Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Skinny and Full of Spite

From Angry Bird:

It's too bad when neighbors don't get along. Years ago my wife and I owned a home in Boston's West Roxbury neighborhood, and got along well with the woman who lived next to us. When she died, in her 80s, a woman in her 40s moved in, and we clashed from the start. Long story, short: we sold the house (not because of her) and heard by way of a Christmas card from another neighbor, that the woman who we sold the house to didn't get along with her new neighbor either, and put up a "spite fence" in order to gain some separation. This was the first time I'd heard this term.

Well, in the photo above is a well-known "spite house" in Boston's North End neighborhood. Known as the Skinny House, this quaint abode on Hull Street sits across from Copp's Hill Burying Ground, the city's second cemetery. Built in 1884, the spite house was erected by one brother who had inherited a plot of land, only to come home from the Civil War to find out his brother, and fellow heir, had built a large house on the land. "Miffed, he built the Skinny House, blocking sunlight and his brother’s views of the harbor," according to this Boston magazine story, which is worth reading.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

A Prince of a Building

Dave "Scoop" Brigham:

This is 88 Prince Street in Boston's North End. At the top it reads "A DESTEFANO A 1915 D BLDG," which I thought would make it easy to find information about the building. I was wrong. I suppose when you're located just a few steps away from both the birthplace of Prince spaghetti and a famous Mafia hangout, it's easy to get overlooked. Let's just assume that among the major influx of Italians to the North End more than a hundred years ago was a family named DeStefano that did so well in manufacturing or shipping or banking that they erected this metal-fronted apartment building.

Friday, June 8, 2018

A Large Spoonful of Brigham's

From Dave Brigham:

In the Boston area, Brigham is a fairly well-known name, due in large part to two wildly different businesses: Brigham and Women's Hospital and Brigham's Ice Cream, a former independent ice cream manufacturer (and one-time restaurant franchise operation) now owned by HP Hood. The only benefits I receive from these companies is that sometimes familiarity with their names makes it easier for people to know how to spell my surname. Other times, they mess up and want to call me "Bridgeman" or "Bringham" or even "Bingham."

There is a Brigham Circle in Boston's Mission Hill neighborhood, named for Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, which became part of Brigham and Women's. There is a Brigham Farm Stand in Concord, Mass. And in your grocer's freezer aisle there is Brigham's Ice Cream, which features flavors such as Just Jimmies, Paul Revere's Rocky Ride and the Big Dig. Unfortunately, the last few hold-outs in the restaurant chain closed several years ago.

And long ago, before the hospital and ice cream, there was Brigham's Hotel & Restaurant in what is now the Chinatown/Downtown Crossing area of Boston. It was at the corner of Washington and Essex streets:

(I believe the building with the black awning -- Wild Duck Wine & Spirits -- was the exact location of the hotel and restaurant, based on photos and a drawing in Boston and Bostonians that I found online. I'll get to the building on the left shortly.)

Robert Bent Brigham, nephew of the aforementioned Peter Bent Brigham (do you think the phrase "get bent" was invented for them?), opened Brigham's Hotel & Restaurant in 1860 or 1861 (dates differ in the sources I've found online). The building had gone up in 1824, however, as the LaFayette Hotel, according to the 1987 "Midtown Cultural District: Historic Building Survey" issued by the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Boston Landmarks Commission. From 1848-1860/61, the building was William Bacon's Oyster House, according to the survey.

In 1888, Brigham added a building in the rear, according to the survey.

(These photos show Hersey Place, which, according to Boston and Bostonians [1894, American Publishing and Engraving Co.], was where the main entrance to the hotel was. The restaurant entrance was on Washington Street; guests could access the hotel through the restaurant. I'm not sure whether any of the buildings in these photos were part of the hotel, which had at least 65 rooms.)

(Kaze Shabu Shabu restaurant has nothing to do with any of this, but I love the mural on the back of this building, which is on the opposite side of Hersey Place from where Brigham's Hotel was.)

Next door to the former Brigham's Hotel site, at 630 Washington Street, is this building:

The Sons of Liberty plaque commemorates this site, which was where Garrett Bourne built a house in 1626 and, roughly 20 years later, planted an elm tree. By 1765 the tree had become integral to the burgeoning revolutionary movement in Boston, and effigies of those who supported the Stamp Act were hung here. That year, the tree was dubbed the Tree of Liberty and from that point on many important meetings were held here. Read more about this story here.

