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Eustis Street Firehouse [Jun. 18th, 2009|12:08 pm]
New England Structures and Buildings


Oldest firehouse to get new lease on life

Built in 1859, it once served as the home of the fire company known as Torrent Six. From 1919 to 1950, it was home to the local chapter of Spanish American War Veterans. It was used briefly by the city park department in the 1950s.

The firehouse today

Since then, it has fallen into disrepair. But now the Eustis Street Fire House will get a new lease on life. Historic Boston Inc., a private nonprofit that works to preserve historic sites in the city, plans to rehabilitate the Dudley Square building and move there from downtown, making the heart of Roxbury its home.
The firehouse at Eustis and Washington streets is Boston's oldest remaining fire station building. It's noted for its small size and ornate Italian decoration.
Historic Boston, which was formed around saving the Old Corner Bookstore on the Freedom Trail, said much of its work in saving historic buildings in downtown Boston is done.

In recent years, the group's efforts have focused on the city's neighborhoods. "By moving our operations to Dudley Square, we make the firehouse's redevelopment feasible and bring HBI closer to its mission of neighborhood preservation," said Kathy Kottaridis, who heads Historic Boston.

Construction of the firehouse is expected to begin in November. Historic Boston expects to move there in the fall of 2010.

eustis.jpg (74308 bytes)

Eustis Street Firehouse
20 Eustis Street Roxbury MA

Style: Italianate
Architect: John Roulestone Hall
Built: 1859 (Replaced wooden Greek Revial built in 1829)

The preservation and reuse of the firehouse {has the combined difficulties of} a marketable, insurable title since eaves overhang the cemetery and a now-demolished part of the structure was on land owned by a private abutter. Its isolated site and small square footage vitiates the financial feasibility of development. Structural problems continue to be severe... repairs included construction of six massive exterior wooden buttresses to support the building’s side elevations.

Significance: Eustis Street Firehouse, built by the city of Roxbury in 1859, stands on an original portion of the adjacent Eliot Burying Ground (established 1633) and replaced an 1829 wood frame firehouse on the same site. The brick firehouse is a fine example of a small-scale Italianate public building, highlighted with granite details and ornate wooden brackets. After Roxbury’s annexation in 1868, the city of Boston enlarged the building with a rear frame addition (demolished 1991) to accommodate stables and more modern fire fighting equipment.

Eustis Street Firehouse served "Hook and Ladder Co. No. 4" until 1881 and "Chemical Wagon No. 10" from 1889 until 1916. Company No. 4 participated in fighting the Great Boston Fire of 1872. The Fire Department abandoned the building in 1926 and leased the building to a Spanish-American War veterans post until 1954.

Oldest surviving firehouse in Boston
Charming Italianate architecture with granite arched entry and hand-carved brackets
Adjacent to 1633 burial ground
Ira Baline will act as senior project manager to provide planning and architectural services for the project.


Historic Boston - http://www.historicboston.org/
Photo: http://boston.about.com/od/photosofboston/ig/Historic-Photos-of-Boston/Old-Torrent-6.htm
Book = Roxbury By Anthony Mitchell Sammarco, Charlie Rosenberg
Marilyn Brockman - Master of Architecture - MIT 1979 - page 2, 44-47, 61-64, 90
Boston Fire History - http://bostonfirehistory.org/extantfirehousechemical10.html

Boston Globe June 18, 2009 08:00 AM http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2009/06/oldest_firehous.html


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Custom House tower clock [Dec. 29th, 2008|11:06 am]
New England Structures and Buildings


The E. Howard and Co. clock, located on the Marriott Custom House tower in downtown Boston, is one of the largest mechanical clocks in New England. The face of the clock was completed along with the tower in 1919.  The original clock was an electrical impulse type, but had completely disappeared. In 1949 a Howard # 3 tower clock was then added on the top 23rd floor.  The clock’s internal workings – its gears, pendulum, and motor – were built for a much smaller clock and the clock earned the name "The Four Faced Liar" because each side showed a different time. 

Dave (The Clock Shop - Hanover, Massachusetts) and Ross Hochstrasser (Ross Hochstrasser Clock Service - Whitman MA ) restored the long-neglected Howard No. 3 tower clock in Boston’s Custom House in 1987.  Boston Edison, as a gift to the city, paid for restoring the clock after years of deterioration. David and his brother Ross, both professional clock restorers, and just starting out, were awarded the contract to restore this clock with four 24’ dials and wooden hands. Since the twice daily, electrically wound replacement Howard movement installed in 1950 was not powerful enough for the original wooden hands, they were replaced with a new set of hands consisting of composite over a styrofoam core.

