Former west campus buildings have new life

Once the focal point of Emerson College’s Back Bay campus, the brownstone buildings on the west side of campus are slowly being sold to outside companies.

Emerson students had taken classes and attended rehearsals at 130 Beacon St. and 67-69 Brimmer St. Now, the buildings house multi-million dollar condominums and a private elementary school, respectively.

The properties were both sold in 2003, a decision which angered some students, especialy those who used the buildings for extracurricular meetings.

“The way that students have suffered from the move is that they are now very focused on how technically advanced the show looks, which is great, but sometimes the content suffers,” said senior TV/video major Daniel Coffey, a four-year member and former unit manager of Emerson Independent Video (EIV).

David Rosen, vice president of Public Affairs, said the properties were bought for a combined $17.7 million in 2003. He said the buildings were sold in an attempt to consolidate the campus.

According to Rosen, the rest of the west side of campus, which includes residences at 6 Arlington, 100 Beacon and 132-134 Beacon streets, as well as the Student Union at 96 Beacon St., will go on sale in the spring of 2006.

Rosen said the buildings might be bought as soon as summer 2006.

To replace the west side properties and complete the “Campus on the Common,” Emerson will open two new residence halls in the Theatre District.

The Piano Row building, set for completion in the fall of 2006, will not only include dorms, but also a new student union, dining hall and basketball court.

The Paramount Center, scheduled to open in 2008, will contain the renovated Paramount Theatre, as well as new dorms and rehearsal space.

In June 2003, 130 Beacon St. was sold to The Beal Companies for $11.5 million, according to Stephen Faber, vice president of Asset Management for the Boston-based real estate group.

The college purchased 130 Beacon St. in 1933 and used the space for administration offices and classrooms. Before its sale, the building also served as the base for several organizations including The Emerson Review, The Berkeley Beacon and EIV.

Faber said The Beal Companies, however, will return the space to its intended purpose.

The building will now be renovated into 11 condominiums, expected to be finished by December, which are estimated to sell for the $34 million total, Faber said.

“The original use for these buildings was personal mansions,” he said. “We are restoring them to their original use because they were not built to be used in an educational setting.”

130 Beacon St. was not the only building sold during the cross-campus move.

In May 2003, 67-69 Brimmer St. was sold to Park Street Kids, Inc. The building’s performance studios were converted into the rooms of Park Street School, a private elementary school that opened this September.

Tracy Bradley, the head of schools, said it currently serves kindergarten through third grade, but that the school plans to add one grade per year until the fall of 2008, when it should house 220 students in grades K through 6.

A part of the Emerson campus since 1970, 67-69 Brimmer St. was first devoted to an interdisciplinary program designed to replace the more traditional general education requirements.

The series of classes offered there, called the First Level Program, was geared toward allowing for more exploration and experimentation than the previous curriclum, while still offering the basis of a liberal arts degree, according to “A Short History Of Emerson College,” a timeline listed on the Emerson library’s Web site.

In the years directly prior to its sale, the building consisted mostly of rehearsal spaces and dance studios, and was a hub for performing arts before facilities were moved to the Tufte Performance and Production Center in 2002.

For Bradley, the rooms once used for studios were the perfect find for school officials.

“The space was amazing and we could envision everything we wanted to do here,” she said. “We are able to have a science lab, a gym and a library in what used to be the performing arts spaces.”

Some students said they think the gradual sale of the campus’ west side has done damage to the college’s history and culture.

“It’s a true devastation,” said junior film major and 100 Beacon St. Resident Assistant Annemarie Bartholomew. “These buildings have the most character. The west side has a certain sense of community that can’t be duplicated.”