Right now, the hopes of Wolf & Co. and others that want to save City Hall are focused on the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC), the city agency charged, as its Web site puts it, with “identifying and preserving historic properties.” On April 24, the BLC voted, seven to one, to accept a petition to explore granting City Hall landmark status, a designation that’s tantamount to the preservationist Holy Grail.
But City Hall’s would-be saviors probably shouldn’t get their hopes up. For starters, the commission’s members are all mayorally appointed, which gives them an obvious incentive not to gum up the mayor’s plans. In addition, even if the BLC does class the building as a landmark, this decision would be subject to a mayoral veto — and it’s a good bet Menino would exercise it.
Preservationists’ ongoing efforts to lobby the BLC also have been undercut by fears about the possible consequences of advocacy. “I’ve heard that it was suggested to architects,” says Wolf, “in personal conversations with people in City Hall, that it would not be to their advantage to speak out against the demolition or removal of City Hall. Whether those were innocent conversations or politics in its worst form, there definitely are rumors, which I believe on the basis of the people I heard them from.”
“People tell me they didn’t feel comfortable signing the landmarks petition or writing letters of support because they felt it could hurt their business,” Wolf adds. “They simply said, ‘The mayor’s all powerful. That’s the way the city works.’ ”
Another reason for preservationist pessimism: some of their current allies seem to dislike City Hall as much as the mayor himself does. Take Michael Flaherty, the at-large city councilor from Southie who seems likely to run for mayor in two years, whether or not Menino seeks re-election. Right now, Flaherty and the preservationists appear to be allies. In March, Flaherty filed a motion for an external study of Menino’s plans for Drydock Four, the BRA-owned site where Menino wants to build the new City Hall. (The BRA handles both planning and development for the city, an arrangement that critics see as dubious.) This motion, in turn, led to a May hearing that was dominated by critics of the mayor’s plan; at that hearing, Flaherty basically accused the mayor of disregarding a decade of urban planning.
But Flaherty actually has very little in common with Wolf and Gleason. In fact, as he reminded the Phoenix, he called for the construction of a new City Hall on the Rose Kennedy Greenway several years ago. “This building doesn’t necessarily work for me,” Flaherty acknowledges as we sit in his City Hall office. “I don’t think it’s that aesthetically pleasing. There are doors and hallways that lead nowhere. Look at this — spores in the concrete slabbing. None of the windows open up, so we can never get any fresh air!” In high dudgeon, Flaherty climbs up on his desk and directs my attention to a block of lights that simply can’t be turned off. He climbs back down. “I don’t know if City Hall was ever useful,” he says. “But it’s outlived its usefulness.”