Monday, November 21, 2016

The Buildings That Time Forgot

From Dave Brigham:

I haven't posted as much about the backside of downtown Boston as I could have over the years. Usually when I'm in the city it's on a subway trip with my son, Owen, and I have limited time to seek out the abandoned, forgotten and dilapidated. For a list of posts about the Hub, see the end of this post.

Recently, however, I was on the city's wonderful Rose Kennedy Greenway with Owen and a few of his friends, and was able to snap pictures of two old buildings, one that's in a tight squeeze, and one that's been knocked to its knees.

Built in 1899, this four-story Financial District building has an electricity substation right next door. I remember walking past this place 20 years ago when I worked in the area, and marveling at how out of place it looked even then. Now, with skyscrapers rising downtown and in the Seaport District, this place is even more of an anachronism.

To see what it looked like when I was a younger man, read this 2007 article (which is truncated unless you're a subscriber) and look at the photo, which indicates a hardware store closed in 2006 when the owner died.

The current owner of the building set a selling price of $16 million four years ago, according to a 2012 Boston Business Journal article. That mark represented more than 28 times what the owner paid just a year prior, the article indicated. To be sure, real estate in this area, close to the Greenway, the harbor and the Seaport District, has shot up in value in recent years. But what can you do with this building or its footprint?

I couldn't find any news or real estate updates about the place. Maybe a pencil tower will rise here one day.

This is the other building I photographed, which I also recall from my days working downtown. While the hardware store surely has some good memories tied up in it, and certainly once fit more seamlessly into its neighborhood, there's no doubt that the building above, on Broad Street, was an important part of this area.

Most recently this building and the one next to it were home to The Littlest Bar and The Times Irish Pub & Restaurant. I never went to either, although I did go to The Littlest Bar in its original location in Downtown Crossing many years ago. The Times is moving to 99 Broad Street, not too far from another well-known bar, Mr. Dooley's. The Littlest Bar may move to a new location, although that announcement hasn't been made.

Built in 1805 and located hard by the Greenway, the Bulfinch building was originally a warehouse for goods coming off nearby wharves (back before the city installed fill to make itself bigger), according to this Boston Globe article, which you should read. According to the article, the outside of the building was declared a landmark, but the interior wasn't, because it had been changed significantly over the years.

After negotiating with the city's Landmarks Commission, the developer, New Boston Ventures, agreed to keep the portion of the building that you see above, and to incorporate it into a 12-story condo development (read the Globe article to see an artist's rendering of the new building married to the old structure).

Boston used to be known for cool bars in old brick buildings, and there certainly are some of those left. But it's a new millennium and the city is thriving and growing and glass and metal are of course the favored mediums. I'm glad the Landmarks Commission made the developer keep at least a part of the city's history intact, but it will be nothing more than a mere curiosity for residents, visitors and tourists unaware of the building's importance to Boston's past.

As promised, here's a list of other downtown Boston posts from over the years:

August 30, 2010, "Going Underground," about a trip on the subway with my son.

January 25, 2014, "Last Building Standing," about a remnant of the old West End.

August 19, 2015, "Misfit Garage," about a municipal garage slated to be torn down soon and replaced with yet another high-rise condo building.

October 19, 2012, "Window Dressing," about the former Dainty Dot Hosiery building.

February 10, 2011, "Up From the Basement?," about the long-empty hole where Filene's Basement once stood, and which is now a high-rise.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Water You Talking About

From Mick Melvin:


I was surprised by the amount of wooden water towers that dot the skyline of New York City. I was recently on the Upper West Side visiting friends and noticed these old-looking water towers.

Every direction that I looked I could see water towers. Most of the towers are plain wood, but some have a little writing on them. I did a little research and found out that these water towers last for 30 years and most of the towers are built by two companies. When you are in NYC, look up and I’m sure you will see these timeless icons.


