Langham Court // 1991

Image courtesy of Goody/Clancy

Appropriate infill construction can be a very difficult thing to accomplish, with some developments hitting the mark and others adversely impacting the historic neighborhoods where they were built. Boston is home to many examples of both occurrences, but I wanted to share a very successful infill project in the South End neighborhood, Langham Court. As the South End resurfaced as a desirable neighborhood, long-time residents were priced out, which led to the Boston Redevelopment Authority to fund projects to provide much-needed housing for the local community. This site which once housed over 20 townhouses, was razed by the 1960s in a period of urban renewal where existing housing was deemed unsafe and inadequate. The local design firm of Goody/Clancy was hired, and they masterfully designed a U-shaped complex of 84 mixed-income units that fits well within its surroundings. The design exhibits dormers, bays, arched and vaulted entries, a combination of mansard and flat roofs, stringer courses and textured brickwork, and a palette of well chosen materials all at a scale that blends in the 1990s building to its surroundings which came nearly 150 years prior. The complex remains as a testament to good-quality design even for affordable housing, which notoriously gets the short end of the stick design-wise.

Joshua Bennett Townhouse // 1834

Just steps from the iconic Louisburg Square in Boston’s exclusive Beacon Hill neighborhood, a man named Joshua Bennett in 1834, purchased two recently completed townhouses built by housewrights Samuel H. Mitchell and Loring Dunbar. Joshua Holden Bennett (1792-1865) was born in Billerica, Massachusetts and split his time between his hometown and Boston. Bennett and his family owned the two identical bowfront houses until about 1930, likely renting them out to middle-upper class families. The home on the right (pictured) was later purchased by Benjamin B. Gillette an organist at a local church. After WWII, property values in Beacon Hill began to falter and this property and its neighbor became lodging houses of rented rooms to a more wealthy clientele than those on the North Slope of the hill. The home last sold in 1989 for $753,000 and is estimated at a value today at over $4,000,000!

Pagoda Building // c.1850-1917

For the last on this series of Lost Boston buildings, I present this little-known landmark which was once neighbors to the Old State House. The Pagoda Building as it was named, was located on the corner of Washington and State Streets and was one of the tallest buildings on the street upon completion. The seven-story building of Quincy granite exhibited round arched windows and an interpretation of a belvedere at the roof which served as a penthouse. The building’s upper six stories were residential, including the spectacular Oriental penthouse at the top, with retail space at the ground floor. The architect was a recent immigrant from Britain named George Snell, who clearly made a name for himself, later entering a partnership with James R. Gregerson. The Pagoda Building, which was originally an early “skyscraper” in Boston was quickly surpassed in height and floor plate size and was deemed inadequate for such a prominent location. It was demolished by 1917.

Trinity Place Station // 1900-1964

Trinity Place Station was the Boston & Albany Railroad’s second depot for trains running outbound from its newly completed South Station. The depot was designed by Alexander Wadsworth “Waddy” Longfellow, Jr., who from Harvard University in 1876, later studying architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and then worked as senior draftsman in Henry Hobson Richardson‘s office upon his return to the United States. A. W. Longfellow was also the nephew of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He designed the station of pink granite with a covered platform 375 feet in length. The building long served train commuters leaving the ever-changing Back Bay neighborhood. Consolidated lines led to the station being deemed obsolete, and it was scheduled for demolition. Much of the old line route would be cleared for the right-of-way for the Mass Pike Expansion into Boston. The demolition on Trinity Place was postponed until early 1964 to allow for scenes of the movie, “The Cardinal” to be filmed there.

Frank Howard Tattoo Shop // c.1870-1960s

Ever so often, I stumble across a historic photo and I end up spending way too much time falling down rabbit-holes uncovering a cool history. This is one of those times.

Frank Howard Packer (1857-1925) was born in Providence, Rhode Island and worked at his father’s jewelry store there, later moving to Chicago. Out west, Frank was first tattooed by a friend, and he was hooked. Frank started using his body as a canvas, and when he ran out of space, his wife Annie was covered with tattoos. The couple were discovered by Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth and were hired to tour the country alongside other acts. Frank was the “Original Tattooed Man” and Annie was the first tattooed woman to tour with Barnum & Bailey. At these shows, Frank and Annie would show off their tattoos and then tattoo spectators for money. Eventually, they had enough money to open a tattoo parlor in a Civil War-era building on Court Street in Boston. The space was originally shared with a barbershop, but it later expanded to the entire floor of the building. Annie died in 1911 and Frank remarried a few years later and seemingly began to wind down his tattooing career. He died in 1925. The old shop building was demolished in the 1960s as part of Boston’s Urban Renewal period.

Howard Athenaeum // 1846-1962

One of the more iconic theater buildings to ever stand in Boston was the Howard Athenaeum, later the Old Howard, which stood on the former Howard Street in Downtown Boston. The origins of the building begin in 1843, when a flimsy, tent was built to serve as a church for the small Millerite sect. The small but loyal congregation eventually abandoned the site following disappointment with the minister’s promise that the world would end in 1844. After Armageddon failed to materialize, the founder of the sect, William Miller, an ex-Deputy Sheriff from Poultney, Vermont, was discredited and the Millerites moved on. After running their former minister out of town, several church members (who had given up all their worldly possessions in preparation for their trip to heaven,) decided to recoup some of their losses by selling the property to Messers Boyd and Beard, who opened a theater here in 1845. A fire destroyed the structure, and it was replaced by a larger, fireproof building that same year. The new building was constructed in 1845 and was designed by architect Isaiah Rogers in the Gothic Revival style with massive granite blocks from Quincy.

