Downe-Tremere House // c.1674-1896

Image c.1896 courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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.

Hull Street Medical Mission // 1901

Constructed for the Woman’s Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Church of New England, this building was associated with the Hull Street Medical Mission from the time of its construction, in 1901, to about 1950. The mission was one of a number of church-related social service programs established in the North End in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to address the needs of recent immigrants, namely the Russian Jews, Italians, and Portuguese residing in this area of the neighborhood. In 1909-1910 alone, 14,574 treatments were given in the clinic, providing a huge medical service to the widely low-income immigrant community of the North End [29th Annual Report, 154]. The Medical Mission closed in the early 1950s and the property was later sold and converted to apartments. It was designed by architect Walter Forbush, who utilized ogee arches and leaded glass windows, adding much flair to the building’s design.

Old North Church // 1723

One of the most visited buildings in New England is the stunning Old North Church in the North End of Boston. Old North Church (originally Christ Church in the City of Boston) was established when the cramped original King’s Chapel, then a small wooden structure near Boston Common, proved inadequate for the growing number of Anglicans in the former Puritan stronghold. Subscriptions for a new church were invited in 1722. The sea captains, merchants, and artisans who had settled in Boston’s North End contributed generously to the building fund, and construction began in April, 1723. The church was designed by William Price, though heavily influenced by Christopher Wren’s English churches.

Before the American Revolution, both Patriots and Tories were members of the church, and often sat near each-other in pews, clearly adding to bubbling tensions. The enduring fame of the Old North began on the evening of April 18, 1775, when the church sexton, Robert Newman, and Vestryman Capt. John Pulling, Jr. climbed the steeple and held high two lanterns as a signal from Paul Revere that the British were marching to Lexington and Concord by sea across the Charles River and not by land. This fateful event ignited the American Revolution.

A full scale restoration of Old North was carried out in 1912-14 under the direction of architect R. Clipson Sturgis and a number of 19th century alterations were then eliminated. In this work, floor timbers and gallery stairs were replaced, the original arched window in the apse at the east end was replaced, and the old square box pews and raised pulpit were reconstructed. Additionally, the interior woodwork was incorrectly repainted white rather than the rich variety of original colors described in the early documents of the church, clearly submitting to Colonial Revival sensibilities. The iconic white steeple is also not original. The original steeple of the Old North Church was destroyed by the 1804 Snow hurricane. A replacement steeple, designed by Charles Bulfinch, was toppled by a hurricane in 1954. The current steeple uses design elements from the original and the Bulfinch version. Even with all these differences, Old North lives up to her name and stands proudly as a symbol of freedom and revolution.

Lebowich Tenement House // 1895

One of the most photographed buildings in North End is arguably this tenement block, built in 1895 at the corner of Prince and Salem Streets. As the North End continued to redevelop into a diverse immigrant community, tenement houses were constructed by those with the means, providing housing at low cost to those who arrived to Boston in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Max and Etta “Ethel” Lebowich, Russian Jews, immigrated to Boston, settling in the Jewish quarter of the North End and opened up a dry goods store at the corner. The business did well, and the couple redeveloped their land and hired Swedish-born architect Charles A. Halstrom, to design the prominent apartment house. The Renaissance Revival building features massive pressed metal oriels and brick and stone construction. I am unsure if the oriels are truly copper, which would have been fairly expensive for a tenement building, or if they are pressed tin. Any insight would be much appreciated.

Lincoln Wharf Power Station // 1901

Back in the day, even power stations were gorgeous!

The Boston Elevated Railway Company, and its successor, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), operated Lincoln Wharf Power Station from 1901 to 1972. The Boston-based engineering firm of Sheaff & Jaastad, specialists in electric power and lighting plants, designed this 1901 power station to serve the Atlantic Avenue Line and provide supplementary
power for the Downtown Boston elevated and surface lines. Due to increased demand in 1907, a massive addition was constructed at the rear, facing Commercial Street, which now is the main orientation of the large structure. By 1971, all elevated tracks powered by this station were removed and the power station was sold by the MBTA to a private developer for housing. Eventually, San Marco Housing Corporation, hired the Boston Architectural Team, Inc., to renovate the power station in 1987 for low- to moderate-income housing. The result is an innovative and stunning example of adaptive reuse providing much-needed housing, while retaining historic fabric of old Boston.

