Sunday, September 20, 2015

I Seek Newton, Part II: Auburndale

From Dave Brigham:

This is the second installment of an occasional series about my adopted hometown, Newton, Mass. The first post covered Lower Falls, one of 13 villages in Newton (see May 21, 2015, "I Seek Newton, Part I: Lower Falls"). In this post, I wander through Auburndale, which lies on the city's western edge, bordering Weston and Waltham. Split by the Massachusetts Turnpike, the village is home to Lasell College, as well as numerous beautiful old homes and a small commercial district.

One hundred years ago Auburndale was arguably Newton's hottest recreation spot. I'm sure that on more than one occasion it was referred to as the bee's knees.

Opened in 1897 along the banks of the Charles River, Norumbega Park featured canoeing, picnic areas, an outdoor theater, a penny arcade, a restaurant, a zoo, a carousel and an electric fountain, according to NorumbegaPark.com. Built by the Commonwealth Avenue Street Railway, the park was incredibly successful for decades before declining and closing in 1963. Norumbega and other nearby boathouses played host to thousands of canoeists in what was called the Lakes District of the Charles River.

Here's a Digital Commonwealth photo of the Norumbega Park restaurant. The awkwardly named Boston Marriott Newton now stands on much of the former amusement park site. There is also conservation land east of the former Norumbega Park.

Here's a picture I took a few years ago of an old light fixture that I presume once lit the walkways at the park.

Here's a shot of the conservation land. I have no idea if this rock wall and stairs were once part of the park, or if they are remnants of an estate.

A short distance up the Charles River once stood Partelow's boat house on the Newton side, and Riverside Recreation Grounds on the Weston side.

Here's a Digital Commonwealth photo of Partelow's boat house. The Riverside train station is in the background.

Here's the boat house site now, with the train bridge from the Digital Commonwealth photo in the background:

Here's the foundation of the train station, which was closed in the late 1950's:

The Riverside Recreation Grounds in Weston opened in the late 19th century and featured athletic fields, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a boat house and other facilities. In 1930 part of the grounds were turned into a golf course (now known as Leo J. Martin). Eventually other Riverside acreage was taken by the state for the building of Route 128.

My deeper appreciation for Newton was triggered by what was supposed to be a short excursion to Auburndale's portion of the Charles River Reservation. I'd been there once before to take some shots of the river and the train bridge. I wanted a closer look at the building that houses Newtron Inc., which for more than 50 years has manufactured high-tech machined parts.

Turns out this building is related to the one-time boating industry of Newton. According to Charles River Canoe & Kayak, a tenant in the building, this historic building "was once used to build Robertson Boats and Canoes. Robertson later merged with Old Town Canoe and for a short time the company was known as Robertson - Old Town Canoe."

In order to deliver canoes to the Partelow and Riverside boat houses, all employees had to do was walk through this tunnel under the railroad tracks.

After snapping a different shot of the Newtron building, I was shocked to see an entrance to this tunnel. Covered in graffiti and open for one and all to walk through, the tunnel leads to the former platform for the old Riverside train station. Back in the late '50s Riverside was moved to a different location, which I'll get to in a minute.

Off the back edge of the old platform I spied a path into the woods. This took me down along the river, where I founnd a restored foot bridge leading to the Weston side of the Charles.

This bridge was a lot rustier the first time I saw it, in 2011 (see October 12, 2011, "Troubled Bridges Over Water").

Ambling along the path I soon realized where I would end up, and I felt like Roald Amundsen discovering the long-elusive Northwest Passage. Honestly, although I knew people had obviously walked this path for decades -- who am I kidding? Centuries! -- I tingled with excitement as if I were the first to realize that there was a path leading under the (very active) railroad tracks, along the river and on to the new Riverside station, and from there, out to an access road along Route 128. If conservationists have their way, eventually old tracks crossing that bridge over the highway will be converted to a walking path leading to, wait for it, Lower Falls (see "I Seek Newton, Part I: Lower Falls").

My son was excited when I told him about this path, although for different reasons than I was. He knew at the far end of Riverside station, far from the public's prying eyes, there were wrecked Green Line trolleys. I took him there.

While there are no longer any boat houses or amusement parks, there is still at least one place where locals can be entertained. Well, there was, and depending on a developer's plans, may yet be again.

This is the former Turtle Lane Playhouse. Built in 1890 as a private residence, the building served as a boarding house and then the Auburndale Club took over in 1920. There was reportedly a bowling alley in the basement at one point. Turtle Lane took over in 1978.

In 2013, however, the playhouse closed. A developer acquired the property and has announced plans to revive the theater and add housing to the site. Stay tuned....

