The rounded, iconic brick façade of the Pierce Building says “Uphams Corner” like no other structure, but the 19th Century gem also has been screaming to be restored to its glory days for decades. That restoration is now rounding the homestretch toward an October finish, and its owners couldn’t be happier.
The Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has a lot of “irons in the fire,” as they often say in the development world, but no current project on their agenda has more historic and personal value than the ongoing rehabbing of the Pierce Building.
“When you’re coming down Columbia Road or Stoughton Street, this building is what you see when you come into Uphams Corner,” said Beth O’Donnell, director of real estate for Dorchester Bay. “It is very much what many people think of when they think of Uphams Corner.”
“We’re really seeing it as a milestone in the organization and the community,” she continued. “That’s how we put it into context…We need for it to have a much bigger impact than just building out our offices. We believe it is going to be transformative for Uphams Corner.”
The Pierce Building, according to a 2011 report by the Boston Preservation Alliance, was built around 1905 by J. Homer Pierce, who was a major developer in Dorchester at the time. He named it after family member Samuel Pierce and it always has been used as retail on the ground floor and offices above.
By 1975, the building had hit hard times and was vacant. In the early 1980s, Dorchester Bay took control of the property after a foreclosure. There was significant work done in the 1990s, but, O’Donnell said, it wasn’t the full rehabilitation it needed.
However, an incident several years ago sparked some different thinking about the building.
“We’ve been working toward this renovation for 10 years,” she said. “There was a catalyst event, though, when we realized we needed to get this done – a small piece of stone fell off the façade. We knew then that it was a serious issue.”
The project began two years ago with extensive work to the façade, including repointing the brick, sealing up the envelope, and restoring historic architectural elements. Last summer, the contractor moved the focus to the inside of the 15,000 square-foot building.
Once complete, it will once again become the home of Dorchester Bay EDC, which uses the third and fourth floors as its headquarters. They temporarily have their offices at the old Citizen’s Bank building up the street.
The second floor is being fitted-out as well, but no tenant has been identified. The office space with sweeping views of the Corner could host one to three tenants, said O’Donnell.
The first floor, once the home to Rix Drug Store, and more recently Payless Shoes, is also being renovated. “The windows were boarded up with murals on them, but we’re opening that back up,” said O’Donnell. “We anticipate having a retail tenant on the first floor. It’s not leased yet, but it’s a great retail space with visibility and presence.”
Beyond the more visible work, Dorchester Bay EDC’s Chanie Infante added, some of the less visible items will professionalize the spaces. For instance, all new ADA compliant bathrooms have been added to each floor, and there are all new systems put in place – meaning no more air conditioners hanging out the windows on hot summer days. Likewise, for Dorchester Bay, having a kitchen and staff room will be a major upgrade for the organization.
“Before we had no place to gather and eat or come together,” she said.
The restoration project has been made possible with the funding support of The Life Initiative, LISC, City of Boston Community Preservation Act funds, and the Henderson Foundation.
Dorchester Bay EDC notebook
Beyond the restoration of the iconic Pierce Building, the EDC has several things on the burner right now:
•Current CEO Perry Newman announced his retirement last year. He will officially step down in June, and officials said an announcement on his successor can be expected soon – maybe even this month.
•O’Donnell said Dorchester Bay plans to file a Project Notification Form (PNF) with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) to get their Article 80 community review started on the Columbia Crossing project. That project, in the old Citizens Bank building at 572 Columbia Rd., will create new construction on the site with 62 income-restricted units, more than 15,000 square feet of civic/arts space, and below-market commercial space. It is in partnership with Boston-based Preservation of Affordable Housing, Inc. (POAH).
•Construction has started on Uphams Corner’s first affordable senior housing development at 9 Leyland St., in conjunction with Hebrew SeniorLife – the region’s largest provider of senior health care and living communities. It will contain 43 affordable units for seniors and is expected to be completed next year.
•Finally, Dorchester Bay was the only respondent to the city’s Request for Proposals (RFP) at the Hamlet Street parking lot in Uphams Corner. While they haven’t been designated yet, they will present their initial plans for the lot this month at a community meeting.