Preservation Magazine, Winter 2024

Beach Beauty: South Boston's Newly Renovated Curley Community Center

photo by: Anton Grassl

Since 1931, Boston’s Curley Community Center (once known as the L Street Bathhouse) provided a place for city residents to enjoy an evolving list of amenities, from public baths to modern fitness equipment. But the South Boston building’s greatest asset—its beachfront location—made it increasingly vulnerable to sea-level rise. A $31.2 million renovation of the center, which reopened to the public in June 2023, addressed this concern while reconfiguring the interiors to better support local needs.

Architect Kelly Ard of designLAB architects worked with multiple engineers and other consultants to fortify the 56,000-square-foot structure, which stretches for a quarter mile along the shoreline of Boston’s Old Harbor. “Boston has great guidelines regarding new buildings and climate change, but what you do with historic structures is a fascinating question,” Ard says. The team strengthened the building’s masonry-and-steel frame with additional steel “so it can stand up against wave action and wind,” she notes. They also repaired the concrete slab foundation and waterproofed the interiors, in part by incorporating removable floodgates and locating new mechanical and electrical equipment on the upper floors.

DesignLAB focused its more visible preservation efforts on the exterior, where crews repaired and replaced the Art Deco cast-concrete detailing and repointed the brick as needed. The newly ADA-compliant building, operated by the Boston Centers for Youth & Families, hosts activities such as summer camps and fitness classes, and still provides free beach access to all.

Meghan Drueding is the executive editor of Preservation magazine. She has a weakness for Midcentury Modernism, walkable cities, and coffee-table books about architecture and design.

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