In 1995 the Marriott Hotel Corporation took over management of the Custom House. Marriott started to convert the building to condominiums. Once again, David and Ross were asked to repair and restore the clock which had been shoved against the north wall of a game /laundry room Marriott had constructed on the 23rd floor. The main problem was devising hand shafts from 4’ to 36’ to operate a clock that was now up against that north wall.

Making sure the clock is running properly is important to Dave Hochstrasser. “It’s a very historic building and it should be kept up,” he said. Despite a less than enthusiastic Marriott, union problems, Boston city bureaucracy in obtaining permits to work on the face, and the need to meet the desires of preservationists and historical groups, the brothers overcame each roadblock, often obtaining help from many other people. They exhibited great ingenuity and clever solutions to the technical and working problems they encountered. They finally finished the job they started in 1996 in July of 1997-probably with a sigh of relief!

A ¼-inch of snow on the end of one of the 11 1/2-foot minute hands can place such a heavy burden on the internal works that it stops altogether. Dave Hochstrasser will then drive up from his South Shore home to Boston to re-set the time.  "Each hand weighs about 35 pounds, so it takes some physical effort to get all of them moving,"  While Hochstrasser spends most of his time in the clock during the winter, in the spring the tower has some additional visitors – falcons often nest in the topmost window of the tower, facing the harbor.
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Cow paths? [Oct. 26th, 2008|12:25 pm]
New England Structures and Buildings


The Red Overlay is what the roads looked like in the 1930s when this area was know as Scollay Square.
Scollay Square became Goverment Center.
The area by Congress Street Garage is rapidly becoming a cohesive neighborhood again and uses the moniker “Bulfinch Triangle”.

The more things change, the more the stay the same.

src: http://www.bostonreb.com/2008/10/26/remember-me-to-scollay-square/
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(no subject) [Oct. 15th, 2008|04:00 pm]
New England Structures and Buildings


Omen? Citgo sign burns in small fire

(John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)

By Anne Baker, Globe Correspondent
The flames from the Red Sox' skidding season seem to be spreading. The Citgo sign that looms over Fenway Park caught fire this morning, the plastic partially melting in a small electrical blaze inside the storied sign.
Flames were actually visible from Storrow Drive during the fire, which caused $5,000 in damage, said Steve MacDonald, a spokesperson for the Boston Fire Department.
Firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze, which ignited just before noon. No one was injured. It was not immediately clear how long it would take to fix the sign.
The Red Sox teeter on the edge of elimination after dropping the last three games to trail in the American League Championship Series 3-1. In the last two blowouts at Fenway Park, the Tampa Bay Rays have launched seven towering home runs. None, however, have made it as far as the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square.
The 60-foot by 60-foot icon has stood on top of a building on Beacon Street since 1940. It looms just over the Green Monster in left field, a few blocks from the ballpark. Illuminated from dusk until midnight, the red, white, and blue sign contains more than 5 miles of neon tubes that are lit by 250 high-voltage transformers, according to Citgo's website.
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(no subject) [Oct. 15th, 2008|03:21 pm]
New England Structures and Buildings


''I'm there every month, oiling it, and making sure nothing's wrong with it,'' said Paul Calantropo, the specialist who maintains South Station's tower timepiece. ''I'm there every month, oiling it, and making sure nothing's wrong with it,'' said Paul Calantropo, the specialist who maintains South Station's tower timepiece. (David L. Ryan/ Globe Staff)

Station clock takes timeout - Watch this: 110-year-old mechanism set for an overhaul

There are no manuals explaining how to fix the iconic clock atop South Station, just a professional tinkerer named Paul Calantropo. He spent yesterday in the station's dusty clock tower, oiling gears of the 110-year-old timepiece that he plans to take apart - one pin and gear shaft at a time - and then painstakingly manufacture any worn-out parts in his Downtown Crossing workshop. "Every single piece has to be handmade," he said. "There's no parts available."

Calantropo understands the gravity of his task. The clock harkens to another era, when the precision of its hands, moving around cast-iron Roman numerals, branded Boston as a modern and punctual city. Though once fairly common, such clocks have become a rarity, with only a handful of craftsmen capable of fixing them.

