Tuesday, September 21, 2004


The real estate news is that the top floors of the Virgin Megastore building at Newbury Street and Massachusetts Avenue are going to become — right, you guessed it — luxury condominiums.

It sometimes seems as though there hasn’t been a condominium built in Boston, Cambridge or neighboring communities in the past five years that hasn’t been “luxurious.” Speaking as a person of moderate income and aspirations of downward mobility, this can be a little disheartening. Since I can’t afford to buy, I can keep living in the area so long as I’m prepared to rent increasingly small apartments. By 80, if I last that long, I could be living in a walk-in closet with a chamber pot.

On the other hand, it’s difficult to get completely disheartened, because there’s a chance things will go in the opposite direction. With every condominium built for the rich, a glut is a good bet, and I could wind up living it up for very little money.

It can only help that many of these condominiums are wildly oversold. People’s idea of luxury varies, but not everyone finds it luxurious, for instance, to live amid the incessant sounds of traffic on a major city’s main thoroughfare, whether off Cambridge’s Porter Square, as this office-building wannabe will be, or in the throbbing bass line of the Urban Outfitters end of Newbury Street, as is the Virgin building.

Some may also mind being conned into a purchase by the allure of a dropped name, a la George Costanza’s purchase of a car once driven by “John Voight.” In this case, Boston Residential Group is claiming 360 Newbury St. has “Frank Gehry design.”

It’s true the building has inexplicably won design awards. It’s true Gehry had a hand in the building’s revamp in 1987, in that he “collaborated with” the architects, as the Boston Business Journal notes. But the building is essentially a big box wearing a platform supported by some big, funky beams. It’s borderline fraud to call it a Gehry, when what that brings to mind is the Bilbao Guggenheim or Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Stata Center.

I picture it occupied by a lot of too-rich young people who intend to do a lot of hanging out at Armani and hold a lot of parties where they will tell guests that they’re living in a Gehry. And the better-informed guests will undoubtedly irritate them by quipping, “Which Gehry? Irving?”

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