With the Combat Zone facing demolition in 1970, a graduate student in architectural history set out to survey the neighborhood. Peering above adult bookstores and X-rated cinemas, Cynthia Zaitzevsky admired the forlorn upper stories of several 19th-century buildings, but one stopped her in her tracks.
Grime obscuring its salmon-colored sandstone, the Hayden Building at 681-683 Washington St. remained a fivestoried thing of beauty. At once slender and substantial, its design suggested Henry Hobson Richardson - the best-known American architect of his day and the most celebrated in Boston’s history. But Zaitzevsky knew Richardson’s works had been catalogued, and this wasn’t one of them.
Except it was. Zaitzevsky would unearth an 1875 building permit bearing Richardson’s name and discover that the architect designed the Hayden for his wife’s family, while completing Trinity Church, but never recorded it in his office books. That finding contributed to the defeat of the urban renewal project to raze the area and led to landmark status for the Hayden, but it brought no immediate glory to the decaying building, occupied by a peep show and gay bathhouse. A 1985 fire ravaged the upper floors, leaving the building charred and vulnerable.
Now, a long-stalled campaign to save the vacant Hayden Building is barreling toward the finish, with $5.8 million in funding and a plan not to freeze the Hayden in amber but resuscitate it. Richardson’s last remaining commercial building in Boston - considered a prototype for the modern skyscraper - will be revitalized with first-floor retail and four floors of apartments. Historic Boston Inc., which championed the Hayden’s rebirth, will hold a groundbreaking with Mayor Thomas M. Menino to celebrate Monday.
“This is true preservation by standing in front of the wrecking ball,’’ said Kathy Kottaridis, executive director of the nonprofit Historic Boston, which has kept the building on life support since acquiring it two decades ago. “Though in this case, the wrecking ball was benign neglect.’’
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