After nearly a decade of inaction and delays, the Boston chapter of the Church of Scientology has agreed to sell the Hotel Alexandra in the South End to a developer, giving neighbors hope that the boarded-up landmark could be finally restored to its former splendor.
The prospective buyer of the 142-year-old Alexandra, at the corner of Washington Street and Massachusetts Avenue, is Eric Hoagland, the son of CVS Pharmacy founder Ralph Hoagland.
Celebrated by preservationists for its unique Gothic-style ornamentation and colorful sandstone facade, the Alexandra was once a posh home for wealthy Bostonians. But the building has been mostly vacant for decades, a neglected eyesore that looked increasingly out of place as gentrification swept through the neighborhood.
The younger Hoagland, whose Common Management Group manages several residential properties in Cambridge, confirmed that his company had signed a contract to purchase the Alexandra and a neighboring parcel. But he declined to detail its terms or his plans, saying he was still assessing “how to approach this property,” and cautioned it could take a year for the deal to close.
“Common Management is delighted to have the opportunity to redevelop the iconic Alexandra building,” Hoagland said in a statement. “Like so many of the residents who have patiently waited for this building to be brought back to life, we see its beauty and promise, and very much look forward to engaging with our neighbors and other stakeholders to restore this property.”
Bob Minnocci, who helps lead the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association, said neighbors are open to various uses for the dilapidated property, including a hotel or residences.
“The community would love — love — to see that building refurbished,” he said. “It’s been an eyesore for years and years, and a waste of very valuable space. But in the right hands, it could be beautiful.”
The Scientologists bought the Alexandra and a historic brownstone next door dubbed the “Ivory Bean” for $4.5 million in 2008, saying the properties would be extensively renovated and replace a building on Beacon Street in the Back Bay as their headquarters.
But the church’s hopes were never realized. In 2011, the Scientologists were forced to demolish the Ivory Bean building after bricks from the crumbling facade fell onto the sidewalk. Meanwhile, the group struggled to raise the $17 million necessary for restoration of the Alexandra, and then concluded the building was too small for its needs.
The Scientologists listed the building for sale in December 2014. As time dragged on without a buyer, some neighbors pressed the city to take the property by eminent domain. Even now, some are skeptical the sale to Hoagland will actually close.
“We’ve had so many false starts before,” Minnocci said.
The Alexandra, according to neighborhood historian John Neale, was a prime example of the luxurious “residential hotels” that were trendy at the time of its construction in 1875. In addition to several ground-floor shops, the building featured eight large apartments and unusual amenities, such as an early elevator powered by a piston attached to a city water main.
However, the completion in 1900 of the Washington Street Elevated train line outside its windows diminished the Alexandra’s aristocratic appeal, and it became a home for factory laborers. For the past 30 years, it has been mostly vacant except for a beauty supply store; the upper stories were extensively damaged by several suspicious fires in the 1980s and 1990s and remain boarded up.
Currently, Scientology parishioners are renting office space in Quincy while they raise money to renovate an office building in Allston they purchased in 2015 for their new headquarters. An earlier lease for temporary space near the Alexandra ended with the landlord suing the church.Dan Adams can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Adams86.