When Jay Hajj and his business partners bought the historic, centuries-old Locke-Ober building, they negotiated to get “everything but the name.”
And “everything” included the former restaurant’s collection of oil paintings and photographs, giant metal soup tubs, stacks of faded menus, a pool table in a room J.F.K. famously frequented, unmarred leather couches and even salt and pepper shakers – still full, as if ready for use.
But Hajj won’t be using most of these relics from Locke-Ober’s past, although elements such as the ornate wood paneling and the bar will remain intact. An auction at the old building on Dec. 7 drew a crowd of 225 people and raised about $55,000, money that will go toward the building’s construction, according to the Boston Globe. Loyal Locke-Ober patrons bid on the restaurant’s paintings and photographs, its gold-framed mirrors, its ashtrays.
Hajj, who is wary of the public’s love for the building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, said he and his partners are planning to keep its integrity despite their new vision for the space. The trio bought the building last month for $3.3 million, and plan to turn the first floor of the 20,000 square foot building into a restaurant and bar and the top floors into old-style high-end condos.
He said he receives almost daily calls from Locke-Ober fans who are curious about his plans for the building — and he does his best to reassure them. Hajj also owns Mike’s City Diner, a far cry from the plush elegance for which Locke-Ober was famous.
“I’m glad that people have so much interest in the building,” Hajj said. “I think Boston has become a major city for restaurants and food, and you gotta save the historic restaurants. Maybe not the name, but the whole venue of it.”
But keeping a part of history modern isn’t easy.
David Ray, the restaurant’s former owner, told the Boston Globe that he “fought for the dignity” of the building and decided it “was better to close it.” But didn’t he sell it? Is he saying that the terms of the sale would preserve the dignity of the building?
Hajj and his partners, who are still deciding details and style of the space, said they’ll finish with construction in about a year.