Appropriate infill construction can be a very difficult thing to accomplish, with some developments hitting the mark and others adversely impacting the historic neighborhoods where they were built. Boston is home to many examples of both occurrences, but I wanted to share a very successful infill project in the South End neighborhood, Langham Court. As the South End resurfaced as a desirable neighborhood, long-time residents were priced out, which led to the Boston Redevelopment Authority to fund projects to provide much-needed housing for the local community. This site which once housed over 20 townhouses, was razed by the 1960s in a period of urban renewal where existing housing was deemed unsafe and inadequate. The local design firm of Goody/Clancy was hired, and they masterfully designed a U-shaped complex of 84 mixed-income units that fits well within its surroundings. The design exhibits dormers, bays, arched and vaulted entries, a combination of mansard and flat roofs, stringer courses and textured brickwork, and a palette of well chosen materials all at a scale that blends in the 1990s building to its surroundings which came nearly 150 years prior. The complex remains as a testament to good-quality design even for affordable housing, which notoriously gets the short end of the stick design-wise.
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.
Just a block away from the Women’s Service Club Building (last post) on Mass. Ave in Boston, you’ll find this landmark, with both architectural and cultural significance. The townhouse (along with the house next door) was built around 1860 for William and Martha Carnes. William Rice Carnes was a fine lumber importer and furniture maker, bringing in high-quality mahogany and rosewood to Boston, aligning with the Victorian era housing and furniture boom here, he made a lot of money. Inside his home, he showcased the quality and durability of his product, much of which remains today. It is believed that the house was a stop on the Underground Railroad, with the connected basements of the two houses (#558 and #560) providing an easier escape in the event of a slave-catcher coming by. After William died, the property eventually sold to Nathaniel W. Farwell of Maine on October 29, 1868. The Farwell family occupied the house only until 1910, and as evidence of the decline of the South End, it stood empty until 1920 when it was sold to the League of Women for Community Service, a pioneering Black women’s organization. The League emerged from the ‘30s and ‘40s and as late as the 1950s as a safe place and a popular gathering place for African Americans in Boston. Many hotels at the time were not willing to accommodate Black patrons or charged so much that events there were unattainable. Coretta Scott King lived in the home while she attended college at the New England Conservatory and honed her amazing singing skills. It is at the home that she and Martin Luther King Jr. – then a student at Boston University – likely had dates and began their courtship. The LWCS has recently received funding through grants to preserve and restore the landmark to her former glory.
This historic rowhouse in the South End of Boston was home to the Women’s Service Club, a social and volunteer organization made up of Black women to uplift Black Bostonians of varied backgrounds, including soldiers, students, migrants and mothers. “464,” as some locals admiringly called it, was formed in the early 20th century as Boston. The city, once known as “Freedom’s Birthplace” and the “Athens of America” as a hub of abolitionist activity leading up to the Civil War, saw extreme segregation in housing and education for its Black residents by the early 20th century. From this, local activist Mary Evans Wilson organized a knitting group in 1917 to support soldiers of color fighting in World War I. An estimated 350 women joined the group, donating their talents to produce scarves and gloves for servicemen. Humanitarianism guided the activity of the Women’s Service Club’s over the next half century. This building was purchased in 1919 and operated as part-meeting space and part-settlement house. “A Home Away from Home,” as some described it, the building offered affordable shelter to female workers, migrants, and college students barred from on-campus housing due to racist policies. One of the club’s most prominent members was Melnea Cass (1896–1978), who served as its President for more than fifteen years. Cass initiated the Homemakers Training Program which certified domestic workers so they would be assured a liveable minimum wage, social security and other benefits. The club continues to do great work, but could use funding to restore the landmark building!
Boston’s South End neighborhood has so much history that NEEDS to be showcased. From the repetitive architecture of beautiful brick and stone bowfronts, to the history of African American activism, enterprise, and stories, the neighborhood is a gem of Boston. This building was constructed around 1865 for Thomas H. Snow (1833-1908) as his home. Snow was a wine and spirit merchant who had a store in Faneuil Hall Square. While that is interesting, Mr. Snow is not the highlight of this building, that comes later in 1899, when the building was rented to Madame Mary L. Johnson, a wig maker, scientific scalp specialist, and hair culturist. Mary Johnson and her husband, Dr. W. Alexander Johnson, were Black and ran one of just 200 Black-owned businesses in the city of Boston by the beginning of the 20th century. At their storefront, they sold hair goods at Johnson’s Hair Store. Sold all over the United States since 1900, their famous “Johnson Hair Food” was “the most scientific pomade yet discovered for growing, beautifying and softening the hair,” they claimed. In connection with their hair product outfit, Madame Johnson operated Johnson’s School of Beauty Culture, where a variety of services including manicuring, shampooing, scalp massage, facial massage, hairdressing, and scalp treatment were offered. The school provided young Black women in Boston technical training and skills, which there were limited options at the time. Mr. Johnson also was President of the Boston Negro Business League, which helped bolster Black businesses at the turn of the century.
