In the second half of the 20th century, parts of Boston saw disinvestment by private property owners as well as local and state government. With people leaving Boston for the suburbs, the hemorrhaging of tax revenue led urban planners to go big and institute ‘Urban Renewal‘ policies and planning to demolish what they believed to be substandard housing and invest in Modern apartments and car-oriented developments. The triangular shaped new community was as comprehensive as any urban renewal district in the region; indeed of the ten General Neighborhood Renewal Plans created by the BRA in 1961, Washington Park was the most self contained Urban Renewal District in the city. It included new police and fire stations, a courthouse, two public libraries, a shopping mall, a health center, elementary school and five garden style housing developments totaling almost 2000 apartments or townhouses. At its completion in 1975, $70.4 million had been invested to build the new community of which $31. 3 million came from the federal government. Part of this massive undertaking was the construction of elderly housing, which resulted in this 20-story cylindrical tower at the southernmost edge of the Urban Renewal area. The tower was constructed between 1967 and 1970 and was designed by Boston-based architectural firm Richmond & Goldberg, led by Isidor Richmond and Carney Goldberg. Apartments were “integrated” with with 70% Black and 30% White residents, all with private balconies and an emergency pull-chain system in kitchens and bedrooms for the elderly residents. As far as mid-century apartment towers go, this one is pretty interesting and unique. The building was renovated a few years ago and renamed the Doris Bunte Apartments. In 1969, Buntè was nominated to the Boston Housing Authority board, making her the first female public housing tenant to serve. In 1972, she was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, becoming the first woman of color to serve in the Massachusetts legislature, and the first female to serve in the House leadership in 68 years. While there, Buntè helped found the Black Legislative Caucus and the Caucus of Women Legislators.
424 Massachusetts Avenue // 2002
Modern architecture can often compliment and blend into the context of historic neighborhoods, and this example in Boston’s South End neighborhood is one of the best examples locally. In 2002, developers eyed a long-vacant lot on the busy Mass. Ave corridor through the South End and began designs of a contextual addition to the streetscape. Dolezal Architecture was tasked with designing a modern residential building that would comply with local historic district regulations, a balance that can be difficult to accomplish. Employing traditional masonry, solid-to-void ratios, massing, and bays, but in a modern context, the building blends in with its surroundings yet is architecturally interesting. The building contains ten condos in a single building which reads more like two distinct structures.
Baldpate Road House // 1959
Occupying the highest elevation (315 feet) in Newton, Massachusetts Baldpate Hill and its residential development encompasses perhaps the largest concentration of architect-designed custom homes from the 1940-1960 period
in the city. Newton realtor Arnold Hartmann purchased large land holdings in the minimally developed Oak Hill village, developed some land into the Newton Country Club and other areas for suburban neighborhoods. He laid out building lots on Baldpate Hill from 1926 to the late 1950s, and many of the homes were built after WWII. One of the later homes built is this house, built in 1959 from plans by the architectural firm of Hoover & Hill of Cambridge. The home features a low-slung roof with the home in a Ranch form, yet extends to two stories as the hill drops off at the rear of the home. A small garden is located in the front yard, and terraced yard is located at the rear.
Melnick House // 1935
Built in 1935 (the same year as the Webber House in the last post), the Melnick House in South Brookline shows how the historically oriented designs of colonial New England converged with the Modern principles brought over from the Bauhaus movement from Germany. The 1930s were an interesting time for residential design around Boston as the two diverging styles were often located in the same neighborhoods. The Melnick House was designed by architect Samuel Glaser for Edward S. T. Melnick and his wife, Ethyle Melnick. Edward worked in Downtown Boston as the assistant division manager at Filene’s department store. Architect Samuel Glaser (1902-1983) was born in Riga, Latvia and at the age of four came to the United States with his family, settling in Brookline. He studied architecture at MIT and started his own practice in Boston a niche as a designer of moderately priced homes, particularly in the expanding suburbs where young Jewish families had begun living. The Melnick home combines the austere stucco walls and lack of applied ornament typical of late 1930s Modern architecture in the Boston area with a hipped-roof main block and flanking wings more commonly associated with traditional style houses of the same period. The home features a vertical glass block window which illuminates the interior stair hall.