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The South Station clock was made in Roxbury, by the former E. Howard Clock Company, at a time when there were thousands of similar clocks at public buildings around New England. Its escapement, which, like Big Ben's, relies on gravity to keep the pendulum swinging, is also a relic. It's the largest one like it in New England, says Equity Office, the company that runs South Station under a lease with the state.

The escapement, which separates the weight of the 250-pound metal pendulum from the movement of the clock, prevents the hands from moving backward when snow and ice assault them.

Another man, Jeffrey Jackman, has been winding the clock by hand twice a week, turning a heavy crank about 90 times, since 1988. It's a point of pride for Jackman, South Station's property manager, even if it does tire him out.
"It's part of history," he said. "She's a gem, all right."

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Landmarks staff opposes protections for Dainty Dot [Jul. 24th, 2007|11:44 am]
New England Structures and Buildings


The Boston Landmarks Commission staff has recommended against giving the 118-year-old Dainty Dot building on the edge of Chinatown protection with official landmark status. But, siding with other preservation groups and fans of the Romanesque Revival and Classical-style building in the city's former textile district, the staff urged the current developer to try to save the six-story structure.

Developer Ori Ron has proposed building a 29-story residential tower on the site, but intends to preserve about half of the building's exterior bays, which will remain along Essex and Kingston streets under a modern glass structure. However, in recent weeks Ron has indicated to city officials and community members he is willing to shorten the building to a height more acceptable than the 350-foot tower he proposed earlier.

The Boston Landmarks Commission will meet tonight to hear comments on the staff's 35-page report, which concludes the former hosiery manufacturing building "does not appear to meet the criteria for Landmark designation." The staff noted that more than half of the original structure was demolished during the 1950s, when the Central Artery was constructed, reducing the building's physical integrity and architectural significance. Without a landmark designation for the building, the commission would have no leverage to influence what Ron does with the building.

The Massachusetts Historical Commission, after an emergency meeting July 11, disagreed with the conclusion of the Landmarks commission staff, arguing that the Dainty Dot building is significant precisely because of the damage that was done to it during construction of the Central Artery.

The Boston Preservation Alliance also takes that view, having written last spring to the Boston Redevelopment Authority that the building remains "an important contributor to the rich heritage of the 19th century industrial loft buildings in the Leather and Textile Districts of Boston."

Both groups' opinions are only advisory. David Seeley, a Leather District resident and member of the Mayor's Central Artery Completion Task Force, opposes Ron's tower and wants to see the existing building designated as a landmark. "One reason it was not recommended was that so much of it was demolished," Seeley said yesterday. "It's very sad that because we screwed up before it now leaves this building even more vulnerable." "If they demolish the portions they're currently slated to demolish, it would be tragic," he said. "I don't think there's anyone in the Leather District who wants to see any harm come to this building."

A spokesman for the developer, Michael K. Vaughan, reiterated Ron's pledge to save what he could, recognizing "the history and character of the building. Our expectation is the whole building will not be retained." On the new building's height Vaughan said, "There will be an adjustment in height and materials to reflect the comments that we've heard."

Several weeks ago Mayor Thomas M. Menino said 29 floors is too tall for the area, which is immediately adjacent to the new Chinatown Park on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. The Landmarks commission will take comments from the public for three days after its meeting. It is expected to vote on the Dainty Dot status in about two weeks.

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff | July 24, 2007
SRC: http://www.boston.com/business/globe/articles/2007/07/24/landmarks_staff_opposes_protections_for_dainty_dot?mode=PF
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Ames Building [Jul. 6th, 2007|12:55 pm]
New England Structures and Buildings

Historic tower gets update - $40m renovation to turn Ames Building into boutique hotel

The Ames Building, a towering 14 stories at 1 Court St., reigned for more than a decade as the city's tallest skyscraper -- but that was more than a century ago. Empty for the last eight years, a nonstarter for two would-be redevelopers, and more recently isolated by ugly concrete barriers, the exquisitely carved, historic landmark is soon to be reborn as a boutique hotel with a fine restaurant.

Designed in a combination of Byzantine and Romanesque styles by architects tutored by H.H. Richardson of Trinity Church fame, the building is undergoing $40-million-plus renovation to ready it for readmission to downtown's active urban life .

