Steve Samuels is not a fan of parking lots.
Samuels, the developer and visionary often credited with the rebirth of the Fenway neighborhood, has spent the past 25 years buying up neglected acres of land in the Fenway and partnering to replace those barren asphalt fields with stores, restaurants, and condos. His fingerprints are all over the neighborhood.
But there was one more parking lot Samuels had his eye on, and this patch of pavement happened to be his own. A parking lot behind the Verb Hotel, which Samuels owns/developed with hotelier Robin Brown, was crying out for something.
The Verb, housed in what was once a midcentury Howard Johnson’s motor lodge on Boylston Street, was modernized in 2014 and then filled with rock memorabilia from Boston’s rich musical past. It’s intended to be something of a shrine to the days when bands rolled through Boston and stayed at Howard Johnson’s, trashing hotel rooms and creating other forms of unsavory mischief. So when the idea of building a glass tower on the parking lot behind the hotel was suggested, it was promptly shot down. A glass tower isn’t very punk.
More importantly, Samuels, founder and chairman of Samuels & Associates pointed out that a tower would block sunlight from reaching the Verb’s outdoor, heated pool. Another plan was hatched, and this one was far more unique than a glass tower: An urban trailer park.
“None of this is rational,” said Brown, the founder and principal of Spot On Ventures, which specializes in hotels. “It’s all experiential. We’re just trying to express the uniqueness around this hotel.”
Brown and Samuels are not the kind of gents who would create a conventional, tornado-attracting trailer park experience. Instead, the 10 custom-made trailers that line the parking lot are an “elevated experience,” complete with plush king-size beds, high-end linens, and turntables and vinyl. Even deciding on the colors of the trailers was a painstaking endeavor.
“I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that we spent nine months working with our team on researching paint colors,” Brown said. “We went back through all the ‘60s and ‘70s looking at the colors of Chevys, Harley-Davidsons, and Fender guitars. We looked at how those companies developed their paint colors, what they called them, and how they evolved. It was a crazy amount of detail. We were just complete nut jobs on this.”
It wasn’t just paint colors that required time. The small company in Western Massachusetts building the trailers was walloped with labor shortages. The trailers are based on a vintage design, but they were built specifically for the Verb. The are insulated to stay warm during New England winters, complete with radiant heat in the floors. The interiors are about 400 square feet, similar to a hotel suite. A night in a trailer starts at $599.
“We had to modify them and beef up the structure,” Samuels said. “In the end we had to make them wider and heavier. When you walk in them, they don’t move around like a trailer moves around. It’s a very solid luxury hotel room when you really get down to it.”
These aren’t intended to be replicas of the tour buses that carted bands around the country in rock’s golden age, nor do they adhere to the current Airstream glamping craze (although each trailer does have a small outdoor area and landscaping will provide some shade and a bit of privacy). Backstage is simply intended to be a new experience in the city. Samuels and Brown see it as another way to help maintain the unique feel of the neighborhood.
“It isn’t all about money and density,” Samuels said. “When we were developing the Verb we thought that it was far more valuable to preserve a midcentury motel, which you would never see in a city environment ever again, then it was to tear it down and build a big, modern hotel. The important parts of the project are to retain the character of the neighborhood. Fenway’s got a beautiful bohemian vibe to it. It’s an interesting place. There’s tons of creativity here.”
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