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Boston Tea Party Museum

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On the waterfront, it's almost teatime

By Paul Frederick Roberts, Globe Correspondent | January 5, 2005

Bostonians waited about 200 years for a museum that commemorated the famous Boston Tea Party of 1773 -- and they're going to have to wait yet again to enjoy the first major renovation of the attraction.

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Three years ago, fire destroyed the Boston Tea Party Ship & Museum on Congress Street. But the completion of a $13 million rehab is still more than a year away, delayed by a long permitting process and ambitious plans, said Debbie Wythe, the museum's project manager.

A $300,000 renovation of the replica Tea Party ship, the Brig Beaver II, also is underway in Gloucester, where it was towed in June, said Leon Poindexter of Newport Vessels, the company restoring the ship.

Immediate improvements are brewing, though: The Tea Party Museum is scheduled today to unveil "a piece of American history that returns to Boston," which will be housed in the new, expanded museum. Shawn P. Ford, vice president at Historic Tours of America, the museum's parent company, would not be more specific about the acquisition. The company is holding a news conference today at Independence Wharf, site of the original Boston Tea Party.

The museum, which commemorates the Dec. 16, 1773, raid on three tea-laden ships at Griffin's Wharf, opened on the Congress Street Bridge in 1975 but closed after lightning struck in 2001, Wythe said.

After the fire, Florida-based Historic Tours decided to completely renovate the facility, doubling its size and rehabbing the Brig Beaver II, a circa-1908 vessel that was the central attraction.

The ship was not damaged in the fire but needed maintenance, Poindexter said. The deck, beams, and stem -- or front of the ship will be replaced, and the interior redone. That should be complete by December, but it may take longer to tow the ship back to the museum and reassemble its mast and rigging, Wythe said.

Historic Tours also plans to add two new tall ships to the museum so it will have replicas of the three ships stormed in 1773.

Many changes are necessary to bring the modest museum facility up to snuff, Wythe said. Those include the addition of heat, air conditioning, and public restrooms, which the museum never had. Historic Tours also plans to double the floor space, making it possible to entertain school and tour groups and the public simultaneously. Interactive exhibits and a new tea room and tavern will be added, too. The new museum should accommodate double the 150,000 visitors it had in the year before the fire.

To pay for the renovations, which Wythe said have exceeded the museum's estimates by about 30 percent, the $8 admission fee is expected to rise, but has not been set.

The delayed opening can be partly blamed on the city's notoriously complicated permitting process, Wythe said. It took two years to renegotiate the museum's lease with the city, she said, and obtaining construction permits was time-consuming. "The city has been a good friend; it just takes longer to do things than you'd like," Wythe said.

Because the museum is on the water, the state also exercises oversight and that contributed to the delays, said Meredith Baumann, of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

"Waterfront projects are a challenge," she said. "There's more review at different levels -- city and state agencies."

With most of the permits now in hand, construction of the new visitor center is to begin in spring and take about six months, Wythe said.

Improvements to the bridge, currently open only to pedestrians, also needs to be completed before the museum can reopen, she said.

Still, Wythe is optimistic the museum will be welcome in the Fort Point Channel district.

"It's a booming area, and we'll be a part of it."

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The company is holding a news conference today at Independence Wharf, site of the original Boston Tea Party.

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I had always heard that the actual Tea Party was held at a site that is now landfilled. I have an extremely vague memory of seeing a plaque in a sidewalk somewhere.

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I had always heard that the actual Tea Party was held at a site that is now landfilled. I have an extremely vague memory of seeing a plaque in a sidewalk somewhere.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Good point... Is there any modern day remnant of Independence Wharf? The waterfront has changed so much over time, who knows by now.

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