National Report – A foul ball away from Boston’s Fenway Park is one of the newer, more distinct hotels to open in all of the U.S. The Verb Hotel, which, quite literally, is across the street from Boston’s venerable ballpark, is a restoration of a former Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge, spearheaded by Boston’s own Elkus Manfredi Architects and the hotel’s owner Samuels & Associates.
The hotel, which actually builds off the legacy that began when the Fenway Motor Hotel opened in 1959, is only part of a quasi-renewal of the surrounding area. Elkus Manfredi had a long-standing relationship with both Samuels & Associates and the Fenway community during the developer’s decade-long urban revitalization of the blocks surrounding Fenway Park, where gas stations and parking lots are giving way to a dynamic mixed-use environment of residential, office and retail.
There’s a panoply of adjectives to describe The Verb Hotel: retro, nostalgic, hip are three that come to mind. But reborn probably gives most meaning.
The Verb is a throwback to the motor lodge feel, albeit it in a more souped-up, modish way. It also has a theme that runs through its marrow: Boston rock ‘n’ roll. As Elizabeth Lowrey, principal and director of interior architecture at Elkus Manfredi Architects, told it, the firm drew inspiration and imagery from the archives of the now-shuttered counterculture newspaper, The Boston Phoenix (guestroom artwork features front covers and inside pages from the now-defunct paper), and rock radio station, WBCN, both of which chronicled the musical and cultural phenomena that took place in the neighborhood from the early 1960s through the 1990s.
“The Verb’s design can be summed up as ‘let the good times roll—the rock heyday of the Fenway re-imagined for today’s guest,’” said Lowrey. There’s even a vintage cruise bus parked outside the hotel. “The design plays with a spirited, irreverent sense of humor throughout. It’s a little provocative, a little nostalgic, a lot hip,” she added.
And since the project was a conversion, attention to detail was critical—as was avoiding repetition. “Because there was so much good history, context, culture and architecture to work with, it was tempting to become thematic in our design. We needed to maintain self-discipline to stay away from the thematic and design a truly authentic environment,” Lowrey said.
However, where it could, Elkus Manfredi mixed its new design with elements from the original motor inn. In fact, the firm honored the bones of the original building, retaining the footprint of the motel and guestrooms.
Probably The Verb’s most striking design element is its Mondrian-like patterned windows, which frame the guestrooms and can been from the hotel’s inner courtyard/pool area. They were borrowed inspiration. In 1959, when the original motel was completed, different colored stained-glass windows formed solid vertical lines on its structure. Eventually, these windows were replaced and the vertical stripes of color became irregular. When replacing all the windows for the restoration, Elkus Manfredi deliberately retained the irregular, Mondrian-like pattern.
Meanwhile, the lobby is a smallish lounge setting, with custom blackened steel-plate solid panels and original brick painted black. Textured paint plays up the space’s character by deliberately avoiding a sense of polish, Lowrey acknowledges, adding the lobby may be her favorite part of the hotel. “I especially love the offbeat, friendly quality of it, with its communal banquette mixed with classic Risom chairs and contemporary cocktail tables,” she said. “I also love the dark, dramatic corridors and how they open into the light-filled rooms with the bright glow of the colored windows.”
Lighting also played a key role in the hotel’s design. Lowrey cited the progression from the lobby to the rooms as “a story told by lighting,” as the guest travels from the pink skylight in the lobby, through the glass breezeway filled with daylight and views to the pool, into the room corridors. “The corridors are dark, sexy and moody, void of daylight,” she said. “But once guests find their room door, they move suddenly from the dark corridor into a sun-filled room with bright colors from the colored-glass windows.”
To be sure, The Verb fits every class of person, Lowrey said. From the adult, “who smiles and takes a journey down memory lane when greeted with the rock ‘n’ roll artifacts, to the child smiling upon glimpsing the pool and Fenway Park’s Green Monster as the hotel’s backdrop. There is truly something for everyone.”