Some sources online indicate this as the site of Brigham's Hotel and Restaurant. Perhaps the inn and eatery occupied both of these buildings and at least one more on Hersey Place. This photo at the Historic New England web site indicates that Brigham's Hotel was indeed the building I guessed, and that the one next to it was for a time Washburn Department Store.

Prepared to see something awesome? OK.

At the 3:24 mark in this amazing little movie, you can see Washburn's. Unfortunately, you can't see Brigham's Hotel.

In later years, after the hotel went out of business, this site became a little more, uh, lively, shall we say. From the Midtown Cultural District survey mentioned above: "1900 - Since Brigham's time, the building has had an infamous history of famous bars : 1920's-' 40 's - nationally renowned Silver Dollar Bar; 195Q's-60's - The Palace - one of the most noted and popular bars of college crowd and others. Famous "Twist" joint. Since the Palace, place has slid downhill in a succession of lesser- account bars: Pink. Kitten, Downtown Lounge, 2 O'clock Lounge."

I recall walking through this area more than 20 years ago and seeing a very skeevy dive bar in this general location. Might have been the 2 O'Clock Lounge. History is so cool, isn't it? And the Internet, you also are cool. I love that I can shoot photos of buildings, plug the address into Google and just about always find out some background that allows me to keep this blog alive.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Three Blessings and a Curse

From Dave Brigham:

My parents moved from Weatogue, the neighborhood of Simsbury, Connecticut, where I grew up, to nearby Windsor several years ago. In that time, I have driven dozens of times through the intersection of routes 178 and 187 in Bloomfield, which is sandwiched between Windsor and Simsbury. It was just a few years ago, however, that I noticed a collapsing structure tucked into the woods at that busy junction.

Still, I didn't make time to explore this little corner until just recently. I found more to photograph than I was expecting, but less about this forgotten homestead than I was hoping.

As you can see, this place has been abandoned for quite some time. There doesn't appear to be a basement and the walls are flimsy. This wasn't a fancy house. Nonetheless, it was somebody's castle.

The other three corners of this intersection are holy sites: Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the First Cathedral and the Apostolic Fellowship Church of Christ Jesus. There are at least two dozen churches in Bloomfield, a town of less than 21,000. Unlike many Hartford suburbs, Bloomfield is majority African-American (57.5%, as of the 2010 census), a demographic shift that has taken place over the past 70 years.

Incorporated in 1835, Bloomfield was, like many towns in the area, a farming community, with many farmers involved in growing shade tobacco (for more about the Greater Hartford tobacco industry, see September 20, 2017, "One-Stop Barnstorming Tour," and July 19, 2016, "Tobacco Road."). The section of Bloomfield that we're discussing shows up on old maps as the Old Farm District. So I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that at one time this homestead and the churches around it were farmland.

I guess there are a thousand reasons why the homeowners left this place to collapse in on itself: divorce, illness, death, financial ruin, incarceration. Take your pick. I'm fascinated by houses that just stop being loved, or even owned. Several years ago I documented the remains of a house in Weatogue that had fascinated me as a teenager (see February 7, 2013, "President Little, Part II: From Myth to Man"). Any time I see a dilapidated house that someone lives in, or a collapsing place like this that once was the center of somebody's life, I have so many questions.

I had no idea before I started walking the short distance from the road into the woods, that there was a second structure on the property.

I could see a vehicle in the garage, and guessed it was an old car, tractor of pick-up truck. But no.

So what's going to become of this place?

In October 2014, a developer filed an application for a zone change with the Town of Bloomfield to allow for five multi-use residential buildings containing 20 units. In July 2015 an amended application for 10 duplexes was filed. Two years ago the project had morphed into "proposed elderly multi-family" housing (138 units) proposed by a company called Calamar. Since that time, nothing seems to have been filed.

So long for now, old car and garage. I'll keep an eye on you.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Backside of the Globe

From D.J. Brigham, Esq.

I was shocked when I walked past this building on a tiny side street in Boston's Chinatown neighborhood. I'd walked by here a year prior and never noticed this place. This is Knapp Street, literally a few steps around the corner from a bust of William Shakespeare on the exterior wall of Sweet Kingdom Dessert (see January 22, 2017, "Little Ado About Shakespeare"). This is why my head is always on a swivel when I'm walking just about anywhere -- it's not easy to see everything there is to see on just a single visit.

