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.
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.
Built in 1934 as the fourth high school for the town of Tewksbury, this Neo-Classical school building has seen better days. The Center School was designed by Miller and Beal architects of Portland, Maine, and likely funded with assistance of New Deal program funding during the Great Depression. The next year, Tewksbury Stadium was dedicated in 1938, which was a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. The Tewksbury Center School retains many of the details that characterize its Neo-Classical Style including: the front gable entry portico supported by two-story Corinthian columns and pilasters, the wide frieze band with the band of dentil molding, the decoratively clad end bays framed by Corinthian pilasters, the broken pediment of the door surround, and keystones in the brick lintels. The town needed to expand at the end of the 20th century, and hired Architectural Resources Cambridge to design the John F. Ryan Elementary School, located behind this building. The Ryan Elemetary School is a pleasing design which is Post-Modern in style. The Center School has been used as offices for the School Department and was recently proposed to be demolished for surface parking, and a new school constructed elsewhere on the site. This seems very wasteful, and epitomizes the lack of regard for environmental or historical conservation in many cities and towns.
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.
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.
The other day, I was walking in Boston Common along Tremont Street, when I noticed this oddly ornate building wedged between larger, modern buildings. I HAD to investigate! The building was actually constructed as an arcade/covered walkway which ran to Mason Street behind, with a tunnel running under that street into the B.F. Keith’s Theatre. In 1892, Benjamin F. Keith and his business partner E.F. Albee purchased land off Mason Street, a scarcely trafficked street between the busy Tremont and Washington Streets in Boston’s Theater District, with the goal of creating the city’s finest vaudville theatre. The duo hired J. B. McElfatrick & Son, architects who specialized in theatres, to design the new B.F. Keith’s. Due to the site being wedged between two main streets, entrances were built off both Tremont and Washington with flashing lights and marquees, guiding patrons inward. The Tremont facade was especially grand so that B. F. Keith’s New Theatre could be advertised on, and approached directly from, Boston Common, with lights flooding the park. The theater opened in 1894 and was over-the-top with intricate details and sculpture all over, appealing to the city’s wealthy as a place to see the arts. Although it was primarily a vaudeville house during Keith-Albee’s ownership, famed inventor Thomas Edison demonstrated his new Vitascope movie projector here on May 18, 1896. This was the first projection of a movie anywhere in Boston. As live shows made way for motion pictures, the theater adapted, but suffered around the Great Depression when would-be patrons decided to save their limited money. In 1939, the theater was converted to a movie theater named the Normandie. The theater was demolished in 1952 for a surface parking lot to provide better service to the Opera House (originally B.F. Keith’s Memorial Theatre, confusing I know) and Paramount Theater. Today, all we have left of the once beloved B.F. Keith’s Theater is the small annex, which is virtually unrecognizable from historic images as most of its decoration and the top two stories were removed.
One of the earlier grand hotels in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, was Mount Pleasant House, built in 1875 after the arrival of the railroad through Crawford Notch. The hotel was located on a small hill where the Lodge at Bretton Woods is currently sited, across the street from the iconic Mount Washington Hotel. It was built by lumberman and investor John T.G. Leavitt and opened the following year. It was then a simple, almost box-like structure with only forty rooms, later expanded and “modernized” to accommodate the growing waves of affluent visitors from New York City and Boston every year. In 1881, Leavitt sold the hotel to Oscar Pitman and Joseph Stickney, the latter eventually became sole owner and acquired land across the street to build the Mount Washington Hotel in 1900. Possibly as a practice for his larger endeavor across the street, Stickney hired one of Portland’s leading architects, Francis H. Fasset, to design the additions and alterations. When Stickney died in 1903, just a year after his larger hotel was built, both properties were willed to his wife, Caroline. She ran the company through changing economic conditions and when she died, in 1936, the hotels were left to her nephew, F. Foster Reynolds. Reynolds decided that the Mt. Pleasant was not worth the expense needed to maintain it, and in 1939, ordered the building demolished, replaced decades later with the present building.
One of the many significant losses to American architecture is the demolition of the Low House, a perfect encapsulation of the Shingle style of architecture by one of the most prolific designers in American history. The William G. Low House was constructed at the southern tip of Bristol, Rhode Island by esteemed architect Charles Follen McKim (my personal favorite) of the firm McKim, Mead & White. The Shingle style, which took off in the Northeast United States, primarily in seaside communities in the late 20th century, the homes of the style often had a strong horizontal emphasis. The style contrasts the other Victorian-era styles, de-emphasizing applied decoration and detailing in favor of complex shapes wrapped in cedar shingles. The Low House, formerly located on Low Lane, stood out for its 140-foot long gable which appeared to protrude right from the hilly outlook. The home was demolished in 1962, but was documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey program, which documented the home inside and out before it was a pile of rubble. Architectural historian Leland Roth later wrote, “Although little known in its own time, the Low House has come to represent the high mark of the Shingle Style”.
Formerly located on the Poppasquash Peninsula in Bristol, Rhode Island, the William DeWolfe House, also known as Hey Bonnie Hall, was constructed in 1808 for William DeWolf (1762-1829) and his wife Charlotte Finney (1764-1829). William DeWolf was a member of the infamous DeWolf Family of Rhode Island, which is believed to have transported tens of thousands of enslaved people to the United States and Caribbean before the African slave trade was banned in Rhode Island. The Ocean State played a leading role in the transatlantic slave trade. Not only did Rhode Islanders have slaves—they had more per capita than any other New England state. The beauty of Hey Bonnie Hall, and its melodic name hid the dirty money with which it was built. With his extreme wealth, William hired Providence architect Russell Warren to construct the home in a high form of the Federal style. Eventually, the home was willed to Anna DeWolf, who married Nathaniel Russell Middleton, from a slave-owning family in Charleston, South Carolina (birds of a feather…). It was Anna Middleton who gave the house its curious name of “Hey Bonnie Hall”. When she was younger, she used to sing an old Scottish song called “Hey The Bonny Breast Knots” over and over again to delight her grandfather, William, the first owner of this home. After Anna’s death, the home was willed to her two unmarried daughters. The Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944 proved fatal for the grand estate, when the front portico was ripped off the home and flew away. The damage was deemed too expensive to repair and the home was demolished that year.