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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This Georgian Revival brick building sits behind the Beneficent Church in Downtown Providence and is relatively well hidden off the busier streets. The structure was designed by the firm of Andrews, Jones, Briscoe & Whitmore, for the Providence Plantation Club, a women’s club. The women who gathered under this society were businesswomen, as well as women interested in the social and economic life and political life, at a moment just before they were granted the official right to vote by the US Constitution in 1920. The club was a success, starting with about 150 members and it reached more than 1300 members, just one year after its inception. As the only female architect of the society, Frances E. Henley got involved in promoting the Club in terms of its visuals and interior design. Ms. Henley was the first woman to study architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design and the first woman to independently practice architecture in Rhode Island. Henley was responsible for the interior design for multiple spaces in the building. When the club no longer needed such a building, Johnson & Wales University took it on in 1962. It is now called Wales Hall and houses a variety of offices and services.
Did you know that Boston once had it’s own Hogwarts? While we didn’t have wizards and witches in the streets, we did have young magicians learning the tricks of the trade! The Boston School of Magic was founded in the 1880s by William Davis LeRoy (1862-1919), a professional magician who also served as President of the Conjuror’s Club of Boston. Upon opening its doors, the Boston School of Magic was one of a handful of such schools in the country. For $75, you could learn how to escape from a pair of handcuffs from a professional instructor at W.D. Leroy’s “School of Magic”, and even buy some magic items for shows from his large catalogue. Mr. LeRoy was also friends with the famous Harry Houdini, who purchased items from his store and consulted with him on new acts. Houdini was extremely popular in Boston and held many acts and feats of strength here. The Boston School of Magic was located in the second floor of the Blanchard Building at 103 Court Street, a brick commercial building with stone facade constructed in the middle of the 19th century. The building was demolished in the 1920s and replaced with a two-story structure, which too was razed for Government Center.
Boston’s constant churning of development has given us amazing architectural landmarks, and incredibly unfathomable architectural loss. One of such cases of loss is the former Brattle Street Church which was located on Brattle Street, roughly where the main entrance to Boston City Hall is located today. Demolition of significant architecture in Boston began way before the period of Urban Renewal in the mid-20th century, and the loss of the Brattle Street Church in Downtown Boston showcases this. The Brattle Street Church had been founded in the 1690s by a group of merchants seeking an alternative to the authority exercised by Increase and Cotton Mather in Boston’s existing congregations. Despite these beginnings, the church remained Congregational through the 18th century. At the time of the Revolution, Brattle Street counted such figures as John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Joseph Warren, and John and Abigail Adams among its parishioners. The original wooden church was replaced in 1772 by this stunning brick building, designed by Thomas Dawes. Just years after the doors opened, the American Revolution upended life in Boston. This building was a survivor, and was apparently hit by cannon-fire by the American batteries at the siege of Boston. A cannonball can be seen lodged into the building at the second floor, to the right of the Palladian window. After the American Civil War, development of the Back Bay led to a shifting population away from the downtown core, and a new church was erected for the congregation, the Brattle Square Church, designed by Henry Hobson Richardson. This church was demolished in 1872, just 100 years after it opened its doors and took a cannon for America.
Replacing a vacant lot bordering I-93 at Kneeland Street, the One Greenway development provides much needed housing and design as one of the gateways into the Chinatown neighborhood of Boston. A result of community engagement, One Greenway is one of the largest new affordable housing projects in recent memory. The project restores the urban fabric that was lost half a century ago to the construction of major highways, which cut through the community and provides much-needed affordable housing in one of the nation’s oldest and largest immigrant communities. When the elevated highway was moved underground and the Rose Kennedy Greenway was laid out, parcels adjacent were available for reuse, and this was one of the last to be redeveloped. The building mixes 217 market-rate apartments and 95 affordable apartments, to create a mixed-income development, hopefully the future, as to not segregate affordable housing to less-desirable parts of cities. Designed by the firm Stantec, the building creates a solid street wall at the corner, and provides amazing open space at the rear in the form of a well-designed park designed by Crosby, Schlessinger, and Smallridge. The use of beige terracotta panels makes the large building more inviting, compared to the cold and sterile new apartment buildings going up all over the city and region.
All Aboard!! The Kneeland Street Station was built at the southern edge of Downtown Boston in 1847 for the newly established Old Colony Railroad Company. By the early 1840s, the city of Boston had six major rail lines connecting it with other places including Lowell, Maine, Fitchburg, and Salem to the north, Worcester to the west and Providence to the southwest. The southeastern part of Massachusetts had yet to be served by a rail link to Boston. On March 16, 1844 the Old Colony Railroad Corporation was formed to provide a rail connection between Boston and Plymouth. Construction of the line began in South Boston in 1844 and the line opened to Plymouth in 1845. The company needed a more accessible station to the residents and businessmen of Downtown Boston, so they acquired a large parcel of land on Kneeland Street to extend the line. The corporation hired architect Gridley James Fox Bryant, who designed this stunning railroad station constructed of brick with strong stone trimmings. As was common, a large clock was affixed to the building to allow waiting passengers to know how long they would be waiting. From 1845 to 1893, the Old Colony railroad network grew extensively through a series of mergers and acquisitions with other established railroads, serving lines to Providence, Newport, Fall River, New Bedford and down the Cape. The railroad was acquired in 1893 by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, and sought to consolidate the many local stations into a larger building. They soon after began construction on Boston’s South Station, re-routing lines to that new building. They sold off the excess stations, including this one on Kneeland Street, and it was eventually demolished in 1918.