progress,” Michael Pabst, Chair of the Christian Science Board of Directors, said. “We look forward to continuing to improve the Christian Science Plaza and to providing places for quiet contemplation and active enjoyment for the public in ways that respect the Plaza’s historic ensemble and fit harmoniously with neighboring buildings.”

The Landmark designation resonates with design professionals and advocates for protecting Boston’s historic treasures.

“The outpouring of support for this designation shows how positively the public feels about the Christian Science Center,” Sarah D. Kelly, Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, said. “It is not only a gem of Modern architecture but a truly special place in the minds of so many Boston residents and visitors from all over the world.”

“The Christian Science Center is one of the most prominent and successful modern urban complexes in the world,” said David Fixler, President of the New England Chapter of Documentation and Conservation of the Modern Movement. “The granting of Landmark status to this ensemble will ensure its lasting place in the history of modernism as a unique, highly significant example of mid-20th century urban design, and a permanent enhancement of Boston’s public realm.”

Released by the city of Boston