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Boston Groundwater Trust [Apr. 25th, 2007|12:38 pm]
New England Structures and Buildings

From http://www.bostongroundwater.org/

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the problem?
Because the original peninsula settled by the Puritans was so small, residents from an early date began to expand it by making new buildable land. This "made land" was formed by dumping sand and gravel on top of the mud flats that originally existed. This new land is not strong enough to support heavy structures, including multistory brick rowhouses. Therefore, pilings were driven through the made land and underlying mud to hard clay, typically 30 to 40 feet below ground surface. Nearly all buildings constructed on made land in the early part of the twentieth century and before are supported on wood pilings. These pilings will last for centuries if they remain submerged in groundwater. However, if groundwater levels drop, the tops of the piles are attacked by microbes and eventually rot, causing severe foundation problems for the building.

Where does this occur?
Many Bostonians live or work in older buildings in made land neighborhoods. Among the neighborhoods affected are the Fenway, Back Bay, the South End, Bay Village, the flats of Beacon Hill, Chinatown, the Leather District, the Bulfinch Triangle, the North End and Downtown waterfronts, the Fort Point Channel section of South Boston, and sections of East Boston.

Is this a new problem?
Because this type of building foundation system has been used for centuries in Europe, the potential problem was well known to the builders working on Boston’s made land even in the nineteenth century. The tops of pilings were generally cut off at a level low enough that builders were confident they would remain covered by groundwater. However, in 1929, the Boston Public Library’s main building in Copley Square required foundation repairs costing over $200,000 because of failed wood pilings. Groundwater levels had dropped from those which existed in 1888 when the foundation was installed. In the years since 1929, nearly 200 buildings in Boston have had to have their pilings repaired.

Why do groundwater levels drop?
Over the years since most of the "made" land was created, much infrastructure, including sewers, subway lines, highway tunnels, and deep basements, has been built beneath its surface. When these structures leak, the water that enters the structure is often drained or pumped away. This causes surrounding groundwater levels to drop toward the level of the leak, a phenomenon called drawdown. If groundwater levels are drawn down below the tops of the pilings, they may be exposed to air, allowing the wood to rot.

If pilings fail, what happens to the building?
The building will start to settle and a few cracks will appear. Eventually, windows and doors become inoperable, floors are no longer level, and, in the worst cases, the building will no longer be safe to occupy.

Can failed pilings be repaired?
Yes. The typical process to resupport a building on its wooden pilings is called underpinning. Contractors need to dig underneath the building, cut away the rotted section of piling to below the lowest expected future groundwater level, replace it with steel, and encase the steel in concrete. The process involves a lot of manual labor. The cost to underpin a typical three or four story rowhouse has generally been over $250,000. Larger buildings have cost far more to repair.

The good news is that, if groundwater levels again rise to cover the pilings, the rotting process stops when the air in the wood dissipates. When the pilings were installed, they had a very substantial margin of safety. If there has been no settlement of the building, there is a high likelihood that the pilings are still strong enough to support it. However, in some cases, pilings have rotted, but there has not yet been obvious settlement of the structure.

What has been done?
In 1986, the Boston City Council established the Boston Groundwater Trust to monitor groundwater levels in areas of the city where foundations are threatened by low levels and to make recommendations to solve the problem. After a slow start, Mayor Menino revived the Trust in 1997, appointing a new board of unpaid trustees. The trustees, who are unpaid volunteers, discovered existing groundwater observation wells that had been installed on public property for various projects and incorporated them into a monitoring network. In 2002, the Legislature included $1.6 million in the Environmental Bond Bill to build out a comprehensive network.

In 2005, the City and State governments came together to sign a Memorandum of Understanding creating a City-State Groundwater Working Group that includes all of the public agencies responsible for the underground infrastructure. Among other things, all of these agencies have pledged to work together to understand the causes of the problem and to repair those problems for which they are responsible. The City has established a Groundwater Conservation Overlay District that requires people building or renovating properties in the affected area to make sure that their projects will not cause any reduction in groundwater levels and to incorporate systems that will recharge rainwater into the ground instead of sending it all down the sewer.

What can a property owner do?
If you have groundwater coming into your property, repair the leak, don’t pump the water away. Even a small sump pump can cause a significant lowering of groundwater levels for you and your neighbors.

You can also install a recharge system that will capture rainwater from your roof and infiltrate it into the ground. These drywells need to be properly designed and installed so that they will properly infiltrate water into the ground without potentially causing flooding problems. Over the years, much of the unpaved surface in the affected neighborhoods has been covered with buildings and impervious blacktop. Although Boston gets a substantial amount of rainfall each year, only a small percentage is finding its way into the ground.

