Howard Athenaeum // 1846-1962

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.

The theater was quickly deemed obsolete and second-tier compared to more modern theatres built nearby. By the mid-20th century, the Old Howard was largely featuring burlesque shows. To keep bringing in audiences, the burlesque performances got more risqué with each year. As a result, the Boston vice squad made the Old Howard the object of their attention. The Boston Vice squad made a 16 mm film during one of their raids in 1953 and captured on film the performance by “Irma the Body”. This film footage resulted in an indecency hearing which eventually led to the closing of the Old Howard in 1953. A fire a few years later along with Urban Renewal led to the demolition of the Old Howard by 1962. Like the former Suffolk Savings Bank (featured previously), the present Center Plaza Building is on the site.

Providence Custom House // 1855

The Providence Custom House was designed by the first Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department Ammi B. Young in an academic Italianate style. Built between 1855-1857, the structure was constructed of the iconic granite from quarries in Quincy, Massachusetts. It is a three-story building, topped by a hip roof and metal dome (hard to photograph), with strong quoined corners and cornices between the levels. After completion it housed the city’s main post office, Federal District Court, District Attorney, Internal Revenue Service, Collector of Customs, and Steamboat Inspector. The space was outgrown, and a modern Federal building was constructed a few streets away, though they retained offices in this building. According to Wikipedia, after the Federal Government vacated the structure in 1989, it was considered by a variety of businesses for occupation, including a restaurant, a facility for homeless persons, and offices. The building was bought by the State of Rhode Island and converted to office space for the State Courts System. After extensive renovation at a cost of $550,000, the building was opened by the state in 1992 as the John E. Fogarty Judicial Complex.

Saint Paul’s Cathedral // 1819

St. Paul’s Cathedral on Tremont Street in Boston is significant as the first church in the Greek Revival style to be erected in New England. Designed by two of the city’s most important Greek Revival architects, Alexander Parris and Solomon Willard, the church built in 1819 has survived largely intact as a fine example of the monumental Greek Revival aesthetic. Built five years before Quincy Market (also designed by Parris), this granite cathedral showcases the simple and bold characteristics of early Greek Revival design. The church is constructed of Quincy granite and Acquia sandstone from Virginia which are visible from the patterned facade. Interestingly, each column is composed of flat stone discs stacked atop one another with the Ionic capitals carved by Willard. Due to high cost overruns, said to be $100,000, more than double the original estimate and paired with the fact that pews sold slowly, the parish was in debt for many years. Due to this, a sculpture planned for the gable pediment, to represent St. Paul before Agrippa, was never completed. In 2013, a Nautilus art piece was designed by Donald Lipski and installed in the pediment (to the dismay of preservationists and others alike), representing a metaphor for a spiritual journey moving outward and growing.

What do you think of the art installation?