Museum could become landmark

December 9, 2011
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LMA—The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum could become an official Boston landmark just in time for its grand reopening in January. That would be exactly four years after Mission Hill activists sought the landmark status to block the museum’s massive expansion.

The art museum at 280 The Fenway is closed until Jan. 19, when it will open to unveil its new, modern wing. The plans for the expansion were once controversial because of little public notice and the demolition of a historic carriage house to make way for the wing. The addition also required moving artwork, which was forbidden by the will of Gardner, who founded the museum in what was once her home. The unadvertised art move was discovered by the Gazette.

In 2008, Friends of Historic Mission Hill filed a petition to declare the entire museum complex a city historic landmark. The status would require city approval of exterior building changes. The Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) accepted the petition, but tabled a vote for years. Instead, the BLC used the petition as leverage to get ongoing review of the expansion’s design.

The museum opposed the landmarking, with Director Anne Hawley once saying it would “jeopardize” the museum’s existence. But the museum participated in the design review process.

Now that the design is done, the BLC is considering an actual vote on the landmarking. It considered the issue at its Nov. 8 meeting, but requested more staff reports, according to the BLC. The museum landmarking likely will return to the BLC agenda next month.

A museum spokesperson did not respond to Gazette questions for this article.

The century-old museum was designed to look like a Venetian palace and still contains Gardner’s furnishings. The glassy new building will house modern art, performance space and other features the older building lacked.

The museum is known for its eccentric yet high-quality collection. But it lost several masterpieces, including works by Vermeer and Rembrandt, in an infamous 1990 robbery. The works remain missing.

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