So what are we looking at here? This is simultaneously the front door of Jia Ho SuperMarket and the back wall of Empire Garden Restaurant. Both of those establishments are located within a building on Washington Street that had a long history as a theater. Built in 1903 as the Globe Theatre, this place was known over the years as the Center Theatre, EM Loews, The Pagoda and the Loews Globe Theatre. In its later years it was a burlesque and grindhouse theater, according to many people online. The Publix Theatre was across the street, and the Pussycat Lounge was next door back when this area was known as the Combat Zone, loaded with strip clubs, peep theaters and prostitutes. The only remnants of those days are Centerfolds and the Glass Slipper, the former of which is part of a chain, the latter of which is a polished up version of the old Combat Zone classic.

(Centerfolds and the Glass Slipper.)

The Jia Ho grocery store was, according to this article, once the orchestra pit for the theater, while the Chinese eatery was the mezzanine. Check out this blog post for an idea of the splendor of this space.

One day I hope to eat at Empire Garden and shoot some interior photos. For now, though, I'm fascinated by this back wall. The windows on the upper floors are shuttered and barred, and don't look like they are used any more. The caution sign indicates that someone, or something, used to gain access to the windows. The sign doesn't look that old, and probably dates to the building's latter days as a theater, which ended in 1995.

For perspective on the theater's history and links to old photos, maps and postcards, check out this page at Cinema Treasures. To see a photo of the front of Empire Garden, and read more comments about the history of the building, check this Cinema Treasures link. For additional photos, go here.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Rollin' On the River

From Dave Brigham:

Last month I visited Chicago with my family during school vacation week. In late April I posted about the backside elements I found in the Windy City (see April 28, 2018, "Toddling Around Chicago"); today's post is about the river tour we took that showcases the diverse and wonderful architecture in the city (and some backside stuff, of course). Astute blog readers will recall that my first post more than eight years ago talked about how my interest in the backside of America was inspired in part by a childhood canoe trip I took with my father down the Farmington River in my Connecticut hometown (see March 1, 2010, "Take Me to the River").

Run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, the cruise runs about 90 minutes and goes along the Chicago River and briefly into Lake Michigan.

OK, let's get this first building out of the way.

This is Trump Tower Chicago, which our well-versed and perfectly charming docent told us is the most beautiful building in all of Chicago, perhaps the world. Actually, that's fake news. At 98 stories it is far shorter than President Donald J. Trump (R - Idiotville) wanted it to be 20 years ago. After the 9/11 attacks, however, he scaled back his vision of constructing the tallest building in the world.

The next buildings are incredibly different from Trump Tower and every other building we saw.

Marina City, a mixed-use residential/commercial building that was memorialized on Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album -- was built in 1968 and includes a hotel, a House of Blues club and several restaurants. The lower third of each building comprises a spiral parking garage. Too cool.

Built in 1914, the Reid, Murdoch & Co. building has served over the years as offices, a grocery warehouse, home to Chicago's traffic courts and more. The penthouse is now occupied by The World of Whirlpool, the "international brand and product experience center" for the home appliance company. There is a restaurant called River Roast on the ground floor.

There are 37 moveable bridges on the Chicago River, and even more bridge houses. For more than a century, these houses were staffed 'round the clock by tenders, who opened and closed the bridges every day to allow boats and ships through, maintained the infrastructure and lived on site. Nowadays, the bridges are opened just a few dozen times a year, to "let recreational sailboats with soaring masts pass between their summer and winter berths," per this Chicago Tribune article.

I fell in love with several of the tender houses during our trip, and put the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum on my list of things to do. Alas, the museum was closed while we were in Chicago. For more words about and photos of the bridge tender houses, read this Untapped Cities article.

OK, let's get to my photos of the houses.

(This is the LaSalle Street house. Built in 1928, it is one of four at this bridge; most bridges only have two houses.)

(The Grand Avenue bridge house is my favorite. I didn't see any others of this style, and certainly not of this color. I can picture a hipster family living in here. The city rebuilt this house, along with some others, to restore it to its original wooden design, according to this book entry.)

(The Chicago Avenue bridge houses aren't the prettiest, and neither are these photos. Here's a better image of the second one. I find it interesting that they don't match. They are located on opposite sides of the river, and the bridge.)

(The Lake Street bridge house opened in 1916, and tends what was the world's first double-decked trunnion bascule bridge, according to this article. Trains cross the bridge's upper deck, and cars the lower.)

(The Roosevelt Road bridge was the turnaround point for our cruise. The bridge house was built in 1929, according to this web site, and rehabbed in 1994.)

(The Van Buren Street bridge house went up in 1956, the year the sixth iteration of the bridge was built, per this web site.)

(The Jackson Boulevard bridge opened in 1916, so I assume the house did as well.)

(The Adams Street -- aka Historic Route 66 -- tender house was built in 1927.)