Check on the groundwater levels in your neighborhood. They are posted on the Boston Groundwater Trust’s website, www.bostongroundwater.org. There is also a lot of other information posted there about groundwater related issues.

Can the problem be solved?
Because of its made land and many old buildings, Boston will always be vulnerable to groundwater related problems. However, if we work together to fix the leaks and install recharge systems and continue to monitor for new problems and address them as soon as they arise, the problem can be managed. We have already seen groundwater levels rise in areas where infrastructure has been repaired and water recharged. With more of these efforts, we can raise the groundwater levels in other areas where they are low. We can save our homes from the cost and disruption of groundwater related foundation repairs.
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Boston's first Apple flagship store is coming soon to the Back Bay [Feb. 11th, 2007|04:32 pm]
New England Structures and Buildings


With its glass facade and crisp, staunchly minimalist features, the three-story building will turn heads, especially when it is aglow at night, a luminous boxy beacon of modernity and commerce. In the center of the building, a glass staircase – an engineering feat in itself and a trademark of the flagship stores – will spiral beneath a large skylight. The governing aesthetic throughout the store will be one of light, airiness, and translucence. Mark Maloney, who stepped down as Boston Redevelopment Authority director last month, says: "This building is going to have a wow factor. People will come to see this bright, shiny jewel box within a traditional neighborhood."

{...}The building makes a statement about the city. Boston isn't yet fully embracing contemporary architecture, but the store's arrival shows the city is willing to experiment with it. It's one thing to put a gorgeously innovative building such as the Institute of Contemporary Art down on the waterfront, where there's a clean slate; it's far riskier to put an unapologetically modern building in the historic Back Bay, not far from the neighborhood's Victorian town houses and Gothic Revival columns.

That juxtaposition – innovation amid preservation – is part of an overall architectural philosophy that's taking shape among city planners, who worked with Apple officials to scale back their boldly modern design so the store would fit in better with neighboring buildings. But how far this approach should go – namely, how to temper the contemporary so it complements the historic – is stirring debate. And as the city's wave of new architecture continues, the most significant issue for officials to ponder, particularly for retail space, may not be how to blend the new with the old, but whether the new should be required to blend in at all.

{...}Like an iPod, iBook, or the recently unveiled iPhone, the 21,350-square-foot store itself – it's hard to resist calling it an iBuilding – will be all about innovation, streamlined design, and easy navigation, from the overall layout to the most minute detail. Style, after all, plays a key role in how Apple connotes brand. In this way, the entire building, designed by the San Francisco office of the acclaimed firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, will function like one giant logo.

An eco-friendly roof will be blanketed with hardy vegetation designed to insulate the building in winter and keep it cool in summer. The building's facade will consist of a series of glass panels that will stand 7 to 8 feet in front of its basic structure, a grid of two horizontal slabs intersected by two columns, all finished with matte stainless steel. The panels will feature low-iron laminated glass, which appears more lucent and doesn't exhibit the faint blue or green hue of regular glass.

"It completely exposes inside outside," says Prataap Patrose, deputy director for urban design at the Boston Redevelopment Authority. "[Apple] wants to offer a very public type of retail. This is really good for Boston. Because we are such a pedestrian-oriented city, you want to see inside as you’re walking by."

"I think the design looks terrific," says local architect David Manfredi of Elkus/Manfredi Architects, a firm that has done extensive retail work nationwide and is involved in several major mixed-use developments in Boston. "You don't want to see a whole street get developed that way, but this is a great opportunity."

It didn’t come without conflict. Apple Inc., based in Cupertino, California, had to fight for that opportunity. First, there was the question of the existing building at 815 Boylston – a two-story 1906 structure, which most recently housed a Copy Cop. Last August, the Back Bay Architectural Commission agreed that the nondescript building was not architecturally significant and granted Apple the right to demolish it. The next hurdle came when the BBAC asked Apple’s architects to rework the initial design – which was even more minimal than the current one – so that it would be more harmonious with the flanking circa-1900 buildings. In the revised design, which the commission ultimately approved 6 to 3, Apple added the columns so the building would mirror the vertical aesthetic of its neighbors.