1901 Power Station viewed from waterfront.

McLaughlin Tenements // c.1875

After the American Civil War, the North End of Boston saw a massive phase of redevelopment, replacing the dilapidated wooden dwellings with larger brick tenements to house the neighborhood’s growing immigrant population. Nearly all of the North End was replaced with these dwellings, which has now added so much to the appeal of the neighborhood. One of the earliest and notable examples is this building on Endicott Street. Built around 1875, the tenements were owned by George T. McLauthlin (also spelled McLaughlin), who owned the engineering and machinery company on Fulton Street, housed in one of the last remaining cast-iron facades in Boston. The tenement house was later owned by George’s son Daniel, likely providing housing for the company’s employees and/or providing additional income for the family. The building also appears to have always had commercial use on the ground floor, allowing merchants to also rent the space. The late-Italianate panel brick block is modest in design, but contributes to the diverse population and worker’s housing in the North End.

Eliot School // 1931

The Eliot School is a descendant of the first Eliot School in the North End, which opened in 1713 on the present North Bennet Street. Aside from Boston Latin, Eliot School is the oldest public school in Boston. Originally known as the North Latin School, it was renamed in 1821 likely after the former pastor of New North Congregational Church, Rev. Andrew Eliot. Constructed as an elementary school in 1931, this building occupies the site of the former Freeman School, one of the smaller 19th-century school buildings in the North End. This school building was designed in the Art Deco style by Cambridge-based architect Charles Greco. The building features decorative use of brick with stone incised pilasters and highly ornamental lintels over each entry, incorporating the name of the school,
carved foliate designs and shields, and the 1931 construction date.

North Terminal Garage and the Great Brink’s Robbery // 1925

Thousands of Bostonians and tourists alike stroll through the charming streets of the North End every day, many of which even parking within one of the only parking garages in the area, the North Terminal Garage, on Commercial Ave. The advent of the modern parking garage was the direct result of the automobile becoming the principal means of transportation in the early 20th century. Into the 1910s, trolleys, ferries and, trains were the vehicles of choice for Boston commuters. By 1915 automobiles quickly gained popularity as they became more available and affordable, providing travelers with greater independence and mobility. In response, a growing number of automobile-related businesses sprang up throughout the city.

Constructed in 1925 for the North Terminal Corporation, the garage was designed by architects Little & Russell and built by the Aberthaw Company. According to building permit records, the garage was constructed at a cost of $400,000 and could accommodate 700 cars. At the time it was built, the garage was one of the largest in Boston. Although it was only three stories, its unique design allowed for large capacity in a relatively small amount of space due to the lack of interior ramps. This was possible because of the steep sloping site which provided street-level access at each floor. The 1929 Boston city directory advertises the North Terminal Garage as the largest in the East without ramps or elevators. As was typical of early garages, it not only included parking but also areas for automobile repair and a tenant gas station.

In its more recent history, the North Terminal Garage was notable as the location of the infamous 1950 Brinks Robbery. Brinks armored car and delivery service occupied space at the rear of the second floor from about 1948 until about 1958. Not only did they store their trucks in the garage but this was also the location of their main vault. The space was partitioned into several rooms, including various money counting and sorting rooms where they would prepare their deliveries of payrolls and cash to local banks. In January of 1950 eleven masked thieves entered the Brinks space, tied up several employees, and stole $1.5 Million dollars. It was the largest robbery ever perpetrated in the country at the time. Although the men were eventually convicted and imprisoned for the crime, little of the stolen money was ever recovered.

Detective examining Brink’s vault after robbery. January 1950. Photo courtesy of Leslie Jones Collection at Boston Public Library.
Detectives investigating scene of the crime. Courtesy of Associated Press.