For decades, people who have come to Boston to visit the headquarters of the Unitarian Universalist Association have stayed at Eliot and Pickett Houses on Beacon Hill. The stately twin brick townhouses have, over the years, hosted UUA committee gatherings, youth groups on Coming of Age trips, and individuals who have business with the UUA.
That hospitality will come to an end on June 30. The guesthouse, at Nos. 6-7 Mt. Vernon Place, with its tall dining room windows that overlook the State House grounds and the warm and cozy kitchen where guests mingle as they prepare breakfast, has been sold, along with 25 Beacon St., the UUA headquarters building just down the hill. In mid-May the UUA will move into a former warehouse building about a mile away at 24 Farnsworth St. in Boston’s Seaport district.
Michael O’Herron, director of Operations for the UUA, said that as beloved as Eliot and Pickett are, there are things he won’t miss about the guesthouses, both built in the 1830s. “It’s been a challenge to maintain a fairly high level of cleanliness and functionality in these old buildings, which are full of character from top to bottom. There are leaky windows, antiquated air conditioning, and plumbing challenges.”
He said that Pickett House has been used as a guesthouse since 1981 and that Eliot House was conjoined with it in the late eighties, creating the current configuration.
Segree Bowen has worked at Eliot and Pickett for 18 years, becoming assistant manager in 2002 and manager in 2007. “It’s just been fun interacting with the guests,” he said. “I love solving problems for them.” He especially enjoys the youth groups that visit. “I look forward to them every year. I’m going to miss that part.”
There have been more difficult parts of the job, of course. “Staffing has always been a challenge. Another has simply been trying to maintain a comfortable temperature with the old air conditioning systems.”
Housekeeper Fitzroy “Bird” Libert has been on staff since 1991. “I like everything about this job,” he said. “I’m a people man. I love to make everyone feel at home. I feel as if I’m alive when I come to work. I can’t pick out one best moment. All my time here has been good.”
Club Quarters will house volunteers going forward
Volunteers and visitors will still have a place to stay after the move, but it will be significantly different. The UUA has entered into a contract with Club Quarters, a membership-only business hotel at 161 Devonshire St.in Boston, about a 15-minute walk from the UUA’s new headquarters.
As a member of Club Quarters, the UUA has made a commitment to use a certain number of rooms each quarter. If the rooms are not used the UUA still has to pay for them. Initially the UUA will be required to pay for 250 room nights per quarter, increasing to 350 at the end of the first year.
Jan Sneegas, the UUA’s director of General Assembly and Conference Services, is asking all visitors to the UUA after July 1 to book rooms at the Club Quarters in Boston by contacting her office at email@example.com and putting “Club Quarters” in the subject line. “We’re going to try that process for the time being,” said Sneegas, “so that we can keep track of how many people are coming. Even if the facility happens to be full when people want a room, we will still get credit,” she said.
Eventually, Sneegas said, her office won’t need to keep such close track on rooms being reserved and people can make their own reservations.
Rooms at Club Quarters will be less expensive than comparable hotel rooms, she noted. A room with a queen-size bed is currently $164, compared to $200 to $300 at other hotels. Rooms cost somewhat less than that during Club Quarters’ “low season,” from December through February. (Rooms at Eliot and Pickett are around $120.) Club Quarters rooms are being booked now through 2015.
Sneegas said guests will notice a difference between the former guesthouse and Club Quarters. “Club Quarters has televisions in the guest rooms and nice perks geared toward the business traveler, but it does not have the homey ambiance of Eliot and Pickett.”
“The biggest impact to our guests,” said O’Herron, “is going to be that Club Quarters is not right next door to our new headquarters, as Eliot and Pickett has been to 25 Beacon. Club Quarters is a nice business hotel but there will be some transportation challenges to work out as visitors try to get back and forth during our various seasons.”
Sneegas said that Club Quarters, which has 178 rooms, may not be attractive for youth groups, because of the price. “There may be better options in the area for youth. There’s a hostel in the downtown area, for example.” The UUA’s Youth and Young Adult Ministries staff group is developing a list of congregations willing to host youth groups, either at church buildings or through homestays.
Club Quarters has hotels in many other cities, and because the UUA is a member, UUs can get reduced rates at those hotels, said Sneegas. There is no need to call the UUA to reserve rooms in other cities. Go to clubquarters.com and enter the passcode “UUA” for rates and reservations.
- UUA sells three buildings for $23.6 million
- UUA sells Beacon Hill buildings to residential developer
- Club Quarters.The UUA is arranging volunteer housing in Boston at Club Quarter Hotel through its General Assembly staff; UUs may take advantage of the UUA's membership in the hotel chain in other cities, too. (clubquarters.com)
Update 5.7.14: After this story was published, the UUA announced that Segree Bowen and two other members of the Eliot and Pickett staff will continue to work for the UUA in new roles after the guesthouse closes in June. Libert will retire, and another housekeeping position will be eliminated.