Ali Rizvi, a principal of C&R/Rizvi Inc. who was with the BBAC at the time of the vote, disagreed with both plans. He maintains that the building is wrong for the neighborhood. "I felt it was inappropriate for a historic district to have a glass building," he says. "There are other cities where Apple design has been appropriate. Apple proudly claims on its website that they will do other things besides glass boxes. We never got a chance to see an alternative. What if Apple moves in 10 years? What if we have a building that permanently looks like an iPod?"

At least one key player in the decision seems fine with that possibility. "In the first six months, [the building] will stand out," Menino says. "Then it will blend right in, just like the [75] State Street building did," he says, referring to the downtown office tower completed in 1988.

Still, some may ask: Is that what we really want?

The new Apple store joins a long list of contemporary buildings in Boston being designed by a who’s who of architects. In addition to the new ICA on Fan Pier,
we have welcomed in recent years Rafael Vinoly’s adventurous 2004 convention center on the waterfront
and the buildings of Frank Gehry (Stata Center)
and Steven Holl (Simmons Hall) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Moshe Safdie and Daniel Libeskind are slated to build new museums on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Norman Foster is building an extension at the Museum of Fine Arts, and Renzo Piano has designed an addition for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and submitted a design for the 1,000-foot tower that Menino hopes will soon pierce our skyline.

Although the Apple store certainly falls into a different category than museums, retail space can beautifully complement civic space and foster urbanism. "Going back to Roman times, the marketplace, along with the civic institutions like libraries, provided towns with anchors," says David Manfredi. "Historically, markets are places where the community comes together. We live in an era where many of us seek community. Shopping brings a sense of togetherness" Speaking to the compromise between the BBAC and Apple that produced the final design, former BRA director Maloney describes the overall direction the city is taking with new architecture. "We're developing a style that will become known as a Boston style, in which tradition and historic community will always be considered," he says. "It will be contemporary architecture in a very appropriate context. The Apple store is a great example of that. . . . We wanted the Apple building to complement its flanking neighbors. We had to work very carefully with the BBAC to ensure this."

But exactly how this "Boston style" will be implemented in the future raises questions. The BBAC’s quest for architectural continuity might be justified on Newbury Street, which has a much richer and more consistent historical appearance. Yet, on a lackluster stretch of Boylston Street that already hosts a hodgepodge of historical styles, the desire to have a contemporary building blend in with a century-old aesthetic seems less relevant.

William Young, the BBAC’s senior preservation planner, thought the initial design would have stuck out like a "missing tooth" on Boylston Street. But a more spare building would have been bolder – and a better stylistic foil for the adjacent buildings. The approved design still promises a handsome contemporary building, but by adding the columns and thus creating a grid pattern, the spare elegance of the initial Apple design is sadly lost.

This question of how the building will commingle with its Boylston Street neighbors has been discussed not only at BBAC meetings but also online, most notably at archboston.com, a local architectural forum. There were archboston.com members who preferred the revised design with what one called the "tic-tac-toe grid," but others did not. Shortly after Apple unveiled its revised plans, one archboston.com member wrote, "I think the resistance to letting [Apple] build what they want may result in a bland or ugly structure."”

"If a building is allowed to have its own voice, it can only enhance buildings around it," says Nader Tehrani. "When you resort to this pastiche and mimicry [of historical style], you destroy the meaning of the real historical fabric around you. If Boston aspires to uphold its historical place, it needs to acknowledge new methods of construction and design." Doing this, he adds, will reinforce a larger sense of history by reflecting the city’s many distinct eras and styles, instead of just one monolithic idea of the past.

For an example of historical pastiche, look no further than the designs for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel complex, currently under construction across the street from 815 Boylston. A postmodern building with vaguely Art Deco lines, it’s not unattractive, and it’s certainly an improvement over, say, the faux historical Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square. Yet, the Mandarin Oriental is not striking. It’s simply safe.

Ironically, it is perhaps because Boston is so blessed with a rich architectural history that we cannot see beyond it. We often let our beloved brick buildings define us completely – whereas in European cities with architectural histories much longer and richer than ours (Berlin comes to mind), daring contemporary designs create a dynamic panoply of style.{...}

Src: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/magazine/articles/2007/02/11/stained_glass?mode=PF by Rachel Strutt
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From time to time - Boston Globe Editorial August 12, 2005 [Oct. 23rd, 2006|09:42 am]
New England Structures and Buildings


From time to time
August 12, 2005

WHEN THE light is right on Massachusetts Avenue, faint traces of the word ''NECCO" can still be seen making their sweet vertical statement down the western corner of the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research building in Cambridge. Charles Sullivan, executive director of the Cambridge Historical Commission, photographed that beautiful ghost of the New England Confectionery Co. -- which moved to Revere in 2003 -- and he treasures the image. Novartis paid to have the old sign scrubbed away, but spokesman Jeff Lockwood says the company has come to accept its haunted corner as "a link to the past."

