Born Again: Bringing the Boston Park Plaza Back to Life
The Boston Park Plaza Hotel has seen a lot in its 90 years. Built in 1927, then as The Statler Hotel, the hotel made waves not only as the largest in New England, but also as the first to put radios and built-in closets in every room.
That series of firsts continued for decades as the hotel pioneered in-room telephones, reading lamps over the beds, mail chutes, and in-house laundry for guests. The Boston Park Plaza is also said to have been one of President John F. Kennedy’s regular meeting spots. In fact, the hotel claims that all but two US presidents have stayed there, as well as other dignitaries, famous athletes, and stars of stage and screen. But, over time, the hotel became increasingly expensive to maintain, and improvements weren’t keeping pace with its aging.
Time for a reinvention
In 2013, Sunstone Hotel Investors took an interest in the Park Plaza, recognizing its potential to return to its former glory. “In its day, it was the finest hotel in Boston,” says George Hensen, vice president of design and construction for Sunstone. “We felt like we could make some changes to restore some of the old and add some new to bring it back to life.” And so George and his team set out to do just that, completely overhauling nearly the entire facility, including its over 1,000 guest rooms. With modern features, finishes, and functionality, the hotel’s spaces recaptured its history and former grandeur while bringing it up to the expectations of modern travelers. The rooms were updated with all new lighting, improved acoustics, new electrical outlets, new furniture and finishes, and renovated bathrooms, while restoring historic elements, such as crown molding, to harken back to the hotel’s original charm.
Go with the flow
Taking on extensive renovations in a 100-year-old building—in an efficient, organized way—wasn’t easy. “Hotel renovations need to move really fast to keep disruptions to guests to an absolute minimum,” says Andrew Emden, project manager for Structure Tone, who led the guest rooms phase of the renovations. “We developed a specialized workflow to make sure the phased room renovations kept moving along schedule.” This workflow cycle started from the 15th floor and worked down each of the hotel’s three wings. The team completed each set of rooms in a 25-day timeframe, with up to 250 rooms out at any given time. Once the first set of rooms was turned over, the phased schedule created an opportunity to return each subsequent set of rooms to the hotel every week until all the rooms were complete. It also helped ensure the overall schedule stayed on track. “Thanks to the structure of the workflow, you could see exactly where we were on the schedule just by looking at the status of each floor,” Emden says. “But, if one component was off, it would have a ripple effect on everything else.” To prevent any ripples from overtaking the project, Emden and his team cycled crews through 24 hours a day to keep the job moving and tackle any hiccups swiftly, cycling crews through to keep the job moving and tackling any hiccups swiftly. The team also had to think on their feet and, quite literally, go with the flow if certain plans weren’t working out as envisioned. For example, when the original design for the 1,000 guest room doorframes wasn’t materializing as expected, the team worked with the hotel and architect to quickly mock up an alternative and go forward from there. “Structure Tone did a great job keeping to the schedule no matter what,” says Hensen. “Despite how much work we threw at them, or how many times we changed our minds, they were able to keep things on schedule.”
In addition to the challenge of keeping the pace of the workflow itself, the team was dealt another round of surprises thanks to the hotel’s nearly century-old origins. “Every day we opened up a wall, we found something we didn’t expect,” says Hensen. “A lot of things change in 90 years, and they don’t necessarily show up in drawings. We often didn’t have any idea what was coming.” Some walls had been flooding inside for years, others were simply falling apart. Steel was corroded in places, piping had to be replaced in others. But the team soldiered on, not only fixing what was broken, but also adding in some systems to prevent these kinds of surprises and issues down the road. For example, there was no separation in the piping system throughout the building, meaning if a pipe was leaking on the 15th floor, it could potentially leak through the entire building. So, while they had ceilings open, the construction team added a valve system so that individual sections of piping could be shut down if a problem occurred. “We were forced to be reactive, but we tried to approach it in a proactive way,” says Emden. “We knew the more we could put into the front end, the better the process would go.”
Back to the future
According to hotel management, staff and guests, the process indeed paid off. With the new rooms complete, the hotel is on its way back to its former glory as a prime destination for Boston visitors. “We’ve won awards as the best renovation in New England, we’ve been in several design magazines and local press—it’s a great story of turning the old lady into a shiny new model,” says Hensen. Guests seem to agree. A recent review on TripAdvisor even credits the renovation directly for their positive stay: “The recent renovation at the Boston Park Plaza has really paid off. The classic, old world charm still exists but now has a modern flair… Nice job!”