The Charles Roberts Mansion in Beacon Hill maintains its architectural integrity and is an extremely rare example of the Egyptian Revival and Second Empire styles in Boston. The mansion was constructed in 1871 for Charles and Mercy Roberts, likely as a boarding house for transient legislators working at the Massachusetts State House nearby and other middle-class citizens. The mansion was designed by William Washburn, a prolific architect who lived nearby and is credited with iconic early Boston buildings like the Revere and American Houses (early Boston hotels), the original Tremont Temple, and the old Charlestown City Hall, all since demolished. This mansion is the only extant building by Washburn to my knowledge. The brick and sandstone building features paired columns at the entrance with Egyptian Revival lotus leaf capitals, additionally, the triangular dormers at the mansard roof provide a slight Egyptian Revival note. The Egyptian Revival style was rarely used in American domestic architectural design. More frequently used in the design of cemetery entrance gates and memorials in the form of obelisks, the Egyptian Revival made sporadic appearances in the design of American buildings between the 1820s and the 1870s. Another period of the Egyptian Revival architectural style also occurred in the 1920s, with design of silent movie theaters, which coincided with the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in Egypt.
Benjamin Helm Bristow Draper (1908-1957) was the grandson of Governor and Industrialist Eben Sumner Draper, who along with his brother, turned Hopedale, MA into the industrial village it is today. Benjamin purchased his uncle’s old mansion across the street from his cousin, who a decade earlier built the massive Tudor mansion featured previously. Benjamin razed his uncle’s old mansion and built this French Eclectic house in 1935 with a hipped roof, casement windows, and sleek design.
In 1886, Hopedale, Massachusetts separated from Milford, almost entirely due to the young, and successful Draper Corporation growing in The Dale village of town. When George and Eben Draper succeeded in creating their own town of Hopedale, with their factory at the center, it gave the Draper brothers almost complete control over the development of a 3,547 -acre community. In the ensuing decades the factory village of Hopedale became a “model” company town. The Draper Corporation controlled every aspect of the town and worker life in a paternalistic program that extended beyond social structure to include architecture and urban planning of the village, with the company developing hundreds of homes for workers, a town hall, library, churches, schools, and recreational facilities, generating an entire town centered around the industrial giant. Draper Corporation originally made doors, window sashes and blinds and ran a printing office, but they discovered early on that their most profitable business was making textile machinery. By 1892, with the advent of the Northrop Loom, Draper became the largest producer of textile machinery in the country! Due to their success at the end of the 19th century, much of the complex was built and rebuilt in fire-proof brick factory buildings with large windows to allow light and air into the facilities. Draper’s dominant position within the textile machine manufacturing industry began to erode shortly after World War II, and the company began to sell its company houses to their occupants as private homes in 1956. During the 1960s American textile machinery makers such as Draper lost their technological leadership to foreign manufacturers due to cheap labor, and the general American textile industry collapsed. The plant eventually closed in 1980, and has sat vacant until the bulldozers came this year. The site is undergoing a full demolition, which is striping this town of its historic heart. It is truly sad to see.
Thought to be the oldest extant home in Schenectady, New York, the Yates House serves as an excellent example of Dutch-inspired architecture found in the days before the founding of the United States of America. The house, believed to have been constructed around 1730, is an example of Dutch Colonial architecture. Dutch Colonial architecture was clearly common in New Netherland, present-day New York. As a contrast with New England, which featured British-inspired Georgian architecture, the homes and buildings found in the New Netherland colony was unapologetically Dutch. The Yates House in Schenectady’s Stockade neighborhood features a Dutch gable end wall facing the street with interesting brickwork.
Odiorne Point in Rye New Hampshire was owned by the Odiorne Family from at least 1800, when the family built a farmhouse on the land. The peninsula juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, just south of Portsmouth, and it was seen as a strategic position by the United States Government, to protect the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. With the advent of World War II, the United States Government deemed it necessary to improve the fortifications commanding the approaches to the Portsmouth Navy Yard, so the Government acquired this property and named it Fort Dearborn. Giant 16” coast defense guns and other equipment were installed to protect the coast from the impending German advance into North America. The Government acquisition on Odiorne’s Point included Mr. Odiorne’s home and 24 other properties, with many fine old homes on the coast demolished to make way for military facilities, but the Odiorne house was converted to a barracks. When The Nazi forces were beat in Europe, the fort was deactivated and all the guns were removed. In the Cold War period, the U.S. Air Force took formal possession of 45.3 acres at Odiorne’s Point in 1955, which it had been using since 1949 as the Rye Air Force Station. By 1961, the defensive use of the site was not as important, and the site was sold to the State of New Hampshire as a State Park. Today, you can explore the park and the decaying concrete batteries up close, which is a favorite excursion of mine.
This stunning home in Brookline’s Cottage Farm neighborhood was built in 1908 for Bernard Jenney, the assistant treasurer of the Jenney Oil Company. Stephen Jenney, had founded Jenney Oil Company in Boston in 1812, as a kerosene, coal and whale oil producer. By the 1860s, Bernard Sr. and his brother Francis took over the company which became known as the Jenney Manufacturing Company. The newly established company focused primarily on production and distribution of petroleum products for factories and businesses. The Jenney Manufacturing Company took off in the early 1900s due to the proliferation of personal automobiles in Boston and they expanded a new manufacturing center in City Point, South Boston, which had a capacity of 500 barrels of oil a day. Jenney auto oil and gasoline became a major supplier and after Bernard Sr.’s death in 1918, under Bernard Jr.’s leadership, the company began to develop gas stations in New England. The company continued into the 1960s when it was acquired by Cities Service, later rebranding as Citgo. Jenney resided here until his death in 1939. According to the 1935 Brookline street list, the occupants included his daughter’s family Mary & Francis Brewer, three maids and a laundress. The house was acquired by Boston University in 1963 and has long served as the home of former president John Silber.
