Located in downtown Millbury, MA, the town’s local post office stands as a great example of Art Deco and Colonial Revival architecture styles, showing how well different styles can be incorporated into a single, complimentary design. The Millbury Post Office building was constructed in 1940 from plans by Louis Adolph Simon, who served as Supervising Architect in the Office of the Supervising Architect for the U.S. Treasury from 1933 until 1939, when the office was moved to the Public Works Administration / Works Progress Administration. The post office was designed at the tail end of the New Deal programs to help stimulate local economies by building infrastructure and providing jobs to locals. Inside, a mural “An Incident in the King Philip’s War, 1670” was painted by Joe Lasker and installed in 1941 and was “revivified” in 1991.
Located at the Charles River Esplanade in Boston, the Hatch Memorial Shell has long been an iconic landmark and meeting place for Bostonians and tourists alike. Built in 1940, this outdoor amphitheater structure replaced an earlier 1920s shell, envisioned by Arthur Fiedler, the first permanent conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Construction began on the first shell in 1928 and Arthur Fiedler conducted the first Boston Pops concert there on July 4, 1929, followed by a month of concerts during that first summer, a tradition that has continued to this day. A second temporary shell was constructed of metal in 1934, which was unsatisfactory for the famous orchestra. In 1940, the construction of the new music shell took place, donated by benefactor Maria Hatch, to build a memorial for her late brother, Edward, who it is named after to this day. The permanent shell was designed by Richard J. Shaw, a Boston architect known for designing churches. The Art Deco design, with intricate woodwork adorning the interior and a terrazzo tile roof, was dedicated on July 2, 1940, just in time for Independence Day celebrations.
The New England Telegraph and Telephone Company Building was erected in 1947, just north of the Western Union Art Deco building (last post) to serve as the company’s headquarters. The steel-frame, polished granite and limestone-sheathed Art Deco skyscraper was designed by Alexander Hoyle, a partner in the firm of Cram & Ferguson. The stunning building takes the form of a stepped pyramid, or ziggurat, with successive receding stories rising from a four-story base, which diminishes its massing from the street. At the interior, a lobby mural on paper by artist Dean Cornwell (1892-1960), depicting “Telephone Men and Women at Work,” commissioned in 1947 and installed in 1951. The 190-foot mural told the story of the history of the telephone and was an artistic masterpiece, but was removed from the lobby during a recent renovation and subsequently sold.
While Boston doesn’t have as many iconic Art Deco buildings as New York or Chicago, we do have some that pack a punch! Located at the southern end of Downtown Boston, the Western Union building at the corner of Congress and High streets served as a headquarters for the third district in Western Union’s eastern division. Western Union was founded in 1851, and ten years later, built the first transcontinental telegraph line. The company made a brief foray into the telephone field but lost a legal battle with Bell Telephone in 1879 and thereafter concentrated solely on telegraphy. In the 20th century, Western Union diversified its operations to include: leased private-line circuitry, a money order service, as well as telegrams and mailgrams. The company’s Boston building was designed at the same time as their New York City headquarters, designed by Ralph Thomas Walker, and the buildings are strikingly similar, just with the Boston building on a smaller scale. The building in New York is among my favorite Art Deco buildings ever, as the use of red brick in varied patterns creates such a stunning composition. Amazingly, in 2004, water infiltration behind the original brick façade of the Boston building necessitated the removal and replacement in-kind of the entire brick façade. The existing signage and light fixtures, designed in the Art Deco style were added at that time.
A part of any large public beach in Massachusetts is the public bathhouse, where visitors can go to the bathroom, change, and store belongings in lockers. Ever since the Massachusetts Parks System of Boston acquired land at Nantasket Beach, a bathhouse was here for visitors. The earlier building by Stickney & Austin burned down and was soon replaced. This amazing Art Moderne bathhouse features a central mass with wings adorned by glass block. The architects Putnam & Cox created a whimsical 1935 Moderne design that blends into the sandy beach. The building suffered from the salt air and cold winters and went through a massive restoration in the late 1990s, it was then re-opened and re-named after Mary Jeanette Murray, a state representative.
