Today’s Modern Monday posting is highlighting the Charter House Motor Hotel (now Royal Sonesta Boston). Completed in 1963, the first tower, with its zig-zag shape was developed by the Hotel Corporation of America, led by founder A.M. “Sonny” Sonnabend.
Sonnabend decided to locate the company’s first ever high-rise motor hotel in the United States in Cambridge due to its location near transportation routes, businesses, universities and proximity to the downtown Boston area. To stand out from competition, the motor hotel required high quality design, ample parking, and interior amenities including: televisions, radios, air-conditioning, and complete hotel services for all rooms. The word “Motel” was created as a blending of the words “motor” and “hotel” and has since served as a defining piece of roadside architectural history.
The Hotel Corporation of America was renamed Sonesta International Hotels Corporation in 1970. Due to the success and location of the Sonesta Hotel on Cambridge Parkway in East Cambridge, the Sonesta Corporation began planning for a renovation and addition to the hotel, doubling the amount of rooms and enhancing facilities for the modern traveler. Architect John T. Olson designed a Post-Modern tower to stand next to the 60’s Modernist hotel. Boston Globe’s architectural critic at the time, Robert Campbell called the original tower an “upended waffle” and noted that the later addition was the region’s first large-scale Post-Modern development.
The Post-Modern tower addition features large expanses of brick and is distinguished by the gabled features at the roof. John Olson, the head architect explained the design and goal as wanting to make a hotel that would look house-like and more domestic than institutional. The triangular gable shape was seen as a symbol for the idea of a house and was repeated both inside and outside of the addition. The pediments over the slightly projecting wings, resemble the long expanses of rowhouses which are synonymous to Boston architecture. Besides red brick, the main cladding material on the building is a green tile, which was selected to resemble the patinaed green copper seen elsewhere in Cambridge and Beacon Hill, just over the Charles River.
The two towers stand proudly at the entrance of Cambridge from Boston and showcase how far architectural taste can change in a matter of 20 years. Globe writer, Campbell stated that “The new wing of the former Sonesta Hotel on the Charles River stands next to its predecessor as if the two were a pair of slides chosen by a professor of art history to illustrate just how far architectural taste can travel in a single generation”. Which wing do you prefer?