Levi House // 2001
One of my favorite Contemporary residential designs in the Boston area is the Levi House in Brookline. Completed in 2001, the six-story home is sited in a way to minimize height from the street, but provide ample space towards the rear of the property. Designed by Boston-based architect Jonathan Levi as his own residence, the home showcases how thoughtful Modern design can in fact, contribute to historic streetscapes. Where the site slopes off from the street, a footbridge connects a passage adjoining an existing concrete block garage to the third floor entry level. The tower-like residence is small in footprint and provides privacy on all floors through creative window placement in the wood exterior. The small footprint of the property allows for the natural scenery of the site to take command.
Brookline Town Hall // 1965
The story behind Brookline’s Town Hall building is the story of many cities and towns all over the country in the 1960s-70s, that of Urban Renewal. Brookline Village was (and mostly still is) a vibrant commercial district of varied architectural styles and massing which together, create a patchwork that details the history of the city through design. Early wood-frame commercial buildings sit side-by-side to ornate Victorian-era buildings, with Modern infill scattered throughout. Brookline Village has long been the governmental core of the suburban town due to the location of the train station and its central location to the other neighborhoods. A grand Victorian Gothic Town Hall (the town’s third) was built in 1871 at the corner of Washington and Prospect Streets. Designed by S. J. Thayer, the building would easily rival any other building in town today. After WWII, Brookline and many other cities, through Urban Renewal, sought to restore the economic vitality of the governmental hub of town, by demolishing the “outdated” buildings and replace them with tall, sleek, modern structures with ample landscaping and parking surrounding. The town hired Anderson, Beckwith and Haible, a very prominent firm in Boston to design the International/Brutalist building. In the 1960s, a majority of the civic, commercial, and residential buildings around the former town hall were demolished and replaced with Modernist buildings, all but erasing the relative scale and history of that section of the Village.
Kowloon Restaurant // 1950
If you are from New England, it is hard to not know about Kowloon, the iconic roadside landmark on Rt. 1 in Saugus, MA, just north of Boston. A four-mile stretch of Route 1 has arguably the largest collection of roadside architecture and mid-century neon signs in the New England region. The street was referred to as the “Gold Coast” by some for the taxable income to the town of Saugus, and despised by others for the garish proliferation of monumental signs and flashing lights resembling the Vegas. Iconic signs and buildings from the 68-foot tall Hilltop Cactus sign (which has been restored as part of a new development) to the former Ferns Motel, a now gone remnant of the automobile age, replaced by a hotel, to the Leaning Tower of Pizza, a pizza shop with a replica of the iconic leaning tower in Italy, litter the streetscape. A sign ordinance was passed by the town in 1977 limiting the size and brightness of signs, but “grandfathered” the existing signs. Over the years many roadside signs and buildings have made way for new developments, but one institution has actually grown, Kowloon Restaurant.
Originally established in 1950 as The Mandarin House, and able to accommodate just 40-50 customers, the Wong Family started what would become a local institution. In 1958, the Mandarin House was bought by Madeline and Bill Wong, the second generation of the family to own the business who changed the name to Kowloon Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge, and it was a huge success. The restaurant offered a club-like atmosphere in some rooms with waterfalls and volcanoes and other rooms more subdued for families. The restaurant expanded with seating from 50 to 1200! The most stunning part of the complex of additions has to be the addition from 1970, which resembles a Polynesian Longhouse with a 15-foot tiki above the entrance.
Max Katz House // 1947
One of my favorite homes in Brookline has to be the Katz House, located on Kent Street, opposite the Longwood Mall. The home was designed and built in 1947 by Samuel Glaser (1902-1983) was born in Latvia and at the age of four came to the United States with his family, settling in Brookline. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, graduating with an architecture degree in 1925. Glaser worked in the New York architecture firm of Clarence Stein before returning to Brookline by 1933. He established his own firm in Boston, seeking a niche as a designer of moderately priced homes, particularly in the expanding suburbs where young Jewish
families had begun living. Glaser is a relatively unknown architect who could design iconic Tudor homes as well as Contemporary Modern homes. His most notable building (that gets the most traffic) is the Star Market built over the Mass Pike, just west of Boston, that building was possibly the first to build using air rights over a street.
The Modern home was built for Max Katz, a Lithuanian-born businessman who founded the Merchant Tire Company in Boston in 1922. He likely met Glaser at the nearby Jewish Temple on Beacon Street.