To learn more about water towers, check out this AM New York article.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Brigham in Waltham, Part I

From Dave Brigham:

I've written about two dozen posts here over the years about, at least in part, Waltham, Mass. (check out these search results). Just next door from my adopted hometown of Newton, Waltham is a former mill city of just over 63,000 residents. Known as the Watch City, Waltham was home to the Waltham Watch Company, the first company to make watches on an assembly line. The city was also home to textile factories in the 19th century. There are plenty of old buildings downtown, in addition to former factory worker housing, churches, old and current railroad tracks and related facilities, diners and plenty of other sites that we here on the Backside love to check out.

Just as when the mills were humming thanks to immigrant workers, Waltham is still a city that welcomes those from other lands. As of the 2010 census, nearly a quarter of the city's residents were foreign-born, many from India and Guatemala, according to Wikipedia. I can tell you from casual observation that six years later, that percentage has surely risen.

This is the first of a three-part series about the city. You will see a few dozen photos and learn about abandoned buildings and repurposed structures alike. You will gain knowledge about classic churches and long-neglected railroad right-of-ways, as well as see ghost signs and out-of-the-way monuments and murals.

As with other town and city surveys I've conducted (see list at the bottom of this post), this post is by no means an exhaustive tally of all of the cool and historical aspects of Waltham.

OK, let's get started.

According to the Waltham Land Trust, this little building holds electrical controls for Waltham Common, the park behind city hall bounded by Main, Moody, Carter and Elm streets. I love how it's styled like a classic New England church, with white clapboard siding and a steeple.

Just to the left of this quaint building sits a memorial to a man who had no connection whatsoever to Waltham or, for that matter, Massachusetts. Dag Hammarskjöld was a Swedish diplomat and the second secretary-general of the United Nations, serving in that role from April 1953 until his death in a plane crash in September 1961, according to Wikipedia.

Just a month after Hammarskjöld's death, the Waltham Junior Chamber of Commerce installed this plaque. Although the diplomat had no ties to the Watch City, the CofC members obviously felt it necessary to honor the man who had sought to bring peace to the world for eight years. He was en route to Congo to negotiate a cease fire when his plane crashed under mysterious circumstances, according to Wikipedia.

Turn east from the little house and the Dag plaque and you'll see this Queen Anne-style building, which is stunning now even its decline.

Built in 1880, this building was once known as the Elm Street Music Hall. The theater's occupancy was more than 1,000 people, and they saw speakers including Mark Twain, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Ward Beecher, according to this article, which is about the building owner's plan to restore the facade. The theater burned down in 1932 after hosting music and vaudeville performances, as well as movies, leaving the facade, which houses retail stores on the first floor and apartments above.

When I checked it out recently, there was work being done on the roof, so I believe the restoration mentioned in the article is under way. Can't wait to see what it looks like when the project is completed.

We skip now just a short distance to the place known by my wife and her family as the Superdome church. Or is it the UFO church?

Dedicated in 1964, Sacred Heart Church is unlike any church I've seen. "The style was not to be bound by popular tradition, not to be merely modern - it was to be a glimpse into the future," according to the church's web site. I was in the wedding of my good friends Jim and Nikki here several years ago.

We're looking here at, of course, the backside of the church, which is the second structure to stand on this property. The original church, built in 1924 for a largely Italian immigrant parish, now houses CCD classrooms and the church hall.

About a half mile away is an imposing brick mastodon of a building, St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church. Built in 1922, technically the building is an example of Italian Renaissance Revival architecture.

(By User:Magicpiano, Wikimedia)

Listed since 1989 on the National Register of Historic Places, the church has no steeple or stained glass windows, but it has one architectural feature that caught my eye.

At Main Street's Christ Church Episcopal, which opened in 1898 and is also on the National Register, I saw this proud, yet forlorn, detail.

Waltham is filled with congregations, including one whose church has an interesting past.

Ministerio Evangelico Rios de Agua Viva (Evangelical Ministry Rivers of Living Water) is located in the former Hamblin L. Hovey Memorial Building. Outfitted with a 1,300-seat auditorium when it was constructed in 1935, the Hovey building had a fully functional stage and an orchestra area that could accommodate 500 seats, according to the web site for Hovey Players community theater group, which at its inception performed in the building. In 1952, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers bought the building. In 1998 a Buddhist group, SGI International, acquired the building and walled off the balcony while converting the auditorium to a temple, according to the Hovey Players web site.

