One of the Back Bay’s retail institutions is closing its doors.
Rolly-Michaux Galleries, an art gallery mainstay on Dartmouth Street since the 1970s, was listed on Oct. 1 for $3,995,000. Owner Ron Michaux has operated Rolly-Michaux Galleries in the space, which is part of the iconic Hotel Vendome building, since taking ownership in 1976 with the late Ron Rolly. But the art gallery’s shuttering isn’t just another case of COVID-19 striking down another retail institution. Instead, it’s the culmination of a lengthy, thriving career at one of the city’s most well-known galleries.
“He’s retiring. He’s been doing it for so long,” Collin Bray, an agent with Century 21 Cityside, told Boston.com. “This is all part of a life plan. It’s his life’s work, and he’s not done with helping clients buy and sell art, but he doesn’t need to go to the office.”
Rolly and Michaux paid just $70,000 for the 1,763-square-foot space back in 1976, according to the property deed.
Part of the famed Hotel Vendome building, which contains 110 residential homes and 27 commercial condominiums, the building sits next to the proposed site of The Aubry, a Newbury Street development that would replace a 66-spot parking lot with a five-story building of office and retail space.
The gallery isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when people think about the building’s history. The original Hotel Vendome building at the corner of Commonwealth and Dartmouth was built in the 1870s and went on the flourish as one of the city’s hotspots for notable guests, ranging from President Ulysses S. Grant to actress Sarah Bernhardt. Mostly known as a “family hotel” for permanent residents, the gilded property was deemed “Boston’s Palatial Hotel.” In “The Back Bay District and the Vendome,” the 1880 book by Moses King, an advertisement proclaims “The Vendome: In every respect first-class. It is thoroughly fire-proof.”
Sadly, that statement proved to be grossly inaccurate. As the 20th century progressed, the Vendome fell out of fashion and was damaged in a series of fires in the 1960s. The building, however, is perhaps best known for the horrific fire and building collapse that occurred on June 17, 1972, killing nine Boston firefighters.
While the cause of the fire was never determined, the collapse of the structure was determined to be the result of “a failure of the bearing wall under the cast iron column on the fire floor,” according to the 1972 “Report of Investigation of Collapse at the Hotel Vendome”.
After the fire, the property was renovated and became a thriving residential building with commercial spaces like Rolly-Michaux Galleries. In 1997, the 25th anniversary of the fire, a monument was commissioned on the Commonwealth Mall featuring a firefighter’s helmet, ax, and coat to honor the lost.
As for the property’s future, the Rolly-Michaux space has nothing but potential. With nearly 13-foot floor-to-ceiling windows and one of the widest pedestrian walkways in all of Back Bay, it’s likely to be a coveted space.
“I think when people walk past it, they think, ‘Oh another art gallery would go in there.’ But there’s actually different types of uses for that space. lt could be retail, a showroom, a doctor or dental office, a family office,” Bray said.