For more than a decade, hundreds of Boston tourists and natives have asked Mark Verrochi the same question: Where is Faneuil Hall?
“You’re standing in it,” he would tell them.
Many influential leaders, such as Samuel Adams and Susan B. Anthony, have walked through Faneuil Hall’s doors since 1742. Yet Verrochi, who opened Red Barn Coffee there in 1998, said it is often overlooked.
“We used to see a swarm of people walking toward the hall, but then they would just walk around it because there is no signage on the windows. So people just thought it was another museum on the Freedom Trail,” Verrochi said.
That may all change beginning Friday, when Faneuil Hall, the stout red brick building across from City Hall, opens its doors to the public after a 20-month renovation, just in time for Memorial Day weekend.
In November 2010, renovations began to the street-level market area and basement of Faneuil Hall, including upgrades to electrical and lighting fixtures and a new look for the vendor area. Verrochi described the $6 million renovation, paid for with city and federal money, as “rustic industrial.”
Even with the renovations, history remains evident in every corner.
Grasshopper Sweets owner Sara Youngelson and her employees slide platters of dark chocolate truffles into a new polished glass case. Next to it sits a 270-year-old column that displayed the stall numbers of Faneuil Hall’s original shops.
Verrochi and his wife unpack freshly ground coffee and meticulously clean their brewers. They will never use the old meat hangers that hover over their shop, a legacy of the building’s past.
“There is so much history within this building,” Youngelson said. “This is the history hub, and that’s what makes it so unique.”
The most significant change to the hall is the addition of a National Park Service visitors’ center, which will include an interactive information booth. A portion of the basement will also be used as a classroom, so that the Park Service can host lectures and other informational sessions.
“Faneuil Hall is a very special place, but it adds more to the area in terms of tourism to have a partnership with the National Park Service,” said Peter Sullivan, Faneuil Hall project manager with the city of Boston.
Sean Hennessey, a spokesman with the National Park Service, said the renovation was an opportunity to move the agency’s visitors’ center from 15 State St., to Faneuil Hall, a major tourist attraction.
“Our visitors’ center had pretty much outlived its lifespan. It’s not nearly as open and airy and light-filled and welcoming as this place is,” Hennessey said.
It was not as technologically advanced as the new visitors’ center, either. Visitors will have access to four wall-mounted iPads, which will display an app showcasing major historical sites with videos, audio features, and basic historical information.
Visitors will also be able to download the app, called NPS Boston, on an Android or Apple smartphone and use it as a map guide to historical sites.
But Hennessey said technology will never replace old-fashioned human-to-human contact.
“You are still going to be able to come in and be greeted by a Park Service ranger or guide,” Hennessey said. “We are marrying the old with the new.”
The Grand Hall area, where the mayor delivers the annual State of the City address, was not renovated because it was not needed, said Sullivan. Renovating the market and basement levels ensures that the building continues to meet its purpose, Hennessey said.
“In 1742, Peter Faneuil donated this hall with the stipulation that it is always to be used as a public meeting place, and this floor was always to be a public market,” Hennessey said. “That’s the way this place was supposed to be, and that’s the way it is.”
Security guards surrounded the hall Thursday morning because Sullivan said people still try to get in, even when each door is surrounded by three steel gates.
“There has been a lot of anticipation. People have been asking when they are going to open, and what shops are going to be in there because people were very familiar with some of them,” Sullivan said.
Hennessey said the renovations will allow future generations to continue incorporating new technology while preserving the history of Faneuil Hall.
“The best way to save a place is to use it. We have made it more contemporary and upgraded the system, but these are the bricks that were here before,” Hennessey said. “It’s the cradle of liberty, and it’s still rocking.”
Alejandra Matos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.