Eastie’s New Printing Press Lofts Aim to Unite the Neighborhood’s Past and Present

The building previously housed the machines that printed the East Boston Times.

Photo by Chris Goodhue

Like many buildings in a city as old as Boston, the Printing Press Lofts in East Boston had a few lives before they became homes. While the building today plays host to six renovated apartments and a storefront (which is currently occupied by high-end hair stylist, Frank Mulone), it has in the past been home to renters and commercial spaces—but it’s most notable as the birthplace of the East Boston Times in 1947. Over the years, the building ended up housing a variety of printing presses and linotype machines involved in the production of the paper. The local newspaper, which still serves Eastie today, was founded by a group of East Boston residents; the lofts are now named in tribute to them.

“The building is a story of immigration and how immigrants improve communities,” says Luke Tarbi, a lifelong Bostonian whose family has owned the building for three generations, and who oversaw the transition into its current incarnation. “My family immigrated from Italy to East Boston and they immediately went on to start founding companies and giving jobs to others in the neighborhood.”

It’s safe to say Tarbi is pretty passionate about Eastie. As the immigrant stronghold has become the latest battleground between old Boston and the new, Tarbi believes in seeing the beauty of the combination of the two and seeking ways to honor history while moving forward into a new future.

“East Boston is the real city. It’s a community that is constantly in transition. New groups are coming in and coming out,” he says. “There are people from all over the world, everybody from the guys who work downtown in the financial district who want a loft apartment all the way down to a recent immigrant from Guatemala who arrived last week.”

In some ways, the lofts are similar to other glossy new developments around town. The units offer a wide array of amenities, from a common roof deck with views of downtown and the Boston Harbor to onsite laundry and recycling. But alongside modern features such as ENERGY STAR rated appliances and ultra high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, there are notes that preserve the building’s historical feel.

“The task was not easy. The existing parcel was so small it did not make sense to demolish and start over. It was Luke’s intent from the beginning to keep the small scale of the existing building fabric and refit it with modern technology and simple finishes transparent to the original structure,” says the architect behind the Printing Press Lofts, Mark Armstrong. In order to maintain and honor the building’s unique past, Armstrong researched its history, which involved going through the archives in the Boston Public Library to find the original building drawings from the early 1900s. He purposely worked with engineers to renovate the existing structure to look as similar to the original designs as possible. “With the black and white palate, it really harkens back to the old days…you can almost smell the ink.”

Developer Garrett Hogan of OnPoint Development continued the blending of modern and classic elements; he went with a brick and beam industrial design. The interiors also boast exposed brick walls, steel beams, industrial style lighting, and Hogan’s favorite feature: the reclaimed wooden window sills.

Photo by Chris Goodhue

“From inception, it was clear that this sense of community and preservation of the building was the single most important aspect of the project,” Hogan says. “In a city that’s facing an unprecedented housing shortage, Luke’s goal was to preserve the historical design and neighborhood makeup, while converting the old commercial building to a better and more needed use of residential housing.”

While the arrival of new developments has often been met with tension, the lofts have been greeted with reasonably smooth sailing. The East Boston community has welcomed Tarbi with open arms—the redevelopment soared through approval, with the East Boston Social Centers the Eagle Hill Civic Association voting thirty one to one in support of the Printing Press Lofts.

“I did have confidence in the community that they would hear our story and be supportive of it. A lot of times you have developers from New York City or out of town that want to tear down a building and put it out of its place. The community has been put on edge because of that. I had confidence in our development since my family has been in East Boston since 1917,” says Tarbi.

His message to the East Boston community? “We are one of you. We are not going anywhere.”

Photo by Chris Goodhue

Photo by Chris Goodhue