In 1921, Stuart Street was widened and extended between Boston’s Back Bay and Bay Village neighborhoods, which necessitated razing of all buildings along the route. From this, new lots were platted along the street where once thriving businesses were. Some relocated and others rebuilt. In 1927, the Park Square Corporation purchased seven contiguous lots at the corner of Stuart and Charles Streets and began construction of a large office building with storefronts on the ground floor. The Burdett Building opened in 1928. The building was built for Burdett College, which was founded in 1879 and focused on business and shorthand courses for students as a junior college. Architect Thomas H. James wanted the building to be like the new buildings at Princeton and Yale. The design featured Gothic inspired entrances and stone carvings of books and lions. Burdett College occupied the building until the 1950s and it was subsequently sold. By 1980, the building was acquired by the New England School of Law, who occupy it to this day as a place of learning.
On September 15, 1847, a ship carrying 66 men and women and children docked at Long Wharf in Boston. This group of ex-slaves, led by Rev. Peter Randolph, emancipated by their former slave master Carter H. Edlow from the Brandon Plantation in Prince Georges County, Virginia. Members of the Boston Anti-Slavery Society, led by William Lloyd Garrison met the newcomers and made them welcome by securing lodging and work for self-support. The group settled in the South End on Ottaway Court not far from the Holy Cross Cathedral. The group first joined the Twelfth Baptist Church of Boston before establishing their own congregation. They eventually occupied this church in 1887, the building was designed by architect Nathaniel Bradlee in 1860, which was built for what was then the Third Presbyterian Church of Boston. The church has remained here for nearly 150 years, seeing the rapid change in the neighborhood. The church building accommodated meetings including the Professional Black Women’s Business Club, which bolstered Black women in business, many members owned stores in the South End. Many members left the area amid growing gentrification in the 1980s and 1990s, and from that, the aging population remaining made keeping the doors open difficult. Sadly, the church relocated out of the building in 2020 and appears to have sold the building, leaving its future uncertain.
Adjacent to the Susie King Taylor House on Holyoke Street in the South End neighborhood of Boston, the Harriet Tubman House has long served the Black community of Boston. The Harriet Tubman Crusaders, an African American branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Boston, created the first Harriet Tubman House in 1904 as a residence Black females who had recently migrated from the South. The Harriet Tubman House took in young female boarders, providing them with food, clothing, shelter, and friendship while they adjusted to their new environment. It later adapted to provide housing for Black female students who were not allowed to live in the traditional student dormitories at some Boston-area colleges. The Crusaders rented a home on Holyoke Street until 1909 when member Julia O. Henson donated her own townhouse at 25 Holyoke Street as a permanent headquarters for the organization’s expanding programs. Harriet Tubman visited Boston several times in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, often staying with Julia Henson at this home. In 1960, the Harriet Tubman House merged with other settlement houses in the area to form the United South End Settlements (USES) and in 1976 USES erected a modern building at the corner of Columbus and Massachusetts Avenues, which was designed by Black architect Donald Stull. The 1976 building was recently demolished, despite massive outcry, for a luxury condo development… Shocker.
The rowhouse at 23 Holyoke Street in the South End neighborhood of Boston is an excellent architectural specimen, but is best known for one of its residents, Susie King Taylor. Susie King Taylor (1848-1912) was born into slavery near Savannah, Georgia; and despite Georgia’s harsh laws against the formal education the enslaved, she attended two secret schools taught by black women. She became free at the age of 14 when she escaped onto a Union-owned boat off the coast of the then Confederate occupied Fort Pulaski on the islands off the coast of South Carolina. She soon attached herself to the First South Carolina Volunteers, the first black regiment in the US Army. She served under the Union Army in various capacities: officially as a “laundress” but in reality a nurse, caretaker, educator, and showcased such strength and courage as a young woman. Eventually, Taylor married Sergeant Edward King in 1862, and together they remained with the unit until it was mustered out of service in 1866. It is likely at that time that she met Harriet Tubman, who served as a nurse, scout, and spy for the 1st South Carolina Volunteers. Postwar, the Kings moved to Savannah, Georgia. She hoped to continue her teaching career and opened a private school for the children of freedmen. Unfortunately, her husband died the same year, and a public school opening caused her private school to fail. By 1868, Taylor was forced to find work as a domestic servant. She moved to Boston in 1872 where she married Russell Taylor in 1879. She devoted much of the rest of her life to work with the Woman’s Relief Corps, a national organization for female Civil War veterans. She lived at this home on Holyoke for much of her time in Boston, likely re-connecting with her old friend Harriet Tubman when she lived on the street.
These paired rowhouses at 1-3 Claremont Park in the South End were built by 1874 as speculative housing. Between 1922 and 1928, 3 Claremont Park was purchased by a twenty-something year old Anna Bobbitt Gardner, and she opened a studio in the home, teaching Bostonians how to play the piano. In 1932, Anna Bobbitt Gardner (1901-97) became the first African American women to be awarded a bachelor’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. Her studio, Pianoforte Studio bloomed in popularity among Black and White Bostonians, and she rebranded the school as the Boston Academy of Musical Arts, adding four more studios in the area. She would later acquire the adjacent house at 1 Claremont Park and expanded the school. She went on to manage ‘Colored American Nights’, featuring African American musicians at Boston Symphony Hall, and produced local radio and television programs to boost the African American audience in classical music. After her death in 1997, the New England Conservatory has annually granted a musician the Anna Bobbitt Gardner Lifetime Achievement Award, showing her impact on the arts in Boston.