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Trinity Church Wins $4.1 Million Lawsuit

Claims Stem From Damage Done During Building of Hancock Tower


BOSTON -- The landmark Trinity Church in Boston's Copley Square won a $4.1 million judgment yesterday against its neighbor, the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., in a lawsuit claiming John Hancock damaged the church while digging the foundation for its skyscraper in 1968.

The church, considered the masterpiece of architect H.H. Richardson, suffered cracking of its stone masonry when John Hancock dug a hole across St. James Avenue for its headquarters--the tallest building in Boston--according to a ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, which upheld a lower court jury verdict.

With interest calculated since the church filed suit against the giant insurance company in 1975, the final damages could exceed $11 million, according to attorney Anthony E. Battelle, who represented the church.

Trinity Church also filed a separate suit against Hancock and other defendants over damages from falling windows and other objects, which the church claims it suffered after the 60-story tower was erected. That suit is pending and is expected to be heard later.

Battelle said he was pleased by the high court's ruling because it means that the church will now have funds with which to begin restoring the damaged building. No repairs have been made yet.

Designed by Richardson in 1872 and completed in 1876, the church is considered an outstanding example of Richardson's Romanesque Revival style, which was widely applied by Richardson and imitators in the late 19th century.

The church forms part of an extraordinary architectural ensemble ringing Copley Square in Boston's historic Back Bay. Facing the church across Copley Square is the Boston Public Library, designed by Charles McKim, with a recent extension by Philip Johnson.

Ironically, the Hancock Tower, designed by architect I.M. Pei, also has been hailed as a masterwork. Its reflective glass panels are frequently used as a backdrop in photographs of Trinity Church.

Robert Hacking, the attorney for Hancock, said he was disappointed in the ruling and was considering a further appeal.

"John Hancock is a very respected citizen of the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts," Hacking said, noting that Hancock had cooperated with Trinity Church throughout construction and even agreed to waive the statute of limitations on damages.

In its ruling, the state's highest court affirmed Superior Court judgments that awarded Trinity Church $4.1 million as reasonable compensation and dismissed seven other defendants in the excavation suit, including several contractors and Pei's architectural firm.

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