John Hart House // c.1770

John Hart (1733-1790) a ropemaker in pre-Revolutionary Portsmouth, New Hampshire, built a house in the city’s North End where he and his family resided. He died in 1790, and apparently willed the home to his housekeeper as he must not have had children. Early in the 19th century, the home underwent a huge overhaul, with a third floor added to the two-story Georgian home and the facade altered in the Federal style, all to resemble a traditional merchant “mansion house”. In the 1830s, the Greek Revival portico (porch) was added to the entry, to really make this house a blending of styles! In the 20th century, the Hart House was converted to a nursing home. In the 1960s, urban renewal plans were unveiled which would raze this home and hundreds of others. Luckily, this and just over a dozen more, were moved and saved from the wrecking ball.

Whidden-Ward House // c.1720

The Whidden-Ward House in The Hill section of downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is an excellent example of a wood-frame Georgian-style residence in the coastal city. The house was built in the early 1720s by joiner, Michael Whidden Jr. As a third generation joiner, Whidden built several houses in the Portsmouth area, this one for his own residence. The house was purchased in the 1770s by Nathum Ward, who “modernized” the house with the triangular pediments over the windows. The house was moved over a block to its present site in the early 1970s as much of the surrounding neighborhood was demolished during Urban Renewal.

Jabez Fitch House // 1725

Portsmouth, New Hampshire is one of the most charming towns in New England to explore by foot, largely due to its walkable network of streets and tight blocks filled with preserved Revolution-era homes. Like many other cities all over the region (and nation), Portsmouth was hit by Urban Renewal, a planning tool used nationwide to provide Federal funds to address “urban blight” and revitalize downtown cores after decades of suburbanization and loss of tax revenue. An urban renewal district for Portsmouth was its North End neighborhood, which similar to Boston’s, was home to a vibrant Italian-American population.

In 1964, federal funds were allocated to the North End project area in Portsmouth, for urban renewal. Prior to redevelopment, the North End was a mix of residential and commercial buildings, with many older houses converted into storefronts with apartments above. In the mid-1960s, the area was considered overcrowded, run down, and a fire hazard. As a result, the Portsmouth Housing Authority proposed the destruction of approximately 200 buildings, a school, and a church and redevelopment for commercial, industrial, and public use, rather than for residences. The project would displace approximately 300 families as a result. In 1968, Portsmouth Preservation Inc., a preservation organization was formed to attempt to save some of the historic building stock in the area slated for redevelopment. After bitter fighting and preservation advocacy, just fourteen houses were saved and mostly moved to an area known today as “The Hill”. This building is one of them. It was constructed around 1725 for Rev. Jabez Fitch, the new minister of the North Church in town. Fitch graduated from Harvard College in 1694 first settling in Ipswich, MA, before becoming minister of the North Church in 1724, a position he held until his death in 1746. The house was one of the few in the urban renewal area to not have been moved.

Old Forest Hills Station // 1909-1987

Photo courtesy of Boston City Archives

When elevated train service from Boston extended to Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain in 1909, the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods and points south were ecstatic to realize the chance to enjoy quicker transit to the city. The station, which opened in 1909, was an architectural landmark and engineering feat, as the new terminal was the largest structure of its kind and the most costly in the country at the time. The large station was made of steel and reinforced concrete, finished in copper at the elevated section, and took nearly two years of construction. City architect Edmund M. Wheelwright designed the station, and upon its opening, it was called “the chef-d’Ĺ“uvre of rapid transit development in Boston”. Like with many cities all over the country, shifting transportation planning and priorities and shrinking investment necessitated the once grand station to suffer the fate of the wreckingball. As part of the Southwest Corridor project, this station was to be demolished, with a modern station constructed to service the MBTA trains on the Orange Line. Also, plans were developed for a 12-lane highway along the railroad right-of-way between Boston through Cambridge. The residents of the affected areas, including Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, South End, Back Bay, and Cambridge, protested against the destruction of their neighborhoods by the planned highway, and won! The old Forest Hills Station was a casualty of the proposal, but a lasting reminder for neighborhood planning and advocacy, preserving character and people over cars.

Langley House // 1807

Smack-dab in the middle of Newport, Rhode Island’s dense network of downtown streets, you’ll find Queen Anne Square, a rare bit of open space in a web of alleys and ways. Did you know that this park is only 50 years old? It’s true! In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Newport (and many cities all over New England) were grappling with suburbanization and dwindling tax revenue with people and businesses moving out. Their solution was “urban renewal”, which entailed the razing of buildings and sometimes, neighborhoods which were deemed “blight”. Historic buildings and communities were destroyed with modern planning (high capacity roads and high-rises connected by open space) to take its place. In Newport, this saw the form of America’s Cup Avenue and Memorial Boulevard, which cut through the city to allow for more cars and less-congested side-streets. Years later, planners realized that Newport was without a traditional town common like many New England towns, so they cleared buildings in front of Trinity Church to provide that traditional feeling. At the time, preservationists were trying to save significant buildings, with the Langley House being one of them. This house was set for the wrecking-ball, from Memorial Boulevard’s construction but moved and restored by Newport Restoration in the last hour to the south side of Church Street. Seven years later when Queen Anne Square was built, this house was moved to the north side, saving it once again. This house is a survivor!

Church of All Nations // 1975

One building in Boston that has always perplexed me is this round church building. It echoes Eero Saarinen’s MIT Chapel in Cambridge, but is much heavier and plain. After over an hour of researching, I finally found out some history behind it! The church was constructed in the South Cove Redevelopment area, an urban renewal program run by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (now BPDA) as a sort of “slum” clearance near Chinatown. The Church of All Nations was founded in the South End in 1917, housed in a Gothic Revival chapel that was seized by eminent domain for the Massachusetts Turnpike Extension and demolished in 1963. The congregation met in temporary quarters on Arlington Street until the new church was constructed in 1975. Records show that the congregation hired famed Modernist architect Bertram Goldberg as early as 1967 to design a new chapel, set in a new public park. The original plans called for a square building with a massive “steeple” incorporated as the entire roof. For some reason (possibly funding and changing demands for the church), the final design was a little more mundane. The cylindrical church is clad in dark glazed brick with a cross raised in the brickwork. The church suffered from a dwindling congregation in its location, and now appear to rent out the building. One of my favorite local architecture firms Touloukian Touloukian, Inc., re-imagined the site as a new residential tower. It would be one of the few beautiful new buildings in Boston in the past decade or two. Can we please make this happen?!

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.