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.
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.
One of the few great examples of Post-Modern architecture in Downtown Boston is the eleven-story One Bowdoin Square building. During the period of Urban Renewal in Boston in the 1960s, much of the area known today as Government Center and the West End was demolished and replaced with taller buildings with plazas, many of which for governmental or institutional uses.
The site of One Bowdoin Square was redeveloped in 1968 as the “Bulfinch Building”. The building was designed by F. Frederick Bruck with Mark Kiley and Associates as engineers. The building featured light brick with concrete banding between floors. In the 1980s, the building was already outdated and proposed for redevelopment again. When analyzing the building, it was determined that the building was structurally sound and it was deconstructed to the framing and remodeled by the amazing Graham Gund. The current building is a very unique Post-Modern structure with a very interesting entry and flared cornice with triangular windows.