The architectural firm of Kilham & Hopkins was hired to design the home, which is French Renaissance Revival in style. The home itself is an architectural landmark. When it was published in ‘The American Architect’ in 1910, the house was described as, “A Study in French design of the Louis XVI period”. Additionally, the home (of course) featured a vehicle garage as the family must have had some cars based on the line of work. The home is now listed for sale for a cool $4,888,000 price tag!
Located on the appropriately named Netherlands Road in Brookline, MA, this house was actually designed as a temporary structure as part of the 1893 World’s Fair, also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition or the White City, depicted in the great book, Devil in the White City. The Dutch House was constructed in 1893 by the Van Houten Cocoa Company of the Netherlands, as a display pavilion and cocoa house. It was located at one end of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building (the largest building ever constructed at the time). The Dutch House as we know of it today, was greatly inspired in design by the Franeker City Hall (c. 1591) in the Netherlands. While attending the World’s Fair, Captain Charles Brooks Appleton of Brookline be.came so captivated with the structure that after the Fair, he purchased the building and had it dismantled and transported to Brookline. By the early 2000s, much of the amazing carvings on the building had fallen off, until a new homeowner had them all restored from drawings and images of the building, to the iconic landmark we see today.
Boston’s iconic Hood Milk Bottle has been an iconic fixture in the city’s built environment for decades, but do you know about the history behind it? The architectural oddity was born in 1933-4 in Taunton, Massachusetts, the brainchild of Arthur Gagner who created it as roadside attraction in which he could sell his homemade ice cream. The Milk Bottle beckoned to local families with its impressive size (the structure is 40 feet tall, 18 feet wide, weighs 15,000 pounds, and would hold 58,620 gallons of milk, if it were a real milk bottle)! As car ownership became commonplace, giant donuts, coffee pots, hot dogs, and other surreal shapes rose up on roadsides across the country, enticing motorists to pull over from the busy, new freeways. Gagner peddled sweet treats from his whimsical wooden stand for a decade before selling the building to the Sankey family, who also used it to sell ice cream. But by 1967, the bottle had been abandoned. In 1974, photographer Walker Evans took a Polaroid of the forlorn building, which brought Hood Milk, native to Charlestown, to the table. With a quote of $25,000 to repair it, Hood agreed to cover that cost if the Bottle could be renamed The Hood Milk Bottle, and the structure was to be located on City Hall Plaza, until the architect of the plaza called the Mayor’s Office stating their displeasure with that idea. They then contacted the newly relocated Boston Children’s Museum, who agreed to locate the bottle on their property. The Hood Milk Bottle was delivered to the Museum in 1977 from Quincy (where the repairs were made) on a barge with two fire boats steaming alongside, on a voyage the Hood Company dubbed the “Great Bottle Sail”, where it has remained to this day. It recently underwent a $350,000 renovation, restoring it to its former glory. So no crying over spilled milk!
One building in Boston that has always perplexed me is this round church building. It echoes Eero Saarinen’s MIT Chapel in Cambridge, but is much heavier and plain. After over an hour of researching, I finally found out some history behind it! The church was constructed in the South Cove Redevelopment area, an urban renewal program run by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (now BPDA) as a sort of “slum” clearance near Chinatown. The Church of All Nations was founded in the South End in 1917, housed in a Gothic Revival chapel that was seized by eminent domain for the Massachusetts Turnpike Extension and demolished in 1963. The congregation met in temporary quarters on Arlington Street until the new church was constructed in 1975. Records show that the congregation hired famed Modernist architect Bertram Goldberg as early as 1967 to design a new chapel, set in a new public park. The original plans called for a square building with a massive “steeple” incorporated as the entire roof. For some reason (possibly funding and changing demands for the church), the final design was a little more mundane. The cylindrical church is clad in dark glazed brick with a cross raised in the brickwork. The church suffered from a dwindling congregation in its location, and now appear to rent out the building. One of my favorite local architecture firms Touloukian Touloukian, Inc., re-imagined the site as a new residential tower. It would be one of the few beautiful new buildings in Boston in the past decade or two. Can we please make this happen?!
Did you know there was once a massive granite reservoir in Beacon Hill?
Long before the Wachusett and Quabbin Reservoirs that now supply water to Boston, the city’s original municipal water supply was Lake Cochituate, a reservoir in Metro-west. Due to Beacon Hill’s high elevation, the city selected the site behind the recently completed Massachusetts State House, to store and distribute water to the city. The site was too steep, so it had to be graded. Therefore, the top of Beacon Hill, where the beacon had long been standing, needed to be lowered to accommodate the reservoir. The soil was dug by hand and hauled by cart down to fill the old Mill Dam in the Bulfinch Triangle area. The reservoir, which opened in 1849, was unique in its approach. The design of the structure needed to minimize its footprint and reflect well on its surroundings in the prestigious location. In lieu of earthen bermed walls, as was the convention in most period distribution reservoirs, the design chose to create a watertight tank within a masonry structure. This made the structure the first elevated storage tank constructed in New England. Sheet lead was used to make the reservoir watertight (which likely led to a lot of health issues (hindsight is 20/20). By 1870, the poor water pressure made the Boston Waterworks build the Roxbury Standpipe, which relegated the Beacon Hill Reservoir to being an emergency water source for use only in case of fire or accident to the pumping-mains. In 1883, Boston Water Works sold the structure to the Commonwealth, who demolished it for the addition to the State House.