Montgomery Ward was founded by Aaron Montgomery Ward in 1872. Ward had conceived of the idea of a dry goods mail-order business in Chicago. The fledgling company often created catalogs of their items for sale, distributing the booklets in the streets of the city. In 1883, the company’s catalog, which became popularly known as the “Wish Book”, had grown to 240 pages and 10,000 items. In 1896, Wards encountered its first serious competition in the mail order business, when Richard Warren Sears introduced his first general catalog. In 1900, Wards had total sales of $8.7 million, compared to $10 million for Sears, beginning a rivalry that lasted decades. In 1926, the company broke with its mail-order-only tradition when it opened its first retail outlet store in Indiana. It continued to operate its catalog business while pursuing an aggressive campaign to build retail outlets in the late 1920s. In 1928, two years after opening its first outlet, it had opened 244 stores. By 1929, it had more than doubled its number of outlets to 531. This smaller retail expansion was in contrast to rival, Sears Roebuck Company, which was opening a chain of large retail stores on the outskirts of larger cities. The 515th Montgomery Ward store was this one in Burlington. The building is constructed of brick and faced with concrete with “Chicago-style” three-part windows with the three bays capped by concrete pilasters topped by urns. The Burlington Montgomery Ward store closed in 1961, and the building is now home to Homeport, a home goods store.
The Eliot School is a descendant of the first Eliot School in the North End, which opened in 1713 on the present North Bennet Street. Aside from Boston Latin, Eliot School is the oldest public school in Boston. Originally known as the North Latin School, it was renamed in 1821 likely after the former pastor of New North Congregational Church, Rev. Andrew Eliot. Constructed as an elementary school in 1931, this building occupies the site of the former Freeman School, one of the smaller 19th-century school buildings in the North End. This school building was designed in the Art Deco style by Cambridge-based architect Charles Greco. The building features decorative use of brick with stone incised pilasters and highly ornamental lintels over each entry, incorporating the name of the school,
carved foliate designs and shields, and the 1931 construction date.
Local theaters once dominated the urban landscape, providing flashing neon lights and marquees on Main Street USA. After WWII, many downtowns saw populations move to the suburbs and through the advancement in technology, many of these historic movie houses were demolished. Large cineplexes with 10+ screens were built, and the death of the small movie theater coincided with the death of many Main Streets in the mid and late 20th century. Fast forward to today, we see many Main Streets thriving (before the COVID crisis) thanks to women and minority-owned businesses investing in their communities.
The Mohawk Theater in North Adams was built in 1938 and is an excellent example of Art Deco architecture in Western Massachusetts. Loews Cinemas hired the Boston architectural firm of Mowl & Rand to design the 1,200 seat theater which also featured a Native American motif at the lobby. The theater was sold in 1987 to a private investor, who opened the theater for occasional concerts and films, but efforts to maintain the Mohawk were short lived. In 1991, its doors were closed for good.
These apartments in Brookline were built in 1938 and designed by Saul Moffie. The Art Deco design is refined yet elegant with just the use of brick coursing. The amazing brickwork includes header courses, soldier courses and chevrons. This example shows that good design does not require the most expensive or foreign materials to stand out! Oh and there are steel casement windows!
Believe it or not, the iconic Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline was originally built as a church. In 1906, the church was constructed as the Beacon Universalist Church and designed by C.Howard Walker. The new church building included four stores on the ground floor to both provide income for the building via rent and service the bustling Coolidge Corner area of Brookline. There was a central entrance to gain access to the church itself for partitioners. By the 1930s, the commercial character of the area overtook the need for a church, and the building was sold.
In 1933, after many years of trying to get a moving picture theater at Coolidge Corner, this building was converted at an estimated cost of $75,000 into an Art Deco movie house. Architect Ernest Hayward was hired to design the extensive remodel of the church into a theater and public hall. When completed it was called “The Brookline” and was the first theater built in the suburban town of Brookline. The movie house originally seated approximately 1,000 people, with about 700 seats on the main floor and 300 in the balcony. Most of the original fine Art Deco details still remain, notably ceiling decorations, bas-relief sculptures, and various lighting fixtures both in the lobbies and on the side walls of the auditorium. As with many smaller theaters in America in the 1970s, large cineplexes with over ten screens overtook the business of smaller, more historic theaters and the Brookline Theater was sold, but never closed!
In 1989, the Brookline community successfully rallied together in a grass-roots campaign to save the theater. Today, the Coolidge Corner Theater Foundation runs a diverse program of art films, popular films, independent films, first-runs, local filmmaker showcases, and children’s matinees and is a great asset to Brookline and the greater Boston community.