The past is not always easy to erase from the facades of the present, nor should it be, for it gives texture and depth to a city's commerce and serves as a reminder that time can turn just about every human innovation into an antique.

The past is not always easy to see, either, and requires patience for it to come into focus. Historian Charles Bahne directs the seeker to 31 Church St. in Cambridge -- among dozens of places he can name in a minute or so. Lifting the eyes from the entrance to Starbucks, a person might see only orange brick at first, until slowly the words emerge: Ivers & Tucker Carriages. Those very carriages probably rolled through what is now Central Square and might have pulled up to the Prospect House hotel, currently home to a Curves exercise studio and a Baskin Robbins at 620 Massachusetts Ave. But the specter of 19th-century hospitality still lives on the eastern brick wall of the building, best seen from a few blocks down on the opposite side of the street. High above the blaring traffic and congested sidewalks, pale lettering advertises the Prospect's 1850 amenities: "Boarding and Baiting Stable."

How much the modern pedestrian can miss by focusing on the hurrying feet, or eye-level price tags. The giants of classical music, for instance, are ignored by thousands of people passing 178 Tremont St. in downtown Boston -- now the offices of Action for Boston Community Development. Historian and author Susan Wilson urges the busy and oblivious to cross Tremont and go back a century to view the building as Oliver Ditson saw it.

He ran the nation's largest music publishing company there and had the names of Beethoven, Liszt, Schubert, Wagner, Verdi, and Gounod carved into the stone on the front of the building. Lower down, the fading name of "Edison" is also visible -- fashioned, Wilson surmises, from the usable letters in Ditson's name when the place became home to Boston Edison.

City buildings are like concrete archeological digs, with the layers of history overlapping and ready to tell their tales to people who would but stop to read them. Boston is particularly rich in such visions, and a person looking up from the crooked meanderings of Milk, Broad or Batterymarch street can feel dizzy taking in the skyline crowded with several centuries.

The juxtaposition of cultures can be dizzying too. A nightclub called "Vertigo" beckons from the ghost ship that is the Cunard Building at 120 State St. And any proper business types haunting the Board of Trade Building at the corner of Broad and State streets would probably be shocked to see the Leeba Salon advertising massages and the full gamut of modern body pampering there.

The sweat and grit of a pre-OSHA America are married to air-conditioned chic at 184 High St. -- but diners at the Ottimo Trattoria on a recent afternoon seemed unaware of the hulking Dickensian facade and tower of the Chadwick Lead Works looming over their ziti.

These marriages, no matter how odd, are far better than the divorce a city seems to have with its dying, empty buildings. The faces on the mural of the shuttered South Boston Theatre on West Broadway near F Street seem to be pleading with passersby to go to the movies again. Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart, and Donald Duck are among the smiling weather-worn crowd refusing to believe that the lights won't be coming up on the small screen.

The crumbling Boston Penny Savings Bank at 1375 Washington St. has the date 1861 carved into its front and looks as though it dropped out of the breakneck competition that has reshaped its industry and changed the institutional names on consumer ATM cards faster than the skyline changed.

The State Street Bank building at 225 Franklin St. still stands proud and tall and occupied, but its title is a misnomer, for State Street is no longer a bank. It is a global financial services company, and its corporate headquarters are over on Lincoln Street. So this landmark might be classified as a living ghost, a 'tweener that reminds people of the old downtown financial district even as it shapes the new one.

But given the swiftness with which businesses gobble each other here and around the world, one can't help wondering whether the State Street name might one day disappear from everything but the top of an office tower.

Will the Borders bookstore on School Street, with its threshold inlay from the Boston Five bank, meld into a third or fourth incarnation in the next 100 years? Will the Jordan Marsh plaque on what is now Macy's become barely legible on a wall in what has long since ceased to be a retail district?

One can imagine the purveyors of electronics, real estate development, entertainment, and everything else that signifies commercial power in 2005 becoming one with Ivers & Tucker. But as long as the world remembers to look at the old names occasionally, and as long as the historians mark the places where the names can be found -- and continue to take pictures in just the right light -- this brief time that is our own will live on in the city's legacy of stone.

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