(The raised bridge in the background is known alternately as the Carroll Avenue railroad bridge (more about Carroll Avenue here) and the Kinzie Street railroad bridge (read this). Owned by the Union Pacific railroad, the bridge is evidently lowered once a year to be inspected by a crew in a Hi-Rail truck.)

You can learn more about the dozens of Chicago River bridges at this link.

OK, enough bridges....

(One of my favorite buildings along the river cruise is Fulton House. Formerly a cold storage warehouse, it has four-foot-thick walls and was converted to residences in the late '70s.)

(When I visit New York City I'm always pleasantly surprised at the number of roof-top water towers still in place. I didn't see nearly as many in Chicago, but I was happy to see the Salvation Army one hanging on. The charity organization received a permit last year to repair the tank.)

(The Spirit of Progress statue in the middle of this photo sits atop the former Montgomery Ward headquarters. The Groupon building was a Montgomery Ward warehouse.)

(I really like this photo. The reflection, the mix of old and new, the river and the elevated train, the beautiful brick building that was built by renowned architect Daniel Burnham in 1922 as offices and warehouse space, and which was turned into condos called Randolph Place.)

(I took this photo mainly as a way to remind myself to ask my son, an aviation enthusiast as well as a train lover, if he wanted to visit the store at Boeing International Headquarters [He was topside and I was belowdecks with my daughter]. He didn't. But I learned while writing this that the building, which was erected in 1990, is the former world HQ of Morton Salt.)

(The mural is what caught my eye. It was painted by French duo Ella & Pitr, according to the Facebook page of Joseph Cacciatore & Co. Real Estate, on whose building the art is situated. Known as "The Native American Lost in Chicago...Dreamin'," the mural is one of two the artists have completed in Chicago. My daughter, with her young eyes, was able to tell me that the classic water tower on the roof read "Cacciatore." If not for her, I probably wouldn't have been able to determine much about this site.)

(I was surprised to see a barge on our cruise, but I shouldn't have been. Once this would have been a common sight.)

(The cruise turned around at the Union Power Station.)

(I know I missed a LOT of ghost signs in Chicago, even in the relatively small area of the city we visited. I spied this one, though, on the Paper Place Lofts building, which was built in 1915 and is the former home of the Chicago Paper Company.)

We cruised back toward our starting point, and then continued on toward Navy Pier, a shopping, eating and entertainment destination. I put this place on my pre-trip list of things to do, but it was just too damn cold to go out there.

(Maybe next time we'll make it to the Navy Pier's Ferris wheel, which made its debut during the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.)

(Not a bad view, eh?)

(The skyscraper in the middle of this photo, the one that looks like it has a vertical eye, is known as Aqua. A mix of retail, office, residential and hotel space, the 82-story building was erected in 2009. It's not old but I really like it.)

Finally, the LondonHouse Chicago hotel.

(I took this photo after the cruise, as we were hustling through the cold toward lunch at the Windy City's outpost of Elephant & Castle. Built in 1923 and originally known as the London Guarantee Building, LondonHouse is located on the site of the long-gone Fort Dearborn.)

I'm happy with the two posts I've done about Chicago, but wish I had more! With the Windy City stuff done, and warmer weather upon us here in New England, I plan to get back to my ongoing chronicle of my adopted hometown of Newton, Mass.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The More Things Change....

From Dave Brigham:

I spend a fair amount of time walking through Boston with my son. Some of the areas are new to me, others are places I've walked countless times in my nearly three decades of living in and around the city. There was a time, in what seems like a previous life, where I walked through Downtown Crossing, and past this building on Winter Street, on a regular basis for work. I went to a holiday party, or some such event, at the building next to this one. But that was all back before I paid attention to the architecture around me, and to ghost signs and named buildings and other hidden pieces of history.

40 Winter Street was built in 1866. The architect was Nathaniel J. Bradlee, who also designed, among other buildings, the Boston Young Men's Christian Union, Danvers State Hospital, the reception house at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and the Jordan Marsh department store, which was demolished in 1975, according to Boston: A Historic Walking Tour by Anthony Sammarco. Notice the "B" and Roman numerals above the GameStop sign.

In its earlier years, the building was occupied by, among other businesses, Child's World, a periodical that I believe was also known as The American Sunday School Union; The Advocate of Peace; the American Congregational Association; Schonhof & Moellers bookstore; and a private classical school operated by George W.C. Noble.

So while it's a bit jarring to see the bold, modern, red-and-white GameStop sign on this Second French Empire-style building (thanks, Anthony Sammarco), the building's partial use as an entertainment destination for the younger set isn't completely out of step with its past use.