One of the first elements of the backside of Auburndale I noticed is this mural along the Massachusetts Turnpike:

When it was painted in the late '60s or early '70s, some people were concerned drivers on the Pike would get distracted and crash (see December 26, 2010, "Where the Sun Never Sets"). The building once housed a store that sold "hippy stuff," according to one Backside reader.

There are numerous other spots around this village, and perhaps I'll get to more of them some time in the future. The last two places I want to mention hint at somewhat of a new direction for me on this blog, and beyond. In recent months, as I pondered this project, I pored over old maps of Newton and reviewed other historical documents on the city's web site, and got a feel for what my adopted hometown was like 100 years ago. I envisioned covering the backside and the history of each of Newton's 13 villages, which is what I'm doing here. But I also decided to expand that vision and write a book incorporating historic photos and information about historical sites in Newton that still stand, as well as buildings and locations that have changed use over the years, or no longer exist.

Directly across from the Turtle Lane Playhouse is The Melrose.

I believe it's just an apartment house, but I suspect this place has some interesting history. I've been unable to find anything so far. Stay tuned....

Finally, there's this wonderful house:

Currently housing condos, this building was once known as the Nye Park Inn. I believe it was popular with students at and visitors to nearby Lasell College, which was founded in 1851 as Auburndale Female Seminary.

Monday, September 7, 2015

T and Symphony

From Dave Brigham:

I was walking down Mass. Ave. in Boston with my son, Owen recently when I noticed a small construction site right outside the Symphony subway station. We've ridden the subway a LOT over the years, but this was the first time I'd been to this stop. I realized right away that this must be a former entrance to the station; the current head house is about 30 feet away.

Owen and I went down into the station and he used his phone to look up the history of the station. He told me, thanks to Wikipedia, that there used to be a "sub passageway" connecting the inbound and outbound sides, but that it was sealed off in the 1960's. I looked at the Wikipedia entry as well, and learned that the MBTA did moderate renovations to Symphony in the 1990's.

Searching online, I found a random guy's photos posted on Facebook and Twitter of the same construction, and he indicated that there is some sort of utility replacement going on. He said the original Symphony station entrances were covered over when two large apartment buildings, Symphony Plazas east and west, were built, I'm guessing in the 1960's.

Here's a capture from Google Maps before the construction began, showing no sign of the old station entrances:

The current utility work, or whatever it is, is taking place right behind where the person is walking in this photo.

I can't find any old photos online of the original station head houses, but I'll keep looking.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Bigelow's Little Office

From Dave Brigham:

I've lost track of the number of times I've said, "Thank God for the Internet!" while working on this blog over the past 5+ years. I can't always find answers to my questions about out-of-the-way relics and long-forgotten buildings, but my success rate is pretty good.

Sometimes I think I've found what I'm looking for, but there's a nagging feeling that I'm not quite on the right trail. This happened recently after I took some photos of a small building along Route 20 on the Weston/Wayland border outside Boston.

I've driven by here numerous times over the years and long wondered what this place used to be, and what it was in the process of becoming. My search online started with something like, "Route 20 Wayland Weston old building" and before too long I found information at the Weston Historical Society's web site about a place called the Fiske Law Office.

So I saved the link and then, after I got around to snapping a few photos, went back to the site and read it more thoroughly. And something just wasn't right. I dug a little deeper and realized that the Fiske Law Office was close by, but was in much better condition.

So what the heck was this little place?

I searched on Google Maps and wrote down the address of the house directly behind this small building. Then I conducted a new search and found what I was looking for on the Weston Historical Commission web site:

"The Alpheus Bigelow Jr. House [863 Boston Post Rd], 1827, is a large Federal style building. A graduate of Harvard, Bigelow later studied law with Isaac Fiske and Tyler Bigelow. The Bigelow Law Office [3 Applecrest Rd] was built across the road and has been recorded by [the Historic American Building Survey]."

This building is similar in style to the Fiske Law Office, and obviously the two men knew each other, as Alpheus Bigelow studied law with Isaac Fiske. I may make another visit to try and speak with the guy whose house abuts this property, as it appears he's involved in the renovation.

Here's a peek into his backyard.

Here's what the building looked like a long time ago. The HABS indicates it was erected prior to 1800.

There's a nearly 8-year-old building permit taped in the window of this historic law office. Not sure if the owner plans to convert it to something private or public. I looked through the window and could see some old furniture and drapes and boxes, etc., so maybe he's just using it for storage.

The building is in a really tough spot for any use, public or private, as it sits right next to busy Route 20. I'll keep tabs on it....