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.
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.
Built five years before the Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline, the Temple Kehillath Israel on Harvard Street employs a similar architectural aesthetic of the Byzantine Revival style. The Jewish community of Brookline had grown significantly since the early 1900s, reaching a population of 4,000 by 1921. The congregation which constructed this temple had temporary quarters in a building at Harvard and Thorndike streets. By March 1921, it was decided to build a temple, and in 1922, the cornerstone was laid for a building which would cost an estimated $150,000 and have a capacity for 1,000. Plans submitted by architects architects Albert MacNaughton and George E. Robinson showed the large structure with space to build outbuildings as the congregation was expected to keep up with growth.
In 1948, an Art Deco Community House, designed by Samuel Glaser, was constructed of stone replicated the materiality of the temple, but with Modern features, a connector addition was added in 1958. The congregation is currently in the midst of a huge building campaign, which began with the exterior restoration of the temple building, followed by a modernization and restoration of the interior. In 2019, the 1948 Community House was razed to make way for an affordable housing development, called the Brown Family House.
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.
Known locally as the “Superman Building”, the Industrial National Bank Building in Downtown Providence stands as the tallest building in Rhode Island, but has been vacant for nearly 10 years! The building was constructed in 1928 and can be classified as Art Deco in style, but has more Classical detailing, echoing the end of the Beaux-Arts movement. The building was given the nickname “The Superman Building” as residents claimed it looks like the Daily Planet Building in Superman comics (I don’t see it).
Designed by the firm of Stone, Carpenter & Willson, the building was constructed to serve as the headquarters of the Industrial Trust Company, which was founded in 1886. The building was occupied most of its history by the firm who went through a series of mergers and name changes, until Bank of America (the owner as of 1998) moved the offices of the occupant bank to Boston. Just before the economic recession of 2008, the building was purchased by High Rock Development for over $33 million. Tenants began moving out of the building, with the last (a Bank of America office) leaving in 2013.
Stories say that various projects have been envisioned by the developer, ranging from demolition to luxury apartments, with no movement in sight. It appears that the State Historic Preservation Office is not willing to allow Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits for a project in some articles. As of February 2020, the University of Rhode Island Providence Campus appears to be interested in occupying at least part of the building. Fingers crossed!