A developer has told the BPDA it wants to turn the current Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology site on Berkeley Street into a complex that would include a "senior care facility," affordable housing and a building with retail and office space.
The institute, founded in 1905 in part with money from a bequest of 1,000 pounds sterling left by Benjamin Franklin, plans to move into a new building it will have constructed on Harrison Avenue at Melnea Cass Boulevard in Roxbury.
In a letter of intent filed yesterday, Related Beal says its 310,000-square-foot proposal for a triangular site bounded by Berkeley, Appleton and Tremont streets will include a new senior-care building, "adaptive re-use" of the main Franklin Union building for retail and office use and construction of a 20,000-square-foot building with affordable units.
Related Beal says it will open up passages for the public through the site and that its proposal will "enrich the historic urban fabric of the South End, preserving much of the existing structures on the Project Site while introducing new, contemporary and contextual design and extensive landscape and public realm improvements."
The company says it expects to file detailed plans within two months.
Franklin left the money in 1790 with instructions to use it for 10-year loans of between 15 and 60 pounds to "young married artificers," or craftsmen, such as printers, with the 5% interest he decreed going back into the fund, and with instructions that after 100 years, most of the money be handed over to Boston for public works, but with some continuing to be used to benefit people starting out in technical trades for another 100 years.
A problem arose, though, when the city board of aldermen - basically city councilors - decided to buy some land with the money and somebody sued. In 1903, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled the aldermen could not appropriate the money because Franklin had specified that the members of his lending institution's board of directors include the town of Boston's nine selectmen, but after Boston became a city in 1822, it no longer had selectmen. Franklin also directed that the ministers of the three oldest Episcopal, Congregational and Presbyterian churches serve on the board, but by 1903, the oldest Episcopal church in Boston - King's Chapel - had become Unitarian, the minister of Old South Congregational Church wanted nothing to do with the money and then there was the whole doctrinal debate about just what sort of church could properly be called "Congregational" and so which was the oldest.
Solomonically, the court decided the only answer was to have a justice create a board for the fund by appointing men of distinction, "chosen by reason of their qualifications, intellectual and moral, for this important service," and the mayor.
One of those men was Henry S. Pritchett, the president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who came up with the idea of using the bequest, by then $408,396.48 to set up an "an evening training school" in the technical arts. But by itself, that amount wasn't enough to start an entire new school. Fortunately, Pritchett visited Pittsburgh, and, as one did, if one were the president of MIT, met with industrialist turned philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
As recounted by the Supreme Judicial Court in a 1957 decision (over whether the institute could dip into the fund to meet payroll):
Referring to proposed plans for an evening training school, Mr. Carnegie asked why the "trustees" hesitated. When Mr. Pritchett replied, "For lack of adequate funds," Mr. Carnegie said, "I'll match Ben Franklin."
The Franklin Union opened in 1905 on Berkeley Street.
41 Berkeley St. letter of intent (643k PDF).