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Landmark lives on

Vacant Sears warehouse and distribution center is transformed into a mixed-use office, retail and entertainment facility

October 01, 2001 |

Set in the middle of Boston's Fenway district, the mammoth, 1.5 million-sq.-ft. Sears, Roebuck and Co. warehouse and distribution center has served as a landmark for the local neighborhood for more than 50 years. The seven-story, Art Deco-style building sits prominently on nine acres of parkland that is part of the Emerald Necklace designed by famed landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted in 1887.

Sears closed its catalog operations in 1980, and the building was abandoned by 1988. Three separate attempts to redevelop the building failed. The first two called for the structure to be demolished, while the third plan proposed that the building be gutted and transformed into a parking structure. All three plans were rejected, in part, because they would scar or eliminate the historic building, which was placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

Finally, in 1996, Boston-based developer The Abbey Group commissioned architect Bruner/Cott & Associates of Cambridge, Mass., to rehabilitate the historic building. The $55.5 million, two-year project transformed this once "slumbering giant" into a mixed-use office, retail and entertainment center.

Known today as the Landmark Center, the building includes 600,000 square feet of office space, 200,000 square feet of retail space, parking for 1,700 cars and a 13-screen movie theater.

Enter daylight

Most important to the developer was creating space that was attractive to potential office tenants. A major detriment, says Robert Epstein, chairman and CEO of The Abbey Group, was lack of natural light.

With original floor plates spanning 220,000 square feet, natural light could not reach the interior spaces of the building. To solve the deficiency, two seven-story atriums were carved through the building's core, which consists of a cast-in-place concrete frame supported by concrete floor slabs. The building has a 20-by-20-ft. column grid.

Jerry Yurkoski, project manager with Watertown, Mass.-based structural engineer Souza, True & Partners Inc., says the removal of the 100-by-100-ft. sections of the floor slab for the atriums eliminated much of the dead load. The remaining weight was distributed evenly to the adjacent columns with the use of tubular steel cross bracing.

Even more challenging, says Yurkoski, was eliminating six columns on the second floor for the movie cinema.

"Instead of trying to transfer the load on the column above on the third floor," explains Yurkoski, "we removed the entire column all the way up to the roof. We then replaced the existing 9-in.-thick floor slab in three 37-by-60-ft. areas on each floor with a lighter 31/4-in.-thick concrete slab and 2-in. deck system, which was spanned back to the nearest columns. So we eliminated much of the dead load from the existing floor slab, which weighed about 110 pounds per square foot, and substituted it with a lightweight floor slab system that spanned 37 feet back to the nearest columns, instead of 20 feet.

"In all, a total of 50 columns were removed from the building between the atriums and the movie theater," adds Yurkoski.

The atriums are topped by 5,000-sq.-ft. skylights that feature angular, asymmetrical planes. The skylights — and all the other new roof structures — are set so that they are masked from the street by the building's existing parapet in order to maintain the historical integrity of the exterior.

Thanks to the new atriums, "no tenant is ever more than 42 feet from a window," concludes Epstein. The building's anchor office tenants is Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, which leases 505,000 square feet of space.

Construction Costs

General contractor $10,000,000
Concrete 3,500,000
Masonry 3,000,000
Structural steel 5,000,000
Thermal and moisture protection 3,000,000
Doors and windows 3,500,000
Drywall 2,500,000
Finishes 2,500,000
Elevators 3,500,000
Fire protection 1,000,000
Plumbing 1,500,000
Mechanical 7,500,000
Electrical 6,000,000
Miscellaneous 3,000,000
TOTAL $55,500,000

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