I'm not sure whether SGI still owns the building.

Across the street from the Hovey/church building sits the Jonas Willis Parmenter Home.

This building in and of itself is nothing all that interesting, but history doesn't always come in beautifully decaying packages or awe-inspiring architecture. History is each and every person living their lives, making decisions, going to work, honoring their loved ones. Parmenter was a coal, wood and brick dealer, according to the Hovey Players web site. He was also the father-in-law and employer of Hamblin Hovey, namesake of the memorial building talked about above.

In 1889 Hovey built the Parmenter Block not too far from the site of the Hovey Memorial Building and the Parmenter Home. Named in honor of his father-in-law, the building had retail space on the ground floor and an auditorium and banquet hall on the two floors above, according to Melissa Mannon's "Images of America: Waltham," from Acadia Publishing, excerpts of which I found via Google Books.

Hovey died suddenly in 1904, according to the Players web site. In 1935, the Parmenter family commissioned several buildings, two of which were named in Hovey's memory: the memorial building and a dance hall that's been gone for some time. This is the kind of stuff I find increasingly fascinating, the forgotten history of cities and towns, the people behind named buildings, the citizens who built a place and left behind legacies that benefit future generations.

Every city and town has hidden history, of course, but in old mill towns like Waltham it's easier to find. One day, driving through the city on a route I had done dozen of times, I just happened to look to my left and see this place, as if for the first time.

What caught my eye was the sign across the front of the porch: Gilbrae Inn. I knew there was no way this was an active hotel, so I took to the Internet. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the inn was built by the Boston Manufacturing Company, which built the world's first spinning and weaving factory in Waltham. The inn was a rooming house for BMC employees, and was built sometime between 1827 and 1854, according to Wikipedia (not sure why a specific date is so hard to pin down). It is the only surviving boarding house built by the company, according to Wikipedia.

I've located one other 19th century building that took in guests.

Known as the Prospect House, this former hotel and tavern is now an apartment house, according to Wikipedia. Built in 1839, it too is on the National Register.

The penultimate stop on this first part of a three-part installation is a cozy little social club. Maybe they'll invite us in for a drink....

Founded in 1886, the Piety Corner Club is Waltham's oldest neighborhood association, according to The neighborhood is so named because it was home to several ministers at some point, most likely in the 19th century.

Finally, a rather new-looking sign commemorating a historic event.

Located at the corner of Route 20/Weston Street and the very short Tavern Road, this marker speaks of an event I've written about before, Gen. George Washington's march from Virginia (I think) to Cambridge, Mass. (see April 20, 2016, "Washington Walked Here"). Research online didn't bear any fruit, but I'm guessing there was a tavern near this location and maybe the good general popped in for a quaff or two.

In the next two installments of this series, I will cover railroad, diner and oddball house/retail stuff, as well as ghost signs, murals and a few other things.

As I mentioned at the top, I've also written and taken photos covering other towns in eastern Massachusetts:

December 9, 2015, "Scenes From an Old Shoe Town," about Hudson, Mass.

January 27, 2016, "Finding Hope, But Losing a Mainstay, in Clinton," about Clinton, Mass.

March 30, 2016, "Big Walk in Littleton," about Littleton, Mass.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Path! A Path!

From Dave Brigham:

This is about the most well-lighted tunnel I've ever seen. Located in Brookline, Mass., the Clinton Path underpass allows travelers to cross from Beacon Street toward the Fisher Hill neighborhood, under the MBTA trolley tracks.

For more about the path, read this short article.

To read about other tunnels, check out these links to our archive:

January 27, 2016, "Finding Hope, But Losing a Mainstay, in Clinton."

September 20, 2015, "I Seek Newton, Part II: Auburndale."

November 20, 2011, "History Flows On, Part II."

Now, as for the title of this post. It comes from one of the touchstone movies of my life, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."