Why is commercial architecture from the second half of the 19th century so perfect? This structure in Downtown Portland is known as the Printer’s Exchange Building and was built in 1866, amongst the ashes of the buildings lost in the Great Fire of 1866. Charles Quincy Clapp is credited as the designer of the structure, which is Italianate in style with the paired round arched windows set into larger openings. The rounded corners are a really subtle but splendid touch in the design. The building got its name as it was home to the Eastern Argus and the Portland Daily Press, among other newspapers who rented the space from owner, Horatio Nelson Jose. I really like this one!
Woodman Block // 1867
Located next-door to the Rackleff Block, this high-style Second Empire commercial block in Downtown Portland, Maine really turns heads. The Woodman Block (like its neighbor) was built in 1867 from plans by architect George M. Harding, who designed the building for George W. Woodman, a drygoods dealer. This stunning commercial block originally housed Woodman’s dry goods firm, Woodman, True, and Company. It later held a druggist and medicine company. The building retains much of its original architectural character minus the iron cresting which once capped the mansard roof. They don’t make them like they used to!
Richmond Building // 1876
The Victorian Gothic style Richmond Building in Downtown Providence always catches my eye for its polychrome brickwork. The building was constructed in 1876, seemingly as an investment property for Dr. F. H. Peckham, a surgeon. The Richmond Building was used for many years for offices and retail use. Also, look at that amazing curved sash window!
Exchange Bank Building // 1845
Founded in 1801, the National Exchange Bank built this structure in 1845 in what would become Downtown Providence, an area with more residential quality than the much-developed East Side. The bank likely knew what was to come in terms of development here, so invested in a new masonry building to serve as the new headquarters of the bank. The northern half of the building is more typical Greek Revival in style with granite base and clean proportions. In 1887-8, the southern portion of the building was redesigned in the academic Queen Anne style to designs by Stone, Carpenter & Willson. This section of the building has amazing oriel windows, brownstone trim, slate mansard roof, and a clock.
Beneficent House // 1967
Located on the same block as the Arnold-Palmer House (last post) in Downtown Providence, this apartment building is the work of one of the most prolific Modernist architects of the 20th century, Paul Rudolph. During Downtown Providence’s period of urban renewal, which saw the demolition of much of Cathedral Square (much of which remains surface parking lots), planners sought a high-rise apartment building to house displaced elderly residents and others who hoped to reside close to downtown shopping and amenities. Architect Paul Rudolph, who was at the time Dean of Yale’s Architecture School, designed the brick building which employs horizontal bands in concrete which marks off floor levels and provides some breaks in the materiality. The building was originally designed in 1963, but after years of delays and budget cuts from rising construction costs, the balconies and other design features were removed from the final product, leading to its present simplicity. While simple, the building retains intrigue, especially with the projecting window bays and offset openings, a departure from the block apartment buildings at the time.
Arnold-Palmer House // 1826
The Arnold-Palmer house (not related to the drink), a handsome brick single residence of the Federal period, was built about 1826 by Daniel Arnold, a wealthy Providence merchant who did well in the economic expansion of the 1820s and 30s. The home is attributed to John Holden Greene, a Providence architect who commonly incorporated a monitor roof in his designs. Daniel Arnold focused his wealth on flour trade, but he speculated in cotton as well, as did many of the merchants in Providence at the time. The connection of Providence with southern states and plantations demonstrate how tightly bound Rhode Island’s industrial economy was with Southern cotton and the enslaved people who produced it, with manufacturing and cotton mills all over Rhode Island. By the 1850s, Arnold’s house was sold to Joseph Palmer, who, through the firm of Palmer & Capron, manufactured gold rings in Providence’s growing jewelry business. The house was built in Cathedral Square a part of Downtown and was moved to its present site when that part of Providence was nearly entirely razed in urban renewal. While the siting is less than desirable, this rare surviving Federal home in downtown shows how the wealth and prosperity of Providence was not only restricted to College Hill.
125 Summer Street // 1989
The late 1980s were a time of financial success for developers and banking companies all over the country. It seems that more skyscrapers were constructed in Boston this decade than any other of the 20th century, but working within the confines of the historic downtown of the city, left architects and developers to come up with creative ways to build here. The architectural firm of Kohn Pederson Fox was hired to construct a 20+ story office tower at the southern edge of the Financial District in Boston, while preserving the small-scale commercial buildings there. A row of four-story commercial blocks constructed after the Great Boston Fire of 1872 were retained with the tower seemingly growing out of them. The process here is known as “facadism” which is a valuable preservation tool to balance preservation with density in historic downtowns, though not always done right. This KPF design with its Post-Modern tower in concrete and granite fits well within the streetscape and maintains a walkable block downtown.
What do you think of this design?
Boylston Building // 1887
Built by the Boylston Market Association, replacing the former Boylston Market (1810-1887) in Downtown Boston, the Boylston Building is a great example of late 19th-century commercial design in Boston. The Association hired German-born architect Carl Fehmer (who also designed the amazing Beaconsfield Terrace housing in Brookline) to design a structure that would stand up to the architectural landmarks along Boylston and Washington Streets nearby. Fehmer’s design exhibits many features of the emerging Commercial style (also known as Chicago school style) of architecture which promoted new technologies of steel-frame construction in commercial buildings with masonry cladding, while clearly showcasing the Romanesque round arch windows. In the mid-20th century, this area of Downtown Boston became known as the ‘Combat Zone‘, Boston’s Red Light District, flooded with prostitution, drugs, and adult video stores. The Boylston Building was occupied by an adult video store and dive pizza shop. The building and area surrounding are different today, but you can always find some characters nearby!
Richards Building // 1859
One of my favorite buildings in Downtown Boston is the Richards Building on State Street for its rare and lavish cast-iron facade. Built in about 1859, the building was developed by Quincy A. Shaw and Gardiner H. Shaw (uncles of Robert Gould Shaw, who led the famed African American regiment that is the subject of St. Gaudens’ and Charles McKim’s Boston Common monument), merchants who then leased out commercial space in the building. The architect of the building is unknown; however, the sheet metal was supplied by E.B. Badger & Sons. The original design was a five-story, eight-bay cast iron front structure, in the Northern Italian mode of the Renaissance Revival style. The facade is only a screen attached to the front of the building. It is made of pieces of cast iron that were fabricated in Italy and bolted together in Boston. In 1889, the building was sold to Calvin A. Richards, a wealthy street railway tycoon and it is presumed that the two upper stories and corner oriels were added at that time. The building features one of a handful of extant cast-iron facades in Boston, which was restored in the 1980s.
Union Block // c.1842
Located in the Blackstone Block of Downtown Boston, this flatiron building encloses Marshall Street on the Freedom Trail, creating a tight, pedestrian-oriented street that once covered old Boston. The Union Block (c.1842) is a Greek Revival commercial block which typifies this network of short, narrow streets which somehow survived Urban Renewal and the coming of the highway in Boston. The longest running occupant of the building was Ward & Waldron Paper Hangings, which from my understanding, made wallpaper for the estates of Beacon Hill which were being built on the other side of town. After successive ownership, atlas maps show the ownership of the building in 1888 conveyed to Massachusetts General Hospital, which still held title to it past 1938. The building is now home to Bell in Hand, an iconic local pub that was founded in 1795 at another location.