The Howard Athenaeum saw many iconic performers and historical events in its 100 years. A young John Wilkes Booth, played Hamlet at the Howard before becoming famous for a more nefarious deed in Washington in 1865. Also, Sarah Parker Remond, a Black anti-slavery activist and lecturer with the American Anti-Slavery Society (and later a medical doctor), had bought a ticket through the mail for the Donizetti opera, Don Pasquale, but, upon arriving, refused to sit in a segregated section for the show. She was forcibly removed and pushed down a flight of stairs. She eventually won a desegregation lawsuit against the managers of the Howard Athenaeum and received $500 in a settlement.

The theater was quickly deemed obsolete and second-tier compared to more modern theatres built nearby. By the mid-20th century, the Old Howard was largely featuring burlesque shows. To keep bringing in audiences, the burlesque performances got more risqué with each year. As a result, the Boston vice squad made the Old Howard the object of their attention. The Boston Vice squad made a 16 mm film during one of their raids in 1953 and captured on film the performance by “Irma the Body”. This film footage resulted in an indecency hearing which eventually led to the closing of the Old Howard in 1953. A fire a few years later along with Urban Renewal led to the demolition of the Old Howard by 1962. Like the former Suffolk Savings Bank (featured previously), the present Center Plaza Building is on the site.

Kate and Charles Page House // 1888-2001

C.1888 photo courtesy of BPL collections

In 1888, Kate and Charles Page purchased a house lot in the sparsely developed Fenway section of Boston. The corner lot at Westland and Parker (renamed Hemenway) provided views to natural scenery and access to many Boston amenities. The couple worked with architect Herbert Langford Warren, who had previously apprenticed under the great H. H. Richardson. Warren took many of the common motifs seen in Richardson’s own style, but he was also a fan of the Arts and Crafts Movement, with its love of fine handicraft. You can see that in the elaborate diaper-patterned brick and in the stepped gables. The gables were a revival of a motif from old Flemish, Dutch, and Scottish architecture, sometimes called corbie-step gables, because corbies (crows) liked to stand on the steps. The interior was just as stunning, with massive brick arches, fanciful woodwork, and a prominent stairhall at the entrance. The couple was likely inspired to hire Warren by their son, Walter Gilman Page, a young artist who maintained a studio space in the home for some time. The home was sold out of the family by 1912. In 1917, the whole house was lifted up one story and a strip of retail stores was inserted beneath it. The original arched entryway then became a second-floor window. It was replaced with a taller building by 2003. Interestingly, upon the opening, the Commissioner of the Boston Parks and Recreation Department and long-time Boston Preservation Alliance Executive Director stated that the 1888 house “looked like a missing front tooth” and was happy to see it demolished.

United States Hotel, Boston // 1839-1930

On August 18, 1929, the United States Hotel in Downtown Boston closed its doors for good. Once housing and feeding over 700 guests per night, the hotel saw severely declining numbers by the time of the Great Depression. Construction on the hotel commenced in 1837, and it was completed two years later in 1839. The hotel was operated by the Messrs. Holman and Clark, who saw an immediate success due to the hotel’s location central to Boston’s major train stations. The hotel (which first contained 300 rooms) did so well that the building was expanded numerous times with undulating additions to maximize light and air into the many rooms. At the hotel, over 150 employees served the guests at their rooms, the dining halls, bathing facilities or the stables which had drivers ready at a moments notice. The United States Hotel was one of the finest establishments in Boston and was thought to be the largest in the country by the middle of the 19th century. The size and amenities however was the downfall of the iconic hotel as Boston’s train stations saw fewer passengers in the early decades of the 20th century. Owners of the hotel sought to squeeze out every last dollar from the complex before they locked her up for good, hosting an auction on everything from beds to a chair said to have been sat on by Charles Dickens during his stay. The hotel was razed in 1930.

Suffolk Savings Bank // 1906-1967

The Suffolk Savings Bank for Seamen and Others was incorporated in 1833 as a banking institution catered to seamen and merchants who received their earnings after a trip in cash, and wanted a secure place to store their funds. At the time, these men were among the richest in the city, and the bank did very well. It later became a national bank in 1865 and membership boomed. The bank grew and grew until the early 20th century, and it needed a new banking house that showcased their stability, but also provide a visual embodiment of the security their institution provides. The bank’s board hired world-renowned architect Cass Gilbert to design a new building, which would be located on one of the busiest corners in Downtown Boston at the corner of Tremont Street and Pemberton Square. The Classical Revival building was constructed of Hallowell Granite and featured four monumental columns recessed into the Tremont Street facade. Minimal windows allowed for security, while a domed skylight covered in a cap provided light into the rounded banking room below. Inside, the walls and floors were of marble with a tile coffered ceiling. The building lasted until 1965 when Urban Renewal brought the wrecking ball. The bank was demolished by 1967 for the present Center Plaza building in Government Center.

King’s Head Tavern // 1691-1870

Another of Boston’s Lost buildings is the King’s Head Tavern, an old establishment that was built in the early days of Boston and rebuilt following a fire in 1691. It stood on the corner of Lewis and North Streets, in the North End near Scarlett’s Wharf. Due to its proximity to the harbor and wharfs, it became the first place weary sailors stopped to get a drink on solid ground. The two-story, brick tavern was capped with a gambrel roof, which was later filled with wooden additions giving the structure a boxy look. The establishment was named the King’s Head Tavern after a popular London tavern of the same name. Like much of the North End, surging immigrant populations put immense strain on the built environment and many older buildings were demolished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for tenement housing. The old King’s Head Tavern was demolished in 1870, just two years after the photo was taken.