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.
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!
Lower Falls Village in Newton, Massachusetts was first settled in the early 18th century by colonists due to the area’s natural waterfalls and rapids which was perfect for early industry. By the early 19th century, up to four paper mills lined the Charles River here at a dam which provided power and steady water supply for their facilities. The village saw a large population increase from that point until the end of the 19th century when larger mills in the state were built. One of the major community spaces for the growing village was it’s main church, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, which is the oldest extant church in Newton and the first Episcopal church built immediately west of Boston. The cornerstone for the building was laid in September 1813 containing a package of coins and a silver plate. Previously services had been held in the Lower Falls schoolhouse, with the first Episcopal service held in 1811. The land for the church was donated by Samuel Brown a wealthy Boston merchant who invested in the paper mills in Lower Falls. Many of the founding members and parishioners were in the paper making business in Lower Falls and buried in the adjacent cemetery. The Federal style church was altered in 1838 and given Gothic detailing, including lancet windows and finials at the steeple. In 1954, the bell tower was altered with the gothic finials replaced with the current urns on the balustrade, the gothic arched openings were changed to the current arched shape, and entablature, pilasters, and a cross were added.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the finest First Period Houses to have been built in New England was this brick mansion, formerly on North Street in Boston’s North End. On December 29, 1674, John Paine conveyed his property including a dwelling house to William Downe his new son-in-law. It is unclear when the house was built, but it was completed by the time of sale to William. Luckily, the house was constructed of brick, which likely saved it from the Fire of 1676. In later centuries, the building was converted to commercial use, at times housing a feather store. After the Civil War, the property was owned by the Tremere Family, who rented out commercial space and held tenements in the floors above (the third floor was added, filling in the space between the two end chimneys which were added in the early-19th century. The property was razed in